A subject which is close to my heart, is that of when is enough, enough?
I recently attended a rider confidence day for those who had issues in their riding. These issues stemmed from everything such as being unable to get on their horse, to being terrified to jump. I was invited along as an attendee because over the years I have done a lot of NLP and to give feedback on the day.
The one thing which I found very interesting was that these riders (mainly non-competitive) had a very clear idea that the bond between their horses was the most important thing to them and that with this bond in place they could achieve pretty much anything.
But in many ways this ‘bond’ that they were hoping to achieve with their horse was also blinding them to what I felt was sometimes a glaring issue of unsuitability. It was as if this magical bond was going to fix all the issues that they had. I honestly felt that some of them would divorce their husbands before they would contemplate getting a different horse.
We place so much time and effort into the process of looking after our horse, training and competing that we are heavily invested. But sometimes we need to look at our ‘investment’ (not purely defined by monetary but also emotional) and say actually it’s not working out. This is where I think professional riders are a lot quicker to cut their losses before they end up down a very sticky road where the horse is unhappy and the rider fed up.
It’s a terribly British behaviour to keep carrying on with a horse even though neither the horse nor the rider is enjoying the experience. Sometimes relationships don’t work out. Sometimes that horse is better suited to someone else or doing a different job. That is not to mean you have failed, it’s just accepting that what is right for you, is not right for everyone else.
The one thing that I think muddies the water in this is that nobody is willing to discuss ‘failure’ with a horse. Instead the overwhelming sense is that Tom, Dick and Harry worked really hard with their horse and it took them ten years but finally they were able to do a BE80. Is that really fun when actually a BE80/90 is well within most horse’s capability?
Keeping horses alive and sound is stressful enough without adding the actual complication of it being really stressful to ride them or compete them. My poor old Pony Club horse taught me that actually what I want and the reality of the situation can sometimes be poles apart and even with hard work and persistence things might never come off how you want them to.
Jimmy was a lovely horse (still is, but now retired at 25), brilliant cross country horse, reliable enough showjumping but he would be the only horse in the dressage warm up so stressed out by the whole thing and covered in sweat because he hated dressage. Some of it was physical because he was short in the neck and had choppy paces, so that even on a good day he was going to find it tough; add in the complication that I was ignorant on the flat and he was very tense, on top of the choppy paces and it was a match made in hell. I achieved a stunning 53 back in 2005 when dressage judges had lower expectations about dressage tests!
It was after this test that I realised that what I wanted and what was in the best interests of the horse were not the same thing. I stopped competing Jimmy, apart from doing the things he loved like just jumping, and bought a horse that would find the whole thing easy and was mentally tough enough to deal with an incompetent amateur. I don’t define it as giving up or failing that I was never able to sort out Jimmy’s dressage. Instead I took the lessons and applied them to the next horse – no more short necks and choppy paces!
The horse which replaced Jimmy was eventually sold because he was not going to do what I wanted, I don’t define this as failure either because I get more pleasure from seeing that horse do well and enjoy his job with his new owner than I perhaps ever did from riding him. Instead I am sat on a horse I really like and who makes competing a really enjoyable experience.
Struggling with your horse does not have to define you. There are always other options and though they might be at first upsetting to think about, sometimes these decisions are the best for everyone. Realistically if your horse is not doing the job you want, or you can admit to yourself that you are really not enjoying riding it and you want more, then you have two options. Either you change what you ask of the horse (its job) or you find a new person for the horse (selling/loaning/paying for someone to ride.)
If you are enjoying the struggle then by all means carry on! But I can honestly say, having ridden a fair few horses, that the ones I have loved the best are the ones who have given me the most and want to play the game with me. Eventing is hard enough without adding to your struggles and if it’s getting you stressed to the point where you are not enjoying it, then look at making a change. After all, for the majority of us it’s only a hobby and it costs the same to keep a good horse as a bad one.