Sunday, Apr. 21, 2024

Keeping Perspective With Horses

Our columnist reflects on a day of highs and lows in the show ring and why patience is of the utmost importance.

It’s the end of the day. I’m sitting in my hotel room in Lexington, Ky., mulling over my day at the horse show, particularly the second half.

I wonder how many other trainers spend time reviewing how their day went, how the horses performed, how they performed and, most importantly, whether they helped their horses or not.
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Our columnist reflects on a day of highs and lows in the show ring and why patience is of the utmost importance.

It’s the end of the day. I’m sitting in my hotel room in Lexington, Ky., mulling over my day at the horse show, particularly the second half.

I wonder how many other trainers spend time reviewing how their day went, how the horses performed, how they performed and, most importantly, whether they helped their horses or not.

Does what we do and our performance on any one given day matter all that much in the big picture?

I believe it does, and it’s beneficial for all of us to reflect on what we accomplish each day, the positives and negatives, and to figure out a strategy for improving ourselves and our horses the next day.

I had one of those “Wide World of Sports” kinds of days today, a real “thrill of victory and agony of defeat” kind of day.

I spent a wonderful morning showing my two jumpers, one just beginning his career and a veteran who is learning to be patient and relaxed about his job.

The young horse had a few moments of playfulness on course, but for his first outing since May, he was great and showed how much he’s learned at home over the past couple of months.

My veteran was really good as well. He made an effort to meet me more than halfway, and I was impressed at how much he’s allowed me to re-school him and how much of his trust I’ve gained through hours of patient work.

It’s really rewarding to train horses and bring them along, increasing their confidence and earning their trust. Then, it seemed as if everything that went well in the morning evaporated in the afternoon.

I have a friend with a really nice pre-green horse that I coach her on and sometimes show for her. He’s inexperienced but usually straightforward and brave, making him really fun and easy to ride.

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Distances always seem to show themselves to me when I ride this horse. Well, today was the exception.
Do you ever have a day when you just don’t see any distance that makes your round go well?

Today was this kind of day for me. I was as blind as a bat for a hunter distance. Every single distance I saw would have been perfect if I was in the jumper ring, but not in hunter land.

When this happens, you try to make changes that will help you to get in the groove, such as changing your approach to the jumps and changing your pace. Those didn’t seem to make a difference for me.

Sometimes you can salvage your round and make things work out, but on some occasions it seems as if you have no choice about what’s happening. You walk out of the ring feeling really down about your performance and if you care about the horses, you feel really bad about how you affected your horse.

It’s also easy to lose your perspective about horses and your patience. While not the best thing to do, it’s a natural reaction to riding poorly, especially in front of your peers.

If you pursue a riding career long enough, you’ll see that everyone has these kinds of moments. You’re not alone!

Go home and beat yourself up, but not your horse.

I know my horse was wondering what in the world I was asking him to do today. He kept trying, and I kept getting in the way. He had to be thinking that the village idiot was on board today.

After a ride like this, I spend a lot of time analyzing and agonizing over what I should have done differently. Did I spend enough time in the warm-up area? Did I get the horse too quiet? Did I have enough pace? Did I jump enough or too much? Was the horse feeling well and was I up to par?

Hindsight is 20/20, and looking back I would have done a couple of things differently. I would have spent more time in the warm-up area to make sure the horse was more into the program, and I would
have started with greater pace to make up for him not being as focused as he could have been.

So tomorrow I’ll spend a lot of extra time with him, regaining his confidence in me, give it another try and hope for the best.

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It’s a lot like the old saying, “When you fall off, get right back on.” When you have a bad day, learn from it, spend some time working it out, don’t let it ruin your life, and get back on and try again. If everyone gave up every time they had a bad day, missed a jump, or made some other mistake, no one would be in the show ring.

I’m glad to say that the next day went much better. My horse proved to me how nice he is by not holding anything against me. He also went on to do well for his owner. My young jumper continued to go well, and I ended up showing my veteran in both grand prix classes the second week.

It’s far less stressful preparing horses for others to show than it is to show. There’s a lot less pressure when you’re not in the spotlight. Mistakes are much less of an issue.

When in the show ring, you really need to be cognizant of what you’re doing every minute. You need to be especially aware of detail in order to give your best performance each time, so that you get the best performance out of your horse, leaving him with the best reinforcement of training possible.

Since I’ve started to show again this year after several years off, I remember how important it is to do this. While competing really lets you know how well your training program is going, one of the most important results of showing is that it gives you greater empathy and understanding for how your clients and horses feel when they’re showing.

I think a great many trainers who don’t ride and compete sometimes forget how much work and concentration it takes to navigate a course of fences and give a good performance.

It’s easy to be down on someone for making a mistake when you aren’t walking in his or her shoes.

A fellow jumper trainer and rider said to me today that over the past year some course designers were really getting out of hand in their designs. He suggested maybe they should don some riding gear and give it a go once in a while.

Along with patience, keeping things in perspective is one of the most important elements of being a good horseman. It’s the one constant that guides your entire life with horses. It will keep you on track and well grounded, which will enable you to make the best decisions for your horses and clients.

Bill Moroney is president of the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association and a member of the U.S. Equestrian Federation Board of Directors. He’s a past chairman of the USEF Pony Committee and an R-rated judge. He’s currently the head trainer at Salamander Farm, Middleburg, Va., and an active competitor. He began writing Between Rounds columns in 2004.

Bill Moroney

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