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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

…On Silencing The Noise

Horse people are a funny breed.  There are as many ways to be a successful horseman as there are to skin a cat, but still most of us seem to have a methodology that is the best one and the only one and the right one.  Having grown up showing one horse both English and Western at the open shows, then APHA/AQHA, and now entering the rated USEF world, I’ve seen a lot of different approaches during what I like to consider my short time on this earth [wink].  Although I’m not a big believer in astrology, I am a Libra, so I tend to waver in my convictions.  My best/only/right is always changing. 

The one constant for me is my desire to learn.  When I was winning 8 classes per day at the open shows as a kid, my family stepped up to the breed shows where I got my butt kicked.  When I was routinely winning my favorite class at the breed shows I got a new horse and moved into the hunter ring.  This led to the jumper ring, and who knows what’s next?  The point is that I’m an eager study and my journey has been as much about learning horsemanship as it has been about coveting blue ribbons.  I’ve certainly not mastered anything, but I’ve got a fairly well-rounded education.

That said, I think that the perfect equine partner would be one that was trained from the beginning with methods from many disciplines.  I think the same can be said for riders.  As much as people have discounted me and I’ve discounted myself in the recent past due to my lack of experience over fences, I wouldn’t change a thing about my riding education. Am I behind the curve for my age and current discipline?  Yes.  So what?  Riding for me is about learning, not competing.  The competition is the place where I go to put what I’ve learned to the test. 

Last summer I started clinicing with Greg Best.  My friend, Alia, and I went to one of his clinics in July where we immediately fell in love.  On the first day of the three-day clinic we were a few minutes late to the ring because of some commotion on the farm, and one of the other girls in our session said, “You guys are late.  You were supposed to be in here at eight.”

Greg’s response:  “They probably took the extra few minutes to put their hair under their helmets.”

We knew then that we were going to get along swimmingly.  But more importantly, he helped Alia transform her horse from a nervous stopper into a willing soldier.  He helped me so much with Hauns that weekend, but what I really took away from that clinic was that I wasn’t a bad rider.  I had many technicals to learn, but the basics were there. 

For months before the clinic I had spent time with several different trainers and, with the exception of one, none of them took the time to help me get better.  I had adopted Hauns from my husband who had used him as a beginner mount, and was ready to move on.  Hauns was a solid citizen but had his own style.  He liked to go around out of frame, head upside down and tilted to the side, getting kicked every stride in an effort to keep him going, but always behind the leg.  I knew how to fix that using my Quarter Horse training methods, but I didn’t want to be unfair to a horse that was trained differently, so I sought help.

With each trainer it was the same routine.  They looked at my horse, assumed that I didn’t have the skills to fix it, and gave me mediocre help trying to ride what I had while happily pocketing my checks.  One of them told me to give him away, which was at least better than watching him rub my leg down the entire long-wall of an indoor and saying, “Good.  Sit tall.  Good.”  It was incredibly frustrating.  I was ready to sell the horse and started looking for eligible buyers.  I attended the Greg Best clinic in an effort to make him a slightly more desirable sale, but instead came away with a horse that was in frame and in front of my leg, not to mention actually jumping jumps instead of lazily flopping over them one leg at a time.   And do you know how Greg helped me accomplish all this?  By not saying, “No, don’t do that!”  He actually encouraged my instincts and my confidence soared.  It was literally a life-changing weekend. 

I’ve taken many more clinics with Greg.  Alia and I are groupies and are absolutely shameless about it.  There is nothing in the world that I want more than to learn how to be a better horseman, and if being a little bit of a weirdo groupie is the answer it is fine with me.

Interestingly, last summer Alia and I stopped going to horse shows almost entirely.  We didn’t need to gauge our improvement via competition when we had periodic visits with Greg.  Subconsciously, our goals changed from managing to get a horse around a few jumps one time to beat some other people at a show, to beating the riders we were just a few weeks past.  Every time we were faced with an opportunity to go to a show, we would look at each other and say, “Eh…” 

Skip ahead eight months.

Maybe I’ve given up too early, but I feel like I’ve gotten Hauns as far as I can get him.  I’ve had good help for a while now and Hauns does his job as well as I think he will ever do it.  I only get out of him what I put in, and at a solid 17.2hh he’s a lot of horse to manage which means he requires that I put in quite a bit.  Additionally, I think having all of my eggs in his basket put a lot of pressure on both of us.  I began to consider getting a new horse so that Hauns could be my trusty backup and I wouldn’t have to push him to work so hard every day. 

As people often do, I spoke with my friends and acquaintances about my plans.  Everyone had input.  I got a lot of “don’t dos” and a lot of “you should dos.”  I finally sat down and thought about what I wanted.  I realized that I’d gotten more gratification out of taking a horse that was a “giveaway” and turning it into a horse that could be successfully shown in the high adults (if I stayed on course) than I ever would have imagined.  I like being the underdog.  I’m competitive and having something to prove drives me to work hard.  It’s probably not healthy, but it is what it is. 

But I’m still a Libra, so when someone says “don’t do” I start to question what it is that I should do.  Finally I decided to silence the noise and negativity around me, I stopped talking to people about it, and with the help of three people that I respect very much, I bought an unbroken almost-four-year-old off a one minute and twenty-four second free-jumping video from Holland.  It was ballsy, I know, but I didn’t do it alone.  Of course my partner in crime was right there with me, and Alia now has a Dutch four year old in her barn, too. 

I’ve had my young gelding in the barn for three days, and I can honestly say that I’ve never before been so fond of a horse in such a short amount of time.  I’m aware that this might backfire.  This might literally kill me.  This might turn out to be a disaster, but no matter what, it will be an adventure.  There will be days on which I feel elated.  There will be days on which I feel that this was a huge mistake.  There will be days on which I fall off and days on which I reach milestones and days on which people will say “I told you so.”  But the point, as always, is to become a better horseman, and I can think of no better way. 

Plus it was cheap. 


So the secret is out now.  I’d like to introduce the world to Megatron.