"ARE YOU HEADED TOWARDS A BREAK-UP?"
To Erin, hope this delivers on my promise!
Are you carrying the weight of your relationship on your shoulders? Do you spend all your free time and money trying to make them happy but nothing seems to work? Have you seen a specialist and still aren’t having the time of your life? Has it literally sucked the life out of you and made you feel insecure? Having the wrong horse that you just can’t seem to have any success with is like being in a suffocating relationship that you need to shed. Sounds like it’s time for a break up!
A few months ago I was asked, “how do you know when it’s time to quit on a horse?” When someone usually gets to this point, It can also be an overwhelming feeling of defeat. Breaking up with your horse can almost be more difficult than a bad relationship because many people feel a sense of life long duty to care for their horses. While this nurturing quality is understandable, making this difficult decision might be imperative! It can also put you and your horse on a course for greater success.
The most important issue is SAFETY!!! Is riding or owning this horse putting you or anyone around the horse in danger? If the answer is yes, the situation you have created isn’t right for this particular horse either. You have an obligation to yourself, those around your horse, and your horse to make sure you have created a situation where everyone involved is safe. We all have stories to tell about inexperienced riders paired with inexperienced horses and the fiasco it caused. Or even moderately educated riders becoming completely over mounted when their green horse leaves its home stable. An ongoing fear of your horse is a big red flag that your safety is being compromised. Listen to your gut!
If safety is not the issue, there are a whole host of variables why horses and riders don’t match up. Education, personality, talent, and aptitude are all words that come to mind. Wether you decide to break up and look for a new partner or reinvent your old relationship, below are some helpful tips and examples of making it work!
When dealing with green horses, the temperament/ personality of the horse is key. The idea that you and your horse are going to “learn together” has its challenges. Finding a horse that can tolerate a less experienced rider is important. Below I will talk more about personalities. A good question to ask- Is the professional you have hired fully supportive with making this match work? Does he or she have the skills and patients to train a young / green horse? Is that qualified trainer in a location that you can work with them consistently? Can you ride and take lessons on other horses to gain necessary confidence / experience to maintain your own riding? Above all, be honest with yourself about answering these questions if you want your equine match to work!
Education also comes with a financial and time commitment. Depending on the starting point of you and your horse’s education, it may take you a few years to finally ride a Beginner Novice course! Is that an acceptable timeline? Ask yourself what goals you have in the next year or two years. What do you enjoy about horses? Do the math. After paying months of board, training, show fees, etc, you are often better off to save your pennies and buy the horse that has show experience. It can end up costing you more money in the end training a horse. I personally enjoy the process of working with young horses and the need for ribbons from the horse shows has diminished. Know yourself!
In the case of Melissa Jaten and her trainer Jenny Holbrook of Lodestar Training, they have created a special partnership to help develop a very talented 6 yo Holsteiner / Oldenburg gelding named “the Alchemist II” also known as Murphy. Melissa, who owns Murphy says, “as a mom of two young children and also a business owner, my riding time is less right now. I wanted to buy a young horse that could be developed as an all around athlete that I could ride later when the kids are in school.” Jenny has been riding and training Murphy consistently, feels that Murphy “ has such a special personality and is such a gentleman and class act at the shows, to me, he has all of the ingredients to be a successful FEI horse.”
Even though Murphy is at the beginning of his journey through the levels, it has already been a rewarding partnership for both Jenny and Melissa. At this year’s 2018 Rebecca Farms Event in Montana, Jenny moved Murphy up to his first Training level event where he placed 3rd and finished on his dressage score. Jenny says “ I was crying crossing through the finish after XC, he just gave me his all, even when he was green and a little unsure! He is a special boy, and I’m lucky to have the ride on him!” As an owner, Melissa says, “I love the competition(s) and the eventing community. My family and I go to as many of the shows as we can and Jenny and her team are like family to us now.” Melissa also says that she has “learned a lot more about riding and horses since I’ve been on the ground these last years. I work on developing my eye for detail in correct riding and horse movement and lameness.” Even though Melissa only rides Murphy occasionally, she has successfully reinvented her relationship with horses during this period of her life until her 2 boys are older.
Another important factor having a successful equine relationship is matching with the right personality. It is truly remarkable when a rider just clicks with a horse! There is a lot to be said about how personalities create a winning team. A great article published in Dressage Today “Understanding Horse Personalities, 4 Basic Personality Types.” by Yvonne Barteau March 5, 2009. She classifies 4 basic equine personalities- Social, Fearful, Aloof, and the Challenging horse. Barteau states, “Understanding the personality of your horse, coupled with knowledge about your own temperament and skill level, gives us the best chance for success in our daily rides. We want to be paired with a horse whose natural behavior patterns allow us to stay within our own natural comfort zones as much as possible.” Barteau also published a book called Riding the Right Horse which continues the discussion of personality types. These are both great reads if you want to further your understanding of handling your current horse or thinking of shopping for another.
Aptitude and talent are tricky factors when discussing horse & rider suitability. A horse’s aptitude and talent for a particular sport is often brought to the surface if both the horse and rider are a team together. Which is why the above about personalities/ temperament is so incredibly important. Especially in Eventing, I have seen many horses that don’t have the natural talent go to the ends of the earth for their riders. And inversely seen horses that can jump the moon, not want to jump 2’ for their more beginner riders. Becoming a team with your horse is absolutely essential for success.
One example of a successful pair that just clicked is Young Rider Callia Englund and her 15.1 hand 8 year old Cheval Canadian mount “Xyder.” When Callia received him as a birthday present at 12 years old, she says “I was just hoping he’d take me BN/ N since I had never evented before.” Xyder is not a Warmblood cross that you typically see other Young Riders aboard at events but a stockier breed (Cheval Canadian) once used to carry calvary riders in the American Civil War. Callia says, “it’s always been hard to say where (his) max is because some thought that came back in 2016 when we were running Novice.”
One of the highlights of her 12th birthday present came this year in 2018 when Callia, now 16, competed Xyder several levels higher than what was thought to be his maximum. She was a member of the silver medal team at the North American Young Rider Championships at the CCI 1* level. Callia has developed such a special partnership with her horse that she says, “I always know when we go out on course he’s giving me his all.” She also says that when “we started competing at higher levels, I had to learn to be extremely accurate all the time due to his size/ build to keep us safe.” When asked about Xyder’s limitations, she says, “I don’t worry about hitting that limit because he’s already given me more than I could’ve ever asked for from him!”
Even though physical limitations can sometimes be overcome by solid team work, it’s important to select a horse that is capable of handling each level with some ease. An over faced horse not only poses a serious safety issue in Eventing but eventually loses trust in his rider, thus breaking down the partnership.
A helpful tool to asses talent and aptitude is the USEA Young Event Horse Program. With many competitions throughout the US, this program evaluates 4 and 5 year old horses for type / conformation, movement, jumping ability, gallop, and aptitude for the top levels of Eventing. The Future Event Horse Program examines even younger horses from yearling to 4 years of age. The feedback from many of these professional judges is often valuable in selecting prospects. Horses that have inherently good jumping technique and have the scope to jump larger obstacles give the rider a larger margin of error. Evaluation of a horse’s talent and aptitude wether through this program or privately with a qualified professional can assist riders to make sound choices about their mounts. The USEA Instructor Certification Program has also recently added a certification for Riders and Trainers of Young Event Horses to help identify individuals qualified to develop Young Horses.
So if you are feeling dishearten with your equine partner and aren’t ready for a break up, consider alternative options to align more positively with your horse. Committing to a more regimented training program and making more realistic goals about you and your horse’s education is a good first step towards success. Understanding your horse’s personality type and aligning with their learning style can alleviate some of the frustration. Sponsoring a rider is another way you can continue to enjoy a particular horse and still be a part of the action. There is a real need for owners in this industry. There are many talented, hard working riders out there that could use a leg up! If considering a break up, have faith that there is a horse out there for every rider! Be true to yourself about what brings your joy with horses!