Lessons From The Horses Mouth
There are pivotal moments in everyone's riding career that make them who they are as riders and people. Sharing such wild experiences with another animal as can happen when riding horses connects you to something deeper within yourself and the horse. Putting your trust entirely in another animal - not just in that they let you ride them but also in their balance, footing and confidence - can be an experience of complete freedom.
Frisco was my first horse and that was her name for a reason. I always tell my students that the first horse is the hardest. I'm not entirely sure this was my experience but she was definitely one tough cookie to crack. A little flea bitten grey who taught me some valuable lessons. She had 2 speeds - halt and flat tack. A few pivotal lessons were learnt.
· If you leave glo-white shampoo on a white horse for too long it doesn't wash out. My first competition on her she was pink and it wasn't a pink ribbon day.
· Horses like to test you. When I would take her out on trail rides if she didn't think I was concentrating she'd run me into a tree ... every ... single ... time ...
· Draw reins work ... until you take them off. Riding a horse correctly is a skill that takes time and patience and cannot be taught by adding artificial aids.
· You can't work an active, fit horse into submission through exhaustion. One particular dressage test I remember warming up for an hour doing canter circles just to try to get her to slow down and put her head down. Our canter was perfect ... our trot ... not so much
· You don't have to be fantastic to win a ribbon. Once I figured out hack shows had fattest pony, longest tail, most spots, thats the only classes I'd go in and I CLEANED UP!!! I would come home with more ribbons than I could count.
· Letting go is hard. After I outgrew her we sold her to another family. It was heart breaking, as she left she turned her head around and whinnied. She was a beautiful girl and I hope she got to live out a full and happy life.
TJ was my second horse at 12 and phewy did I learn a thing or 2 from him. Notably if you fall off you have to get back on again and again and again, no matter how scary it is. He continued my horse education.
· Just because you bought the perfect horse doesn't mean they will be the perfect horse. Professionally trained, show prepped, bred and exposed, perfect conformation and education buuuuuut bucked me off near every time I rode him ... sometimes more than once. I got very good at riding bucks.
· Showing means hours of training, competing, prepping, washing, plaiting, braiding, driving and probably lots of mums money.
· Just because you've put the hours in doesn't mean the judge will like you. I went from one show where we cleaned up with supreme champion to the next where the judge out right told me I did not have a show horse and shouldn't be there. I remember my mum having to try to convince me I didn't have an ugly horse. Probably not the best thing to tell a 13 yo.
· All else fails hold on for the ride. I just couldn't get him to stop bucking but I sure learnt how to ride through it. My instructor was ready to nominate me into a rodeo, we would do show jump rounds and the only time he'd stop bucking was to jump a fence. The judges were not impressed but hey all you need is a clear round right?
· No matter what, they're still your best friend. I would sit on the fence with his head in my lap for hours and talk to him. My family would ask what we would talk about and I would say I tell him all of my problems.
At 14.1 hands I was destined to outgrow TJ as well. When we got King we couldn't tie him up without rearing, couldn't get a bridle on him without rearing, couldn't get him on the float without rearing, couldn't catch him from his paddock and would buck me off when I rode. By the time I moved to Brisbane he was self loading, you could catch him if you threatened to take his food off him and was jumping 80cm and competing elementary. He retired into the riding school for experienced riders that understood his quirks. You didn't teach King, King taught you. Like if you approached him incorrectly in the paddock, you weren't riding that day, how to hold his bridle out for him to put on himself, how people should behave around him, and how to lead him so he didn't feel threatened. He is a stellar little horse and taught a lot of people, me included, what happens when you over ride a sensitive horse. A few more lessons to chip into the belt.
· What's advertised is not always truth. Sold to us as an educated show horse, after a year of trying to work through his bad handling skills and getting him to a competition standard, we finally got out to our first competition... where he was recognised.... from the rodeo circuit.... hmmm explains a bit. Lucky I had had so much experience from TJ, the bucking was not a problem, just didn't know what to do with all the stuff he'd do on the ground. My farrier hated him.
· When your winded you're not dying, your breath comes back eventually.
· You fall off harder from bigger horses
· I learnt to not get excited and to this day it is impossible for me to get excited. Get excited and you fall off. Even when I'm not riding its so instinctively programmed into me not to let my energy levels change otherwise I will fall off.
· It doesn't matter how many double bridles, spurs and whips you use. If you are not communicating effectively you cannot teach a flying change... or anything else for that matter.
· The hardest horses are the ones worth fighting for. He was one of a kind giving me everything I asked and then some. We pretty much became unbeatable, we were a team.
You didn't teach King, King taught you.
I finished high school and came to Brisbane not knowing what I was doing with my life and accidentally stumbled into a job as a stable hand/horse riding instructor. This is where I truly learnt the art of horsemanship. With so many different horses to work with of varying levels of education, personality and breed it started to become clear that whilst the aids translated the same (generally) between each horse it was the timing, and application and release of pressure that was key. That aids were not used to control a horse but to communicate with a horse and that only through years of training could you develop the connection with a horse to make the movement seem as of one. My boss, my mentor and my best friend showed me the true value of listening to the horses behaviour as its way of communication. Understand it's behaviour as the only way it can vocalise the problems they are having.
Since then, I've come to recognise 3 things are key to a safe horse. Emotional stability, education and correct physical conditioning. Through experience, instructors, horses and everything in between, I've been able to create a training program of building blocks. Skills that are necessary for each horse to thrive in their chosen equestrian profession. I strive to ensure these 3 key attributes are thoroughly covered in my teaching and training to give the horse and rider combination the best chance possible at succeeding with their goals.