As I am sitting here in the plane on my way to Newcastle, I am thinking about what topic to use for my October article.
My mind wanders back to a couple of days ago when we bought a new horse for my daughter. The part that stood out for me was after my daughter rode the horse, the owner, a young woman made the comment that she would be very happy to sell the horse to us because she had seen my daughter ride at a competition and she particularly liked the fact that she had patted her horse after she came out of her showjumping round even though the horse had pulled a rail.
In her words, ‘ that doesn’t happen very often’. It made me stop and think and sadly I have to agree with her.
• I am wondering, have horses become a sporting instrument, comparable with tennis rackets, cricket bats and soccer balls?
• Are we misusing their kind temperament and taking it for granted that they perform for us in whatever discipline we have chosen?
• Where is the line that makes it clear to the rider what is okay to expect of their horse and when are we asking too much?
In tennis there is a severe penalty for smashing the tennis racket into the ground, at horse competitions we often see rider’s getting stuck into their horse after they leave the
arena without any penalties. In fact no one seems to care.
I guess seeing World Cup riders riding their horses at competitions with clear spur marks on both sides makes it okay for other riders to do the same. Before our sport can improve we ﬁ rst we have to make sure that it is “un-cool” to behave badly in the warm up arena.My intention is not to point the ﬁ nger at anyone, we all have off days and do things we regret afterwards. I remember one particular time when I was around 19 years old.
I punished my horse for something that wasn’t his fault and I am very thankful that an older rider came up to me and threatened to drag me off the horse. He gave me such a big lecture in front of everyone and made it very clear that what I did was not acceptable. This was a huge lesson and one that stuck with me forever. I am very grateful to him for speaking up.
I think especially our younger riders need these role models who keep them accountable.
I feel that the real value we get from horse riding is the feedback we get from our horses.
Let’s be honest for a moment, in most cases horses do exactly what we ask them to do. Okay, we don’t actually ask them to pull a rail or spook in the dressage arena, but really the key to success is in the preparation. If my preparation has been lazy it will show up in competitions and the rail down or the spook is often a direct consequence to the work we do at home, or the lack of it.
Too many riders expect their horse to perform at a competition or at Pony Club even though they still have trouble getting that performance at home. It is all about preparation and education. If all you do at home is jump, don’t expect your horse to canter softly in between fences at a competition. Unless you school your horse and improve its ﬂ atwork don’t complain about the rails you get, rather say thank you for the fact that your horse is jumping at all!
Young horses need to be taken out slowly and gently so they have time to get used to the atmosphere at a show. If your horse is not used to ﬂ ags, side shows and lots of other horses around them, maybe just take them the ﬁ rst time without the pressure of competing and let them have a look. If your horse is not ready and gets spooked you might get nervous as a result and then it is a bad experience for both. Just give your horse some extra time and you are better off for it later down the track.
We have to take responsibility and point the ﬁ nger at ourself when things go wrong. After all, think of all the times that your horse has saved you in a sticky situation by being extremely honest and trying its heart out.
Riders who truly understand the value of horses feedback and are prepared to listen to it will grow not only as a rider but also as a person. In particular our young riders can learn so much about themselves and how to control their emotions by listening more closely to their horses. If you can’t control yourself what makes you think you can control your horse.
The fact that horses are so forgiving makes them the best schoolmasters. Lessons such as being tolerant, self observant and dealing with ups and downs in general are vitally important for every person to live a happy and successful life.
As parents we need to make sure that we don’t use ponies as babysitters and toys that are there for our children’s entertainment, but teach them responsibility and respect towards the animal. If the pony doesn’t go well, instead of blaming the pony, tell your kids why the pony didn’t go well and what they can do to improve the outcome next time. “You get out what you put in”. What a great lesson! Leading by example is vital for coaches, riders and parents.
Let’s have a look at some of the things we can all do to have a better relationship with our horses and other people around us:
• When you see something that is not okay speak up but do it kindly instead of yelling and screaming. No one likes being yelled at and we generally don’t learn from that anyway.
• Let’s bring back judges to the warm up ring. This happens at every international competition so I can’t see why we don’t do it at smaller competitions as well.
• Lead by example, in particular if you are a parent, rider or a coach. When you have a bad day do yourself and your horse a favour. Don’t ride!
• Be a role model to others.
• Point out to inexperienced riders how to communicate with their horses to get better feedback
• Ask yourself constantly “what can I do better next time” and say thank you when you make a mistake.
We all came into the sport because we love horses. Lets remember, no matter what discipline you are competing and on what level you are riding, a rider without a horse is only a spectator.
Take a moment to appreciate your horse.
• Remember why you started riding in the ﬁ rst place.
• Love and appreciate your horse the way you want your horse to love and appreciate you
We are so blessed to be able to work with an animal so graceful and kind hearted as the horse and I am sure you agree that everyone of us as a result is better off for it.