This blog is going to start with a little bit of a rant – apologies in advance.
I’m frequently on the sidelines at shows or other events and am often startled by the way people will comment on others and their horses. Nasty remarks in clear hearing of many people about the horse, the way the person rides, they way the combination looks – the list goes on and on. My own view is that if you’re out there competing or attending riding club or on a trail ride, you’re doing it because you enjoy it. You’re doing it because you enjoy riding your horse, spending time with your horse etc. You love your horse, you spend goodly portions of your hard earned money on him and why the hell shouldn’t you! What anyone else thinks is completely irrelevant. However it hurts people terribly if they overhear comments or have them relayed back to them third hand. Chinese Whispers anyone? I’ve even heard of people deciding not to continue in their chosen discipline due to what someone they probably wouldn’t care to be friends with anyway has said about them.
The rant above obviously assumes the combination is reasonably well matched, the animal is cared for and sound, the rider is not being unnecessarily harsh and the horse is not a danger to either the rider or bystanders.
It’s fortunate we also hear of people encouraging 100% from the sidelines regardless of who they know and this can make all the difference to how someone feels about competing or participating in an activity. We’ve all seen the combination of tiny kid and shaggy 100-year-old looking pony at pony club. The pony who turns up at the judges car, looks the judge up and down with a ‘which test is it lady’ look and turns and trots off to A with a ‘hang on kid I know what I’m doing’ look on his face! What a godsend these ponies are and how hard are they to find?! They rarely leave the pony club or area they’re based in and are simply rotated amongst families, often well into their 20s. The pony’s various owners rarely give two hoots about what this pony looks like, its breeding, its performances, its conformation etc. The fact you can put a child on it in complete confidence means it’s worth its weight in gold.
So at what point do we as riders and/or parents change our view from ‘safety and enjoyment are at the top of our list’ to ‘I need bigger/flashier/this particular breed or bloodline/ to keep up with my friends’? I teach many people with confidence issues, some genuinely too scared to get on, some just worried if the movement gets too big. Most of them are now on a very suitable mount. Most of them have had an animal which for whatever reason has been unsuitable and has scared them.
I’ve a good friend who had a tall thoroughbred who she loved to ride out on trails. Life moved on, she had a child, her priorities changed. She was still fantastic with him on the ground but getting on was a different story. He was fresh, she was understandably nervous after having a child and also had concerns of the ‘what if I get hurt’ variety and all of a sudden the combination was dangerous. She’s a gutsy girl and persevered but the joy of going out for a ride in the bush had disappeared. With much sadness he was moved on (and is now having a blast at pony club from all reports!) and she was horseless for a while. A mutual friend found a giveaway horse. He’s a crossbred and no oil painting although I’m assured he’s beautiful in his own way. He’s an older horse, he’s got some reasonable education behind him, he takes a bit of tender loving care to keep him ticking over particularly in winter. But he is 150% SAFE! She’s got her nerve back and is enjoying riding again!
Often our chosen equine friend isn’t the best looking beast in the world or the best moving but their owners love them! Sure they may not jump to A Grade, perform a Prix St George dressage test anytime soon or finish in the top ten of the Quilty but realistically how many of us are going to achieve these goals? There are a very small percentage of us with the ability, discipline, and sheer determination required to perform at the elite level and a smaller percentage again of those with the means and time to do so! Those performing at these levels certainly deserve our admiration as it’s tough out there!
In a VERY long-winded way I guess I’m saying that the majority of us have a horse for pure enjoyment. Sure we may compete anything from once a year to every weekend during the appropriate season but we do it because we love it. It’s our hobby! To hear someone passing a negative comment on our beloved friend (or indeed ourselves!) because of how he looks can be terribly hurtful!
I recently had someone contact me wanting lessons and they felt they had to tell me they rode a standardbred and ask if I was still prepared to teach them. I felt very sorry that someone had to say that. I actually have a soft spot for the standardbreds but that aside I’m more than happy to go and teach any combination who wants to learn! As long as a combination is well matched and it’s safe let’s get on, ride and enjoy ourselves! There are exceptions to every rule! Not all off the track thoroughbreds are lunatics, not all standardbreds pace, not all clydie crosses are dead quiet! It’s a matter of finding the horse which works for YOU!
I own a young horse who’s not generally thought of as the breed you would choose for wanting to seriously compete in dressage. I’ve my own reasons for choosing him and am fully aware he’s not a flashy moving ‘flavour of the month’. For me it’s not about winning. It’s about the journey, it’s about scoring better next week than I did last week and most of all enjoying myself! There’s no reason why my chosen breed can’t compete at high levels, he’s well put together, his work will be correct and he has the brain and the temperament to go out there and give it a go. I just need him to be four instead of a yearling!!
Let’s face it, the people generally casting their nasty wisdom from the sidelines are rarely competing. If you’re out there having a go, having fun and learning then I take my hat off to you. Get on. Ride. Enjoy!