Want to determine whether you have the right horse? Take a simple litmus test.
Think, “At the start of any given day, how do I feel about riding my horse today? Do I feel as if I can’t wait to ride? Do I feel indifferent? Do I feel some sense of reluctance, even fear or discomfort, about riding this particular horse?”
Those riders who look forward eagerly to each ride almost always have the “Mr. Rights” of the horse world. These horses bring pleasure, satisfaction and joy to every ride. This may be a matter of “good chemistry,” the sense that you and the horse respond so well to one another that you seem to read one another’s minds. It may stem from having a horse that allows you to achieve various personal or competitive goals. It may be like that saying, “Putting on a comfortable pair of old slippers.” It may be a combination of some or all of these, but if your sense of daily anticipation is high, consider yourself one of the lucky riders.
It’s important to accept and respect the individual nature of these bonds. I’ve watched tall men ride small Arabians over miles of desert trails in Death Valley. I’ve watched tiny women perched on 17.2-hand warmblood behemoths come trotting down centerlines, and I’ve seen galloping grandparents in their mid-70s flying along on cross-country, riding aggressive Thoroughbreds. There’s just no telling what will rev the jets of one rider while cooling the jets of another.
Something Is Missing
If you’re indifferent about riding a particular horse, it might be worth considering what this horse lacks that your more ideal horse might possess. Is he somewhat hard to ride, either because of some temperament issue or lack of training? Does this horse simply lack the necessary talent and abilities for the type of riding you’re trying to do?
One example might be the jumper who always seems to knock down rails, even at a height which he seems otherwise able to handle with ease. Or the hunter who always hangs its knees. Or the pleasure horse who trots around with his ears pinned back.
Another example might be a dressage horse that doesn’t do anything particularly “wrong” but doesn’t do anything, from a dressage standpoint, particularly “right.” He may not be a very good mover, or he may lack balance or presence or style. He’s not a bad horse: He has an even temperament; he has three average gaits; he does his job; he in no way makes you apprehensive—but he doesn’t make your heart sing.
This “meh” relationship often comes from another saying, “Don’t try to fit the square peg into the round hole.” Lots of horses are somewhat suited for dressage or jumping or trail riding but lack the physical gifts that make these tasks easy. The rider constantly struggles because it’s a struggle for the horse to fit into a niche for which he may not be particularly well suited, physically or temperamentally.
The rider isn’t fearful on this horse. The rider doesn’t have confidence issues. But something is missing, some spark of elation or joy. “Boredom” might be the right word, but I’m not sure that’s it. Maybe “marginal” satisfaction is a better description. At any rate, something isn’t just right.
This is an excerpt from the article “Is This Horse The ‘Right’ Horse For Me Or My Child?” by Denny Emerson, which appears in the Nov. 14 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse. If you’d like to read the article in its entirety, you can subscribe and get online access to a digital version and then enjoy a year of The Chronicle of the Horse and our lifestyle publication Untacked. Or you can purchase a single issue or subscribe on a mobile device through our app The Chronicle of the Horse LLC.
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