When I was a kid, I had several horses. I participated in 4-H. The combination of those two things meant that I spent at least some of my riding working on the parts of my riding that would help me be successful when showing in 4-H. I learned to ride with my heels down and toes up, even bareback. I learned to ride a fast walk, slow jog and rocking canter with a loose rein. I figured out pretty quick that if I wanted to be any good, I needed to develop my seat. (I never learned to post, because back in the Ice Age, that was something only English riders did.) I know that my second year of owning the Shitland I spent at least two hours a day riding in a circle I had devised in the stockyard next door (we had no round pen) keeping my heels down and my toes forward, making that shithead work correctly, and was rewarded with two blue ribbons and a red in the fall.
I knew, even then, that riding well was about me. That the better I could balance, the better I could move with the horse, the better the horse would be. I knew, back then, that it was my responsibility to make us better. Part of that understand, however, was driven by the need to show.
Now . . . I'm not sure when or if I will show. I'm using dressage to help increase my communication with Ashke and to make me better as a rider. I think it's my responsibility to be as balanced and solid as I can be for him. I can't expect him to be a great ride, if I am flopping all over in the saddle like a sack of potatoes. The reasons are three-fold: 1) if I am balanced and riding correctly, he is balanced and can carry himself better; 2) me being off balance or riding poorly can result in effecting how he is carrying himself, which can lead to skeletal and muscular injuries or issues; 3) by working on my riding ability I am telling my partner that I am meeting him half-way, that we are working on things together, and it allows my body and his to accommodate our connection: co-being. That is it also decreasing the pain and issues with my back is an added bonus.
My point? My point is that I believe we, as serious riders (spending 5+ hours a week on our horses) have a responsibility to be better as riders.
Now, if your desire for a horse is for a four-legged creature you can feed carrots to, post pictures of on FB, and tool around in the arena for 45 minutes twice a week, it may not be as important to you to create that riding connection (as compared to the love and affection of an animal who loves carrots) as it is to me. But if your intention is to ride and ride a lot, then I think you owe it to the horse. We are the part of this partnership that has rational thought and can make changes in what we are doing, how we are riding, how we are asking for movement and behavior from our horse.
Why this topic? In part, because it was a high of 10 yesterday with blowing snow and I couldn't ride, in part because of a woman I know.
This woman grew up wanting a horse. She hacked out a few times when she was a teenager, but it wasn't structured and she didn't take lessons. When she got married, her husband talked her into moving to Colorado by promising she could get a horse if they did. She paid a couple of hundred dollars for a SE Arabian yearling rescue horse and spent the next three years grooming and feeding him carrots. When it came time to break him to ride, she sent him to a trainer for 30 days, who got him going under saddle. The first time this woman climbed aboard her horse, he refused to move forward for her. The trainer had her get off, ran a rope around his hind legs and dropped him, then had the woman stand on top of his barrel to prove to him he should do what she expected. He did after that. They rode together for 15 years or so. He got to the point where there was no cartilege left in his right hip and he couldn't be ridden any longer (the vet recommended he be put down, but the woman refused). He was retired. This was about the time I started riding Ashke. The woman started looking for a new horse.
Last February, she bought another SE Arabian. He was in pretty rough shape, difficult to bridle, poor ground manners, but was started under saddle. She looked at him, tried him for fifteen minutes in the dusk, and bought him without negotiation (no way would I have ever considered paying $2600 for that horse.) Her reasoning behind the purchase was that he was started under saddle and she would be able to ride him. That was the one thing she didn't think she could do. Of course, it never occurred to her that he was taught dressage, was being ridden dressage, and that maybe she would need to change how she was riding.
See, this woman wants to do one thing: she wants to get on, point her horse at whatever trail she's picked out and then go hell-bent-for-leather until she is done. The one time I rode with her, she was on a very out of shape Morab who hadn't been ridden in several months, and all she wanted to do was gallop. I said no, because Ashke was still having issues with his right hip and back, we were in the stupid Aussie saddle still and I wasn't willing to risk the potential damage we could do. We still rode 5 miles that day and the Morab was sweated from his ears to his tail by the time we were done. I can't imagine how he would have been if she had ridden the way she had wanted to.
Back to the new horse . . . he is now in training with C at my barn. After a year, the problems between this woman and her new horse have reached the point where she felt like he needed a trainer. Thank god she picked C, because C expects the rider to take at least one lesson a week with her and the horse, so they can figure each other out with the trainer there. (And C would never drop a horse on it's side and have the owner stand on it to prove a point.) I know that the one time I watched her on him, she was trying to make him move forward and I could see what the issue was. I told her to cue him with her inside leg (dressage trained, remember.) She changed her cue and he immediately moved forward. (Good boy.) The woman said, "I know he will move forward from the inside leg, but I want him to move off of my outside leg and he needs to learn what I want him to do." WTF? Then why buy a horse that has already been ridden under saddle?
Almost a year later, the horse is in training because he is spooky, rears, won't move forward, still doesn't trust people, hates the saddle she rides in and hates the bit. She wants C to "finish" him. C wants the two of them to figure out each other.
I want her to wake up and smell the roses.
It really bothers me that she doesn't see the need to improve her riding. She rides in a Tucker saddle (never buy one of these, they narrow over the loins and pinch the horse's back badly) and although she has been told by two different equine professionals that it doesn't fit and is hurting him, she really wants to be able to ride in it because it holds her on his back. She hates arena riding and really just wants to be able to get on and go. (She reminds me of a ten year old girl who only wants to run.) I feel bad for the horse. He physically hasn't improved since she brought him home. N thought he was twenty and not six, from his physical condition.
And now his owner is bashing the barn. Primarily because it has an indoor and riders who show. She hates dressage. She hates the people there. She hates the facilities. She refuses to bring him into the barn to groom and saddle him, preferring to tie him at her trailer. She hasn't made an effort to meet anyone. It's like she's offended that C isn't doing the work and turning over a horse she can stand on and then ride.
Why does this bother me so much?