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.
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.