Tough Horses Can be the Best Teachers

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    Cindy and Spot

    My years spent riding tough horses prepared me for horses like my beloved pinto warmblood, Modern Art. Though a fun, fabulous jumper and medal horse, “Spot” was also hot, quirky and headstrong.

    “We’ll put you on Buster Brown. He’ll dump you.”

    I’ll never forget those words that greeted me many years ago. I had just started work as an assistant to a then-famous A-circuit hunter and jumper trainer. His barn manager, Patty, seemed determined to tarnish my crown as a respected show rider. I’m sure she viewed me as yet another hunt seat princess who looked pretty on a horse but lacked any true ability to actually ride.

    And thus I climbed on the back of Buster Brown, a 17-hand bay gelding with a notorious reputation for sliding to a stop in front of a jump. His refusals lacked any predictability, and therein lay the propensity to toss an unsuspecting rider head first into the ground like a lawn dart.

    I slid my feet into the stirrup irons and started hacking Buster around the arena. When it came time to jump, I made certain I rode assertively to a definite take-off spot. When Buster’s front feet hit the mark, I closed my legs against his sides and waited for him to rock back on his haunches to leave the ground before making any attempt to break over at my hip. I wasn’t about to commit the horrible sin of jumping ahead of my horse, particularly not aboard the undependable Buster.

    Fortunately for me—and less so for the sour-faced Patty—Buster Brown didn’t stop once with me. In fact, I grew to enjoy riding him. The next summer I competed him at several rated shows, winning ribbons in the green hunter division, until he was sold for a handsome price.

    But don’t think my success with Buster Brown was due to any kind of mythical talent I possessed. No, I learned how to ride naughty, devious and untrustworthy horses the hard way: through experience.

    When I was a teenager and young adult I had an insatiable desire to ride yet lacked the money to buy a finished show horse. Those circumstances led to me owning a succession of cheap ex-race horses and castaway rogues that no one else wanted to ride. In exchange for lessons and training, my instructors had me ride the evil-doers in their barn. It’s impossible to recollect how many times I was flung from saddle to earth during those years. Yet certain commandments were seared into my brain: Do not change your mind at the base of a jump. Do not ride a poor approach to an oxer. Thou shalt not jump ahead of thy horse.

    Unlike my barn buddies, whose wealthy parents made certain they were mounted on impeccably trained solid citizens, I was comfortable being a cowgirl in an English saddle. At shows, my friends vied for blue ribbons and championships. My goal? Get my rebels and rejects around a 3’6” course without a refusal.

    Though I suffered numerous bruises and concussions, and produced several dramatic performances in the show ring, I can honestly say that the tough horses I rode made me a better horsewoman than most of my peers who enjoyed the easier route. By combining challenging horses with structured, “let’s figure out how to fix this” sessions with knowledgeable mentors, I gained priceless insight into the art of horsemanship. Ultimately, I learned the most important lesson: Quite often, the toughest horses turn out to be our best teachers.

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    9 COMMENTS

    1. That’s exactly right, Cindy. I really believe that winning is so much more worthwhile when you have to work for it rather than just be handed a push-button horse. The times we spend working with our troublesome horses and the lessons we learn from them will be the things we remember in the long run, anyway.

    2. All excellent points! But I think you hit upon a key one: Professional (or at least more experienced) help. No one can do it alone!

    3. I agree, the untrained/problem horses make you a much better rider! And it’s feels better when you do well at a show and you know that YOU trained the horse. I learned to ride on a really good horse, but it wasn’t until I started riding horses that bucked and acted up that I got so much better.

    4. I agree fully, horses are AMAZING teachers… sometimes even better then our instructors! I’ll never forget my first 2 horses. I got one at the age of ten and the other at the age of twelve. The first one’s name was Cocoa. He would run off without warning, he HATED to jump (hunter under saddle is my main event, yikes! But some how it worked!) and if he got wet other then him drinking the water, god help his rider he would FLIP out! He was a challenge for me ever since I retired him at the age of 23. I knew him for 9 years! And then there was Simon. He loved to jump (score!) and he also enjoyed being in water but he also loved to canter. He would always pick up the wrong lead and run off with you, even into a gallop half of the time! But these 2 magical creatures that were once my own made me the rider I am today. And now, I am the proud owner of a fiesty 5-year-old gelding named Blitz and a beautiful and very gentle mare named Brooklyn. I’ve only own 4 horses but I am only 22, expect me to have 50 next year! lol, I wish!

    5. THANKS FOR YOUR THOUGHTFUL RESPONSES. AS ALWAYS, I TOTALLY ENJOY READING THEM ALL! 🙂
      I WOULD LIKE TO EMPHASIZE WHAT SEDONA WROTE IN HER COMMENT.IN MY BLOG I MENTIONED THIS POINT, BUT I THINK IT’S IMPORTANT TO REPEAT IT. HAVING SOME KIND OF MENTOR, COACH OR EXPERIENCED BARN BUDDY WHO CAN LEND THEIR INSIGHT AND EXPERTISE WHILE YOU WORK THROUGH YOUR RIDING CHALLENGES IS VITALLY IMPORTANT.
      PLUS THEN THERE’S ALWAYS SOMEONE AROUND TO SCOOP YOU UP OFF THE GROUND AND PLOP YOU BACK IN THE SADDLE AGAIN! LOL!

    6. Cindy, I’ve noticed that 3/4 of the time that I read your blog you start talking about another horse that you’ve owned! Your so lucky! Just wondering, how many horses have you owned throughout your life? Please answer 🙂 Thank you.

    7. HI SARA!
      HOW MANY HORSES HAVE I OWNED? WOW, I’M NOT SURE IF I’VE KEPT COUNT!
      BESIDES THE ONES I PERSONALLY OWNED, THERE WERE 30 OR MORE THAT MY MOM, MY SISTER (JILL) AND I SORT OF OWNED TOGETHER: BROODMARES PLUS THEIR FOALS THAT MATURED INTO YOUNG, GREEN SPORT HORSES.
      THEN THERE WERE MANY HORSES THAT I RODE AND SHOWED FOR THE ACTUAL OWNERS. EVEN THOUGH THOSE HORSES DIDN’T OFFICIALLY BELONG TO ME, I WAS THE ONE WHO GOT TO REALLY KNOW THEIR QUIRKS AND TEMPERAMENTS AND HOW TO RIDE THEM BEST; THE BOND WAS VERY CLOSE. I SURE FELT LIKE I OWNED THEM!
      I GUESS I REALLY HAVE BEEN LUCKY IN MY LIFE WITH HORSES. NOT EVERYONE GETS AN OPPORTUNITY TO RIDE A BUNCH OF DIFFERENT HORSES. YET THAT’S REALLY THE BEST WAY TO BECOME A GOOD RIDER. YOU CAN LEARN SOMETHING FROM NEARLY EVERY HORSE YOU RIDE, AND PUT THAT KNOWLEDGE TO USE ON ANOTHER HORSE IN YOUR FUTURE.

    8. oh, wow! I only know my exact number because for MANY years I owned my own riding stable. Throughout those 42 years my husband, 2 beautiful daughters and I owned 46 horses. There was also about 10-25 different boarders through the years. Growing up I had 2 geldings so its easy, just add 46+2! I never showed anyone else’s horses, I showed but not A LOT. Now, my husband and I plan on moving to NY and getting an apartment, I have dreams of writing at least 5 books about my wonderful times with all of my horses! (I’m so jealous of you having your own blog!). You’ve been added to my role model list. Which includes: Liz (my childhood instructor), Jess (my best friend who’s life was cut short by a riding accident at the age of 14), Cocoa (my childhood Crossbred pony), Simon (my childhood Arabian… HORSE! lol, I had a horse and a pony), all 46 of my riding stable’s horses, and finally, you (because your awesome :P)! Glad you answered!!! Hope all is well with you and Wally, SO sorry about your loss. When I heard Danny was gone I myself almost cried 🙁

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