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How far have you gone with a horse with limited natural talent?

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  • How far have you gone with a horse with limited natural talent?

    So, one of my current horses is so naturally gifted, that it has kind of spoiled me. My youngster does not seem to have a natural aptitude for dressage. Her gaits are correct and she has no obvious conformation flaws that will prevent her from doing anything. But, it is just SO different from when the other horse was young. The other horse, you just knew right away that she would be able to collect, do all the lateral work, etc. You could tell it was all in there. The youngster, it's just hard to tell. She is starting to make progress - only been at it consistently for about 2 months. She was started by a "cowboy" and then got worked very inconsistently for the next 6 months. We are now on a semi-regular work schedule but only 3 days a week. She has started to turn the corner and understand contact and bend.

    Is there hope for such a horse to make it to 4th level? She is never going to get an "8" on her gaits. And she is not naturally loose and supple to the extent the other horse is. We don't need to set the world on fire but would be nice to one day be able to put together a respectable 3rd or 4th level test.

    So, anyone take a correct but not flashy and uber-talented horse from barely broke to 3rd/4th level?

    Would love to hear encouraging stories.
    Last edited by inca; Jul. 23, 2011, 05:55 PM.

  • #2
    Well, I will tell a small tale of a not-so-correctly-built horse that trained up to GP just fine.

    I bred my mare in 1993 and due to a series of vet mistakes (he wouldn't come out on an emergency late on Sunday), so we lost the resulting colt - bay with a star, 4 socks and legs that went on forever, just a lovely type. So when the mare was healed up from a very rough delivery - we rebred. The next July 4th - my little firecracker arrived! Chestnut, small, stumpy legged and pretty darned crooked - instant 'we're going to geld this one' announcement at birth.

    So a few years down the road - I have an equine version of Steve Martin from the movie "The Jerk" to ride each and every day. He has a sense of humor and is a prankster. At best his gaits are a 7. In front of a kind & generous judge.

    So we plug away at the training scale and just keep at the system. We did some showing at 1st and 3rd level but it honestly wasn't worth the $$ to compete him much. If the best he will score is a 7 - it makes it rather pointless as a bobble or 2 will drop any mark to a 5 or 4 without much effort. Oh and did I mention he's a comedian? A milligram of extra leg at a show can precipitate some expressive opinions from Himself! I can run him through the GP at age 15 with no problems but he is pretty much a school/lesson horse for my mom's students because his gaits are rather flat and small (i.e. easy to sit).

    Our last full time schoolmaster/mistress was somewhat similar - a strange series of conformational whoopsies (thanks genetic scatter) but a very trainable mind. She too got to GP and spent 15 years educating lots of riders who had never done a change, etc.

    MO - just keep working at training her where she is today and celebrate each baby step of progress. Comparing a horse to a predecessor is hard on them - they do try to do what you are asking. Some are just more gifted than others. There was an article on one of the 'greats' and how she struggled to accept other horses after the loss of her 'great one'. When I read it, it really drove home how I (personally) have to check the judgmental attitude of 'not good enough' at the barn door each day as it is a bit unfair to the horses.

    Good Luck and enjoy!
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    • #3
      I have a 7 year old QH who has tons of heart but very limited natural talent. As a two and three year old, when he would get confused in the canter, he'd just give up and fall down (promise that it's nothing vet related. Promise). Had he been any other than my first mare's first foal, I'd have given up on him. But since I think he's pretty special... now he's schooling third level, shown first with scores in the 70's. He's a solid, enthusiastic funny guy.. and I have no doubt he can go at least to fourth.

      Now, I also own an old dutch gelding. 9 gaits, won dressage suitability at devon when younger. Beautiful, elegant horse. The kind that you see in a field or walking out of the barn, and you just know he's going to be something special. But he has no work ethic. He'd rather toot around long and low than wow everyone with his athletic potential. Go figure.

      I'm kind of hoping that my young mare has the best of both worlds....


      • #4
        Originally posted by inca View Post
        So, anyone take a correct but not flashy and uber-talented horse from barely broke to 3rd/4th level?

        Would love to hear encouraging stories.
        I have been told by now 2 dressage masters and 1 BNT that there are really only 3 leaps in training a horse in dressage
        Basically when I was himmin and hawin over what my TB will be able to do, I was told "every horse can do 4th but not every rider can get them there. He will wear a double one day"
        And honestly, I believe it. We say dressage is hard, and it is, but it's hard from a communication standpoint, not really a physical standpoint for the horse imho.
        chaque pas est fait ensemble


        • #5
          Irish Coffee

          LOL, a reeeeeeely long time ago I was riding at a lesson barn. And one day I got the ride on a consignment horse. He was rather forward.
          After the lesson i got to talking with the barn owner and we negociated a price of $600.
          I went home and jokingly told Mr P what I had done.
          A few weeks later he asked "Do you want to know what I bought you for your birthday? I'll give you a hint....it's got 4 legs"
          I said "A new dining room table?"

          Yup, he bought the horse.

          As Coffee liked to jump rather fast I decided we would teach ourselves to event, with the help of Sheila Wilcox's book "The Event Horse" Luckily we lived in Great Falls VA and had access to the trails and natural obsticles at Southdown. Phyllis Dawson, Linda and Barbara Oliver and Jane Sleeper were local. Jane organized lessons with Maj Beale. I kept Coffee at my parents' farm. One day I arrived there to ride him down the road to a lesson with Maj Beale only to discover that Mr P had "cleaned" out my car, removing my girth.

          I rode to Southdown BAREBACK while my mom drove to my house in McLean to get me a girth.

          We would arrive at an event to hear people say "You're not going to event THAT are you?"

          He could reliably score 67% in dressage and would usually finish on that score. One time eventing at Southdown I struck up a conversation with a woman running the communications. She said she was very interested in seeing one horse go. I said "Which one? I know most of the horses going?" She said "Irish Coffee, he gave my daughter an ULCER" Umm no, he was never going to be a Jr hunter

          The last season at training level (eventing) the worst we were was 7th. I showed him in dressage a few times at First level and he could be counted on for his 67% though he never understood that there wasn't a cross country course to follow

          I had him for 30 years put him down in 2003.

          He was red roan, barely 15 hands probably a Connemara cross.
          I wasn't always a Smurf
          Penmerryl Sophie RIDSH
          "I ain't as good as I once was but I'm as good once as I ever was"
          The ignore list is my friend. It takes 2 to argue.


          • #6
            So, anyone take a correct but not flashy and uber-talented horse from barely broke to 3rd/4th level?

            Yup, I took my "6" mover to PSG and even won a class or two, won highpoint at 4th level and came in third at regionals at third level. Oh he's built downhill with a short thick neck too.
            Ranch of Last Resort


            • #7
              My 20yo appendix mare is schooling 3rd. She doesn't have the strength for the changes anymore due to so much time off, but she can do the rest of it.

              I bought her when she was 13, and at that point I had to run her into a fence to stop her. I knew very little about dressage. We've taken lots of breaks over the years, and I've taught myself most of the work, with the occasional lesson or clinic, once my friend helped me get her somewhat sane.

              She's a 6 mover, correct in the trot, nice walk, weak canter. Short legs, built downhill, short thick neck, a bit too straight behind. Epona shoes with pads up front help the downhill part, and training has done the rest.

              I think as long as they stay sound, and they don't hate the work, they can do a lot more than some people would give them credit for. Most people thought my mare was a waste of my time for the first year. Now I've had some BNT's tell me she could have easily done PSG, as long as I could keep her brain with me and she stayed sound. Life got in the way before we got there though.


              • #8
                I can sympathize.

                I have one 6yo that is a little phenom, he can do anything and it comes easily to him.

                I also have a 9yo ottb who is not nearly as flashy, but will try until he reaches the end of the earth.

                The 6yo I trained from when he was backed as a 3.5 year old, and the ottb I first trained as a hunter when he came off the track at age 3 and then switched to dressage later. Both the horses and I have "officially" been doing dressage since April '09. While I have ridden school masters before, they are the first time I have ever tried to take a horse up through the levels.

                Right now, the ottb is just starting to play casually with canter pirouettes, and the 6yo is just starting to play with tempis. I try to take a lesson or clinic at least once a month to make sure we stay on the correct path. I am not spending any money on showing this year in order to focus on education.

                They are both good boys and I am trying to be the best pilot I can for them. Neither of them is close to maxed out (though the ottb is never going to be a jaw dropping performer) so it is me who is the limiting factor.

                It is interesting riding the two: the one so talented and the other such an unrelenting trier. Each horse makes my ride on the other better, and I appreciate different things about them.
                The Noodlehttp://tiny.cc/NGKmT&http://tiny.cc/gioSA
                Boy Wonderhttp://tiny.cc/G9290
                The Hana is nuts! NUTS!!http://tinyurl.com/SOCRAZY


                • #9
                  Have you ever considered Working Equitation ?
                  ... _. ._ .._. .._


                  • #10
                    It is very doable. I took my TB to (currently) competing PSG, and schooling pi/pa with hopes to move up. Yeah, he will never get the big numbers for his gaits (actually I have a small party everytime I get a test back with anything above a 6) but if he's going to get mediocre scores, I'd rather get them at PSG than Training level.

                    He is about as poor in his dressage confo as it gets. He's an inch lower at his withers than his bum, long as a bus, low set neck, and missing an eye (doesn't affect the dressage at all but still). He also has a horrible attitude and a very high opinion of himself. His only saving graces are his intellect and TB athleticism. Honestly, if he can do it, almost any reasonably sound horse should be able to, for he sets the standard of minimum requirements quite low

                    Right now I'm working with a 13h Paint/Shetland pony, who moves much better than my guy. I could see her going all the way as well, but she's a resale, so I doubt I'll have her long enough. :/

                    I think the mind is the most important attribute a dressage horse can have. Conformation can be overcome but its much harder to install a work ethic or train a dull horse to be smart.


                    • #11
                      just a thought...

                      You may have a wonderful horse with plenty of talent who is just still adjusting to the huge change of balancing a rider. Didn't you say he has correct gaits, no obvious conformation flaws, and has been under saddle for only two months? Some horses adjust more quickly than others to this big shift in their life. That doesn't mean your horse lacks the ability to collect, or for lateral work or whatever. He also may be growing again (which will make most youngsters feel uncoordinated under saddle, regardless of talent). Some youngsters start out like little geniuses under saddle and then later have trouble with collection or something else.... others struggle more in the beginning, and then, when they are stronger and more confident, they blossom into athletes beyond your wildest dreams. I haven't seen your horse, obviously, but it sounds waaaaay to early to get discouraged about his FEI future!


                      • #12
                        "try", "heart", a good work ethic, a smart mind, a good attitude can often trump natural talent. Will you beat a horse who has all of this PLUS natural talent? Probably not. But can you take a horse with smarts and a great attitude safely to the upper levels? Yes. Can you beat a horse of great talent but no work ethic and a bad attitude? Very likely.

                        Focus on your horse's strengths and improve the weaknesses to the best of your ability and let your horse suprise you!

                        Good Luck!
                        Proud member of the Colbert Dressage Nation


                        • #13
                          papony is right, it's probably too soon to be discouraged. I am pretty sure I have such a horse. When I first got him he would truck around on his forehand like a washed up old hunter. As we got into training, I started feeling him become stronger, and more athletic, and more uphill, and above all he TRIES so hard. The fact that he will do anything I ask of him and wants to please me makes me believe we could go as far as I want to go. I really am starting to see glimpses of the dressage horse I know he can be, and as he strengthens and develops I think he will actually be brilliant. But at first, I was thinking--WHATTHEHECK DID I BUY???!!


                          • #14
                            don't give up!

                            I bought a little 4yo paint 2 years ago to share with my mom, so he was mostly for her. She became injured, so I took him on. My dressage trainer scoffed at him (he was built downhill, and all his muscling was upside-down, but an absolute sweetheart who tries so hard). He's grown into himself, and with a lot of hard work he now has a topline, and we're about to start training him in piaffe! She now always raves about how good he is, and how "good riding can help correct bad confirmation."


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by meupatdoes View Post
                              I have one 6yo that is a little phenom, he can do anything and it comes easily to him.

                              I also have a 9yo ottb who is not nearly as flashy, but will try until he reaches the end of the earth.

                              It is interesting riding the two: the one so talented and the other such an unrelenting trier. Each horse makes my ride on the other better, and I appreciate different things about them.
                              This dichotomy is what I found so intriguing in watching them both the other week. The grey will go far because of his brain, the chestnut because of his athleticism. Interesting experiment bringing the two along together at the same time, I am sure...

                              Liking this thread, as I just bought a young mare that is hardly a bang-up mover, but has an excellent brain. Decent conformation. Not fancy or flashy by any means. I'd love to get to 2nd or 3rd with her but was wondering if her natural ability might limit us. Nice to know it is a realistic goal.
                              We couldn't all be cowboys, so some of us are clowns.


                              • #16
                                Funny how often it seems the ones with limited athleticism make up for it with excellent work ethic. I have this in my life too, lol. I am hoping my 2 yo is the one who combines the two qualities.
                                I agree about temperament, my PSG horse is athletic although not a wow mover, but he can take the work, doesn't get frazzled easily, and while it may not get us 70's we don't need to drop back down to 4th. It's no good either, to have an awesome athlete that bucks you off.
                                Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit amphetamines.


                                • #17
                                  this is true....

                                  in the human dynamic too. I know more folks who were C students (or worse), or college drop outs (or never went) who have built incredible businesses and non-profits.

                                  When I first started taking riding lessons at the local stable as a kid (many decades ago), I overheard the older girls laughing about my legendary lack of ability. They actually voted me least likely to ever win at a horse show. I thought about that as I walked across the stage last winter to accept my USDF Gold Medal! lol!!

                                  Be it horse or human, its frequently not the obvious talent that sets the world on fire. We just make progress one footfall at a time, and never, never, never give up.


                                  • #18
                                    What an inspiring thread! I love every one of the stories. I'm struggling right now over a trainer who has pronounced my TB unable to do dressage even though he has no conformation faults and lovely movement. He's just not a warmblood. I know it isn't true, but it is hard to deal with. Thanks for reminding me that any horse can do dressage.
                                    "The captive bolt is not a proper tool for slaughter of equids they regain consciousness 30 seconds after being struck fully aware they are being vivisected." Dr Friedlander DVM & frmr Chief USDA Insp


                                    • #19
                                      Makes me hopeful to read all these stories! I got Mac, my mustang, a year ago. We're on the slow road...I'm doing all the training and haven't had a trainer on his back. He's not what you would call talented, although his gaits are decent. He doesn't even have a superior work ethic, unless we're trail riding of course! We just keep at it one day at a time. Some days I feel like we're on the slow boat, especially when I see what my friends are up to with their young horses. But he is what he is and we do what we do and somehow we've made progress.
                                      My Mustang Adventures - Mac, my mustang | Annwylid D'Lite - my Cob filly

                                      "A horse's face always conveys clearly whether it is loved by its owner or simply used." - Anja Beran


                                      • #20
                                        I think the whole point of dressage is to never give up. The point is that it is for all horses, and all horses can do all the work to a point. They may now be very good at some of it, but every horse can do it to some level. Every horse will have problems.

                                        My first horse (bought for$800 ) and I wandered into dressage when he was about 13 because it clicked for him, but didn't like it myself because it was boring. He was a cute mover, but not what you'd call a dressage mover, and ewe necked. He was very fast, being half TB, and very colorful, being Appy. I think I started showing at the championships with him at 3rd level. I was working occasionally (maybe once/twice a year) with an international level rider who was a friend, and not all that thrilled with his abilities. We probably learned everything the "wrong" way, but we did it. I remember working on tempi changes with him, and the trainer saying he wouldn't be able to do two's, and I showed him I'd already taught him them, as well as the ones. His downfall was his extended trot and passage, but the rest was good. In his freestyle we did three loop serpentine of the whole arena doing three tempis the first half and two the second, which I've never seen another horse do. But, he was extremely athletic, and both of us were ignorant to the fact we weren't "supposed" to be able to do all of that. By 18 he was completely blind, which actually made him better. He competed I-1 at a competent level until he was 28, and I didn't stop showing because of him, but a personal tragedy. He was still doing all the work and dead sound the day I lost him at almost 31.

                                        The mare I have now has some physical shortcomings being croup high and very long-backed, as well as being a major butt head sometimes. But, she is super talented and really likes to work if you can find the right key. I do piaffe on her to relax her, but her shortcomings are more that she is too athletic and can do pretty much anything, and do a bunch of things at once, very quickly. Her mind is going to be the deciding factor as to whether we can compete GP, not her physical ability.

                                        I did get a rescue horse, that once he could go beyond his lovely walk sound, I worked with. He CAN do dressage, but doesn't like the heavy work. He CAN collect and do the light, supple work, but doesn't like to. He should be able to do the best changes, but he always wants to be late on the flat. He LOVES to jump. Rather than push him to 3rd/4th level and do something he doesn't like, I finally found him a wonderful home where he doesn't have to do something he doesn't really like.

                                        I think probably the biggest factor in talent in a horse is whether they want to. If you don't have a horse that likes dressage, they're never going to be that good at it, and that's when you don't keep pushing them. But, if you can push them further up the ladder, and that's where they like to be, and you can feel them reveling in their strength and ability, then no matter how not so physically talented, they will be "good." Remember, though, it really takes a LONG time of honest work and strengthening, like three years, to really be able to see what a horse can do.