First I would like to say thank you to everyone who commented on my last article. Even though I ﬁ rst thought I might come across as too strong it seems there are other people out there who appreciated my honesty, and for that I am grateful.
Therefore I have decided to look into another topic this month and hopefully provoke you, the reader to ask yourself and others some questions instead of doing the same old thing just because everyone else does it too.
I want to dedicate this article to our juniors and young riders of all disciplines.
Let me start by asking the most obvious question. “Why are we in such a rush to get to the next level of competition, to what seems at all cost?” Is it the peer pressure? I have no doubt this is part of it. Is it ambitious parents? We have to be honest here in saying that there are a lot of very ambitious parents out there.
Does it come from coaches who are keen to see their students excel? Yes and No. Sometimes encouragement is a great thing and helps students to move on at the right time and sometimes it can be not so good a thing when the encouragement comes too early.
I just wonder, is there a way we can decide when is it the right time for someone to move to the next grade?
A frightening trend seems to be going around at the moment and that is the phrase:” Your horse can do that so just go and see what happens.”
Now my advice would be if you ever hear that from someone, think before you act.
I don’t doubt that whoever gives you this advice most likely means well and wants to encourage you. The only thing is, that by giving this advice they also show a certain lack of experience and expertise. Otherwise why would they encourage you to do something that you might not be ready for?
In my mind when someone says “Do it and see what happens.” It translates that there is a 50% chance that it could go either way. I personally prefer training and preparation that gives me better odds than 50%. I get so many parents asking me for help after their child has had an accident or just lost their conﬁ dence by going into the next level of competition too quickly, and in most cases the preparation was not enough and in my mind neither horse nor rider were anywhere near ready for the challenge.
Some people try and tell me that that is the Australian way of riding and it produces gutsy horse people, but how can that be the right way when we lose so many great horses and talented riders in the process? Just think for a moment how many starters we have in a 60cm – 70cm class or a Prelim dressage competition. You have to agree that we have hundreds of kids competing at that level. Now take a look at 90cm – 1.00m classes or the equivalent of Novice dressage and the numbers are nearly half.
Then look at Juniors in either discipline and I would guess that only a third of the kids still compete at this level. By the time you get to Young Riders we are left with a handful at the most. Now I am asking the question to coaches and ofﬁ cials, how can that happen? We have very talented young kids and very capable, honest horses in this country. Why don’t we nurture them?
Some people seem to think that it is the level of competition that reduces the numbers due to unstable horses, but let’s be honest for a moment, we are talking about Medium/Advanced and 1.30m-1.40m Show Jumping height classes and not the Olympics. We have some quality Junior horses that can easily compete at this level, but they would have to be trained and schooled correctly and ridden by a rider who has solid foundations when it comes to riding, in order to apply correct aids instead of interfering.
The problem we have in our sport is that the horse is the main athlete and the rider just expects correct performance with sometimes very little training. A ballet dancer spends hours on stretching, strengthening and training their body before they perform (go on stage), we just
pull our horse out of the paddock and expect it to perform. We need to train our young riders to become athletes too, so they understand what the horse is going through.
Schooling is not just for the horse, it is important for the rider as well. Unless the rider is able to maintain balance and independence of their seat and aids it is impossible for them to school a horse correctly, let alone improve upon its natural talents.
Many riders don’t realise that over long term a horse is only as good as the rider who is schooling it. It doesn’t matter how well educated your horse is when you buy it, if you don’t keep up the good work you lose it. Sadly in most cases it’s the horse who cops the blame in the end.
I would encourage all coaches and parents, ambitious or not, let’s bring the focus back to the foundations. The reality is, that if you take short cuts it will catch up with you in time. If schooling wasn’t important everyone would be jumping 1.40m or riding Advanced. If we as coaches can set some standards, it takes the peer pressure off our younger riders who feel they have to follow others in the race to the top. We owe it to our kids and their horses to teach them that they will only get out what they are prepared to put in and with a solid foundation they set themselves and their horses up for success.