How Do You Know What Job Your Horse Will Do'

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Most people have a specific discipline in mind any time they buy or breed a horse. But sometimes there's a problem ? the horse doesn't know about your plans and cannot or doesn't want to do the job. it's a test of real horsemanship to recognize and then prepare that horse for whatever job He's best suited.

The challenge for us, as horsemen, is to figure out what that job is and then to figure out how to accommodate the horse. The big challenge, as always, is that our horses can't explain their calling in words, so we have to interpret what they?re trying to tell us through their actions and through their attitude.

Not all Quarter Horses like to work cows; some, like this one, love to jump.

Not all Quarter Horses like to work cows; some, like this one, love to jump.

If your horse isn?t working out like you?d hoped as a show hunter, as a dressage horse, or as a cross-country horse, and you don't want to sell him and get another horse, why not experiment' If He's a mess in the dressage ring, try jumping him. Maybe that's what he really wants to do, and maybe he'll think more highly of the letters if he sees jumps regularly as well.

On the other hand, if he jumps well at home, but regularly refuses when you take him to a show, he may prosper within the uniformity and precision of the dressage ring. Perhaps he can't handle the mental challenge of seeing new jumps.

Maybe you?ve noticed that your horse enjoys trail riding and riding in the company of other horses, but he gets anxious when working alone. That's just the personality that prospers in the foxhunting field, a place where you can both enjoy the view while meeting new challenges with your comrades.

Something Different.

let's say dressage is the sport you do, and you need a new horse. You finally find a four-year-old warmblood who has the right conformation and appears to have a relaxed, willing attitude. You begin training with your instructor, but more than a year passes, and the horse isn?t progressing. You find it arduous to convince him to accept the bit and use his back. In the show ring he gets stiff in the jaw. A 53 percent was your season?s highlight.

Like many breeds, the Arabian excels in a variety of disciplines, including this flashy halter horse.

Like many breeds, the Arabian excels in a variety of disciplines, including this flashy halter horse.

What do you do' Start with a veterinary exam to rule out a physical problem. If He's OK, consider whether he wants to be a dressage horse. Maybe he can't stand the discipline it requires. Try regular trail riding. Maybe mixing trails into dressage will make him a more willing student.

If he likes going across the countryside, but his dressage still doesn't improve, maybe that's what his job should be. Now you have to decide if you want to sell him as a trail horse or change disciplines.

Or maybe you?ve just bought a five-year-old Thoroughbred through an adoption agency. This horse could do almost any sport, and how smoothly you introduce him to jumping, trail riding or dressage will likely influence his eagerness for these pursuits.

But not always. Thoroughbreds are usually quick-minded, and some of them seem to ?know? what they want to do next. They usually love to go across the countryside, and they usually love to jump. Others, especially if they've raced for three or four years, only like to work on flat, prepared ground, because it's all they've ever known.

We once purchased a Thoroughbred gelding after a long racing career and easily taught him to jump. But he absolutely would not jump reliably outside of a ring. After years of training, we concluded he wasn?t cut out to be an event horse and gave him to a college equestrian team, for whom he was a star.

Before You Give Up.

Sometimes it's obvious that your horse wants to do the sport you like, but sometimes it's not. He can test your patience, planning and perseverance, and, then, your honesty.

If you're not able to or comfortable about trying a new discipline (say, jumping, if you're a dressage rider), can you get someone else to do it' If your horse isn?t going to be able share your sport with you, you owe it to him to help prepare him to do another with someone else.

Before you give up, look yourself in the mirror and ask if you?ve given him all the training opportunities you can. Perhaps he simply needs to be stronger and fitter to do what you want. If you only ride two or three times a week, for 20 easy-going minutes, your horse probably won?t develop the muscle and other soft-tissue strength he needs to do most kinds of competitive work.

An Arabian in traditional costume attire.

An Arabian in traditional costume attire.

Perhaps your horse just needs more experience or exposure, more chances to figure out the routine or to become confident in new situations. Perhaps you both need more competitive exposure, to help you become confident in each other. Perhaps you need to work with a trainer (or a new trainer), who will honestly evaluate you and your horse and develop a systematic training program that will prepare and challenge you and your horse.

The trick ? and here's one place where your honesty will be tested ? is determining if his reluctance to do something is a matter of insufficient training or, take a deep breath, your own riding ability.

For instance, just because your horse refuses three or four times the first time you take him for a cross-country school at your local event course, it doesn't necessarily mean He's not cut out for eventing. Smart or careful horses often like to be sure they understand new challenges before they jump them, but if after several schooling or competitive opportunities he still won?t jump a ditch or go through water ? well, it may be time for a new job.

Then again, the problem might be something you do ? or don't do ? and don't realize it. Do you look down at the base of every jump or pull back on the reins two or three strides before every fence' Do you get so anxious before going in the dressage or show ring that you become as frigid as an iceberg' These are just a few of the things you could be doing, and where you need honesty to see and perseverance to fix.

Bottom Line.

Unless you're looking for a horse to ride in a certain breed?s shows, don't confine your search for a suitable horse to a specific breed. While some breeds are generally more suited to certain pursuits, every breed has individuals that are physical or mental exceptions. And within any breed you can find individuals who, because of nature or bad training, are truly best suited to be a lawn ornament.

If you can afford a proven performer, great. Otherwise, try to stay open-minded, because even the most-perfect-appearing candidates can prove unwilling or unable to do the job.