None were new experiences for me, but doing them in such a compressed time frame has induced me to appreciate–again, not for the first time-he diversity of our horse world and the diversity of our extraordinary continent.
The most obvious contrast is between the endurance ride in the never-ending pine forests of Maine and the dressage trials in the arid hills of California overlooking the Pacific Ocean, on consecutive weekends in June.
North Waterford, Maine, is only about 200 miles from the northeastern U.S. boundary, while San Juan Capistrano, Calif., is just about as far south and west as you can go before you`re swimming. Nevertheless, their topography is surprisingly similar–rolling foothills with basically sandy footing and narrow valleys, leading up to much taller mountains. Of course, the Santa Ana and Sierra Nevada mountains are at least twice as high as the White and Green mountains. And that largely explains why the climate and flora are, well, polar opposites.
On the surface, Grand Prix dressage and endurance are pretty much polar opposites too. Grand Prix being all about control and obedience to the aids, performed in the same perfectly level, perfectly groomed and preferably silent arena; endurance riding being all about just getting there, somehow. Endurance races aren`t nearly as wild and wooly as some think, but flat and perfectly groomed they`re absolutely not.
But a similarity occurred to me as I sat here typing away. Horses absolutely won`t do Grand Prix dressage or 100-mile rides unless they want to. And–as in any horse sport–no amount of training or conditioning can change their minds, if it`s not what they want to do. Event horses have to want to jump into water they`ve never seen before or figure out complex combinations. Show jumpers have to hate to touch rails and have the scope to accomplish that. Show hunters have to be willing to hold the same stride in a perfect rhythm down every line. Driving horses have to like to work together.
True, no horse can do any of these sports without the muscular strength, cardiovascular fitness or specific training each requires. And as they develop all three of those aspects, it`s certainly true that what once seemed so hard to them (and to us, their riders) usually becomes much, much easier. But first they have to want to do it; the challenge simply must interest (or really excite) them.
The world is littered with fantastic movers who were stars at first level or even Intermediaire I but never made it to Grand Prix. Why? Because they thought piaffe, passage, one-tempi changes and the constant barrage of transitions was just too much like hard work and declined to try. And thousands of Arabians are comfortable at 25 or 50 miles, but only a handful make real 100-mile horses. Why? Because they have to want to keep galloping at 70 miles or scramble up (and down) another mountain at 85 miles, faster than the horse behind them.
These last few months have shown me, again, how lucky we are that horses do really want to do all these sports.