Thursday, April 11, 2013

Honesty and Horsemanship

If you haven't yet read it, I encourage you to check out the Honesty and Horsemanship post over at SprinklerBandits blog. It struck a real nerve with me, and I've been thinking about it for several weeks now.

I grew up believing that all horse behavior problems stemmed from the human side of the equation. Rider error, training mistakes, improper ground handling, even a lack of adequate vet or farrier care - all to blame on humans, not the horse.

But horses have personalities. They have preferences. They enjoy some activities over other ones, just as they enjoy some foods over others and some people over others. And I think that in order to have long term success in any discipline, the horse has to not only be willing but truly enjoy it. We call this heart.

There is a reason that Jimmy Wofford and many other respected trainers and horseman, including some of my favorite bloggers, advocate for people new to eventing get a horse that is experienced and dependable. Especially since part of the sport involves jumping over solid obstacles, it makes sense that one of the two of you (horse and rider) should have done this before. Its a common sense approach which addresses concerns of safety, confidence, and skill-development.

But that is not the path I took. My first several years doing eventing was green-on-green with the beautiful Spirit.

A fun day with Spirit at a local ETI show - August 2011

One year ago, I gave "notice" to Spirit's owner, saying that I was going to be adopting a Luck horse and therefore would not be continuing on with Spirit. It was a hard decision to make, and a hard conversation to have. There were many factors that went into it, of course, but a large one is the fact that Spirit and I were not able to have successful XC schoolings for a year. I think Spirit's heart was not in it. I had tried my hardest to improve as a rider, and even paid for training rides in addition to lessons, but we simply were not able to get around safely and have real progress in that area.

So, did I go out and get a safe, dependable, experienced eventing mount?

No.  I got a fresh-off-the-racetrack thoroughbred with zero dressage or jumping training, let alone any cross country experience.

Now it just so happens that my lucky gamble has been paying off. Hemie is a careful yet willing mount who (so far) enjoys jumping and cross country. And I am very much enjoying the journey with him.


But I rationally acknowledge that it was quite a gamble to take, and the intellectual, analytical part of me says that if I had to do it all over again, or if life circumstances change, I would try to get a packer.

Now, I've been riding my whole life, and have helped do some training and re-training of several horses over the years. I'm not afraid of a challenge. I consider myself well-endowed in the cahones department and feel good about my ability to stay on. But I have finally come to a point in my life where I recognize that I could enjoy not having the challenge. I would enjoy the increased level of confidence and security that comes with a horse that has been there, done that.

Playful Hemie
And its okay to feel that way. No matter how much experience you have or what your skills are, there is nothing wrong with acknowledging that the best horse for you might not be that young, untrained horse full of potential. It might be that older, more experienced horse who can show you a good time.

I don't plan on changing my horsey situation. I love Hemie and we are both having fun together. We are working towards our goals, but more importantly - I am fully okay with where we are in the journey. I'm not in a rush to get to any particular level or to any particular event. I'm simply enjoying the process and trying to stay safe.

By the way, this past weekend Spirit did a gymkhana and a local horse show, and brought home some ribbons for her new rider. I'm very happy that Spirit is doing great, and wish her all the best. She will always have a place in my heart. 

Photos from Facebook.


  1. I think it takes a certain type of maturity to be able to say enough is enough and to cut your loses and walk away from a situation like you had with Spirit. I know that when I was working with my trainer's mare, nothing could have deterred me from her, and she was in many cases quite dangerous. Truth be told, she's the only horse I've ever actually been afraid of in my life. She displayed extremely dangerous behavior with another rider (twice) and my trainer made the decision to send her to a new home without any input from me. Though I was devastated to see her leave, there was small part of me that felt relieved because I knew I was no longer responsible for that behavior. Her issues were complex, and after 6 months of working together it was clear that they were beyond the realm of being a herd-bound, alpha mare... and I am glad I didn't have to be the one to make that decision int he end. She moved on to a better situation for her, which is the best possible outcome. Now at 34, I am grateful to ride horses that boost my confidence. I adore OTTBs and their work-ethic, and I am always happiest on a green bean because I feel like I have the temperament and ability to give them a good, positive ride, but I have shied away from situations that I know will put me/or the horse in jeopardy. I used to be that ballsy rider than other people would look at and think, "whoa". But now, I want to be able to enjoy myself, even if it is on the back of a 4 year old thoroughbred who's learning my world for the first time:)

  2. I love a project horse, and don't think having a project and going into unknown territory is necessarily a bad thing. That being said, it takes the right person and the right horse combination to make that work.

  3. I agree, expecially the older you get, the more you have to lose (or people dependent upon you), your view of riding can change. I recently came to the conclusion, I either need a more made horse or a very calm greener one. and the bigger part of that conclusion, was that it is ok to not want a greenie. Some will always like that, but its ok to want to just sit back and enjoy yourself a bit too.

  4. totally is a very delicate balance. projects are fun and it is all that I have ever had due to $, but I do dream of a push button some day or at least be in a place financially to have the option!

  5. :) Glad that post resonated with you.I realize that I live in an area where horsekeeping is relatively inexpensive, so the prospect of having a retiree, even on a limited income, is not terrifying. That said, the notion that schoolmaster types are expensive always bugs. Yes, the made, sound, competitive 9 year old will break the bank, but if you snag an oldie coming down, you can almost steal them. I did. Their owners want them to find good homes, however that appears. I guess it's about relationships and knowing the right people.

    Regardless, I <3 Cuna and he isn't going anywhere.

  6. Boy, is that the truth. I think age is a big part of it for me. At 42, I REALLY don't want to hit the dirt anymore. My next horse will definitely be a VERY steady eddy. Both my boys are getting better and better, but there is no where I am bringing along a newbie again. :0)