Who Knows What You Can Learn When You Broaden Your Horizons

May 5, 2013 - 3:13 PM
Photo by Barbarasvisions.com

As every great horseman knows, you can never know all there is to know about horses and riding. There is always more to learn, and we can’t be picky about where we learn it. Even though I compete in the jumpers primarily, I’ve realized over the years that I can and want to learn something from everyone.

“Everyone” for me includes hunter trainers, natural horsemen, dressage riders, western riders and others. These people have all taught me valuable lessons that I have been able to carry over into starting young horses and even in the jumper ring. I think in the old days, horse people did not specialize as much, and you somewhat just worked with whoever was available. Now though, I think a lot of us have gotten stuck in ruts and only work with our one trainer or trainers in one specific discipline.

People looked at me like I was crazy when I said I love my dressage lessons. It doesn’t mean that I’m going to ride my jumper like a dressage rider, but for sure there are things they can teach me to help me. 

I first began working with hunter trainer Wendy Hofmeister when I was 14, and she gave me the opportunity to ride one of her junior hunters. She specializes in bringing along young horses mainly for the hunter ring. She was able to flat a horse and make it more rideable than anyone I know. From her, I learned how to start jumping young horses.

Yes, anyone can simply go jump a jump on a young horse, but the way that you start them is how they will carry on for their future. She showed me different exercises that she used when jumping to help the horse learn the correct rhythm and form. She taught me that you should never try to teach a horse something new when they are fresh or nervous because they will not learn. Wendy was very tough, but she made me work hard to try to meet her expectations and that simply made me better myself.   

At first I was skeptical when my mom told me she had asked a natural horseman, Chase Dodd, to visit our farm for a day of training. He has mostly worked with western horses, and he is well known for winning the Extreme Mustang Makeover twice.

This was in the early stages of developing our breeding program, and I was still stuck in “that rut” where I did not think I could learn something from him. Boy was I wrong!

After working with him for a day and analyzing everything, I soon found myself using his methods with all of my horses. He taught me that you can love and want to play with your horse, but they must respect you. If they respect you, you can teach them, and they will be a usable horse no matter what.

One trick he showed me with young horses is quite simple but very effective. When you walk your horse out to the paddock, make him stop and stand several times to teach him he has to pay attention to you at all times. I do not train exactly using his methods; I have adopted some of his theories and put them to work with my methods. He has been an invaluable part of my education.

Dorothy Morkis, otherwise known to me as Dottie, is a dressage rider who represented the United States on the bronze-medal team in the 1976 Olympic Games. I was lucky enough to have met her while I was down showing in Wellington, Fla.

That old saying that everything happens for a reason was exactly the case here. My 8-year-old investment mare I had down at the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival was very green and needed a lot of work on her rideability. She has more jump and power than she knows what to do with, but she was simply green. She was started late in life.

I love flatwork; I think every horse must flat well in order to perform well. However, in today’s busy environment flatting often goes on the backburner. Dottie was a drill sergeant and tough, but she was also patient, and she helped me so much. I have learned over the years that I do best with this type of training style; I need someone who is tough on me.

After one lesson with Dottie, I rode the mare a whole different way than I was used to. It wasn’t a dressage way, it was simply a good way for this particular horse. It was amazing how fast she came along after being ridden like this for a bit. Instead of pushing her onto the bridle, she made me wait for her to come onto the bridle so that I wasn’t pushing her past her rhythm, and in turn, she was much more relaxed and became more rideable.     

Ever since I was younger, I have ridden without a trainer overseeing my every move. We have always kept our horses at home and as such have had to learn mostly by ourselves, although we’ve had help at certain shows. My older sister Alison helped me a lot by giving me lessons when asked; however, as anyone with a sister knows, they were not always peaceful lessons. These days they are much better, and I even help her with her horse. Growing up without a lot of instruction really taught me the benefit of help from anywhere. I would never turn down a lesson from outside my discipline. Who knows what you can learn.   

Chronicle blogger Taylor Flury rides out of her family’s AliBoo Farm in Minooka, Ill., and competes primarily in the jumpers. Flury’s top mount is the U.S.-bred Role Model (Roc USA—Darling Devil), who claimed U.S. Equestrian Federation Horse of the Year titles in 2011 and 2012 in the 5- and 6-Year-Old Jumper divisions Their story includes brain surgeries and broken shoulders along with the blue ribbons. 

Want to know more about Taylor and Role Model? Read the article that appeared in the March 19, 2012 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse.

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