Better Riding Wins

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As much as we may hate to admit, it’s not the best horse that wins at many shows, it’s the best riding. The reason some people may find this hard to accept is that it’s not a case of spending money in the right places and then automatically collecting the ribbons. It’s a matter of a person’s judgment, hard work and athletic ability, factors that go into creating fine riders. If any of those factors is lacking, the ribbons will usually go to someone else.

We’re not talking here about the riders in the top echelon, riders that can do a credible job with most any horse they encounter. We’re talking about the other 90 percent of us who need to select our horses thoughtfully to match our own virtues and defects as riders, or who need to accept when the horse we’re pinning our hopes on isn’t the right one and then move on.

We’ve all seen cases of a so-so rider with the means to buy a marvelous horse with a winning record, and then that horse is never heard from again. Ultimately the quality of the horse is brought down to the quality of the rider.

We’ve seen other motivated, hard-working riders of lesser talent who can’t quite reach the top in their competitive realm but who throw effort at the problem, not money. However, they also need to recognize their limitations and search out the right horse and teacher to suit their situation. Persisting with a horse that scares them or staying with a trainer who is happy to ride the horse but can’t deal with the problems of the rider is only spinning their wheels.

Who wouldn’t want to buy the most-talented, best-trained, most-attractive horse that they could afford' Combine those factors with a fine rider and you’ll likely have a winning combination. But a rider with limitations — frankly, most of us — shouldn’t be looking for talent and beauty as the main factors when buying a horse. He should be looking for a horse with the temperament, movement and degree of training in sync with his own level of ability. A horse and rider that work well together usually have an honest shot at the ribbons.

This is part of what buying a schoolmaster is all about, finding a horse that knows more than you and can teach you. Note, we emphasize teaching. A schoolmaster is often the horse you learn on but not necessarily the horse you win on.

If a rider is carrying too much weight or has too little elasticity to sit a big trot, no amount of training or talent in the horse is going to overcome that. The rider needs to get in better shape, find a horse with a smaller gait and spend a lot more time on the longe line, and he’ll be more successful than if he bought a fancy mover.

Another rider with decades of experience may have the knowledge to train young horses, but he may no longer have the reaction time or even the nerve to ride them. Maybe he should be looking at five-year-olds, not three-year-olds.

When your ability matches or exceeds that of your horse, then you will be able to realize the horse’s potential and not detract from it. Horses aren’t machines. They respond to the way they are ridden, for better or for worse.

’Til Next Month,

-Margaret Freeman