Making Good Decisions

Anyone who slogged through the plethora of Coconino recaps might recall that before XC the first week, I was questioning my decision to have Henry run such a challenging track. Of course, all of the concern was for naught, since he ate it up in typical HennyRunJump fashion, but it touched on something that I take very seriously: making the right decisions for my horse.

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I feel a very serious responsibility to this horse (all horses really, but this one especially because he’s just so damn genuine) to not put him into any situation that is unfair to him or that he’s unprepared for. He loves his job so much, I want to protect that quality and nurture it.

Yet it’s pretty unrealistic to think that we, as humans, are always going to make good decisions. Sometimes we just don’t. Sometimes shit happens that is beyond our control. Sometimes we can do everything right and it still doesn’t work. But luckily, most of the time, these horses are forgiving enough to not really hold us very accountable for the occasional error in judgement. Still – I don’t want to make bad decisions so often that a very genuine horse suddenly starts questioning his job and his desire to do it. It just makes sense to stack the odds in your favor as much as possible, and it’s something I think about every single day.

That’s why I elected to have a pro ride him at his first couple Trainings. Could I have done it? Maybe. Probably. Do I feel a lot better knowing that he’s had two very solid, confidence building runs that will hopefully carry him forward when I point him at the same size fences with a little bit less rider confidence and skill? Oh hell yeah.

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The funny thing is, I still got some hate for it. Some people thought it was silly, or unnecessary. Maybe they’re right. Honestly, I don’t really care. At the end of the day my obligation is to the horse first, and to myself second. I’m responsible for what happens to him, and that’s paramount. So I’m going to do whatever I think is best for him, regardless of my own pride (hopefully) or someone else’s opinion. And people are certainly welcome to their opinions, whether I agree with them or not.

I don’t think I’m unique in the least, feeling the heavy weight of decision making… this seems like a very natural thing for most horse owners and riders to experience (although probably in varying degrees). Bobby and I talk about it ALL. THE. TIME. constantly evaluating and re-evaluating our plans and ideas. We both tend to be conservative in how we view ourselves, but really honest and optimistic with each other, so I think it helps keep us both moving forward rather than end up paralyzed by the idea of making a bad choice.

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I’m not sure that I have ever, as a horse owner, felt more elated than I did when Henny and Trainer crossed the finish at Coconino with a double clear. Knowing in that moment that I’d made the right choice, that he was so happy with his job, and so proud of himself… all of the stress and worry was worth it, tenfold. Of course, it could have gone the other way and I’d be sitting here feeling like a pretty crappy horse owner.

Do y’all feel the weight of “owner responsibility” as much as I do? Why or why not? Do you go 100% with your own gut, or do you bounce options off of other people for their input? How much do other people’s opinions play into the choices you make? And how hard do you want to punch someone that acts like you’re a total moron for putting the horse first? Just kidding, scratch that last one… or don’t.

42 thoughts on “Making Good Decisions

  1. I LOVE all of this for real. I couldn’t agree more with you that our number 1 priority is creating good experiences for our horses and nurturing their love of their work. That can take so many different forms, including having a trainer you trust build some confidence along the way. I’ve never understood when people get upset about trainers hopping on- not only is it none of their business, but like you said, you’re making decisions that put your horse first. I have a ton of respect for that.

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  2. Oh dude I’d make that same decision the same way any day. You do not fuck with XC, not for pride or money or time or anything else. If you have the opportunity to make XC safer for both of you by giving your horse a pro ride, or putting him in full training for a month, or whatever it takes, you take it. Anyone telling you otherwise is probably not an eventer.

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    1. There’s an interesting dynamic happening in eventing now, something I’ve noticed since I’ve been back. There seems to be a pretty solid split between the “modern” eventer, a much more trainer-oriented almost hunter/jumper-esque type of program, and the “classic” eventer, the more yahoo just-keep-kicking, get-er-done types. It’s a really interesting dichotomy.

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      1. That is an interesting point. I think as the cross-country courses have gotten more technical and tricky, so went the need for more in-depth coaching. There are questions that demand more than cowboy up. Either that, or we’re all wimps now. But there’s so much to think about on the XC course, I’m grateful to have my coach’s experience there to point things out to me that I might miss otherwise.

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        1. I have to agree 100% that XC courses have gotten more technical and tricky. I ran Training back in 1999 (yeah, I’m old, whatever) and those courses were a CAKEWALK compared to what Henny ran. The most technical questions I remember were things like a double up-bank or an offset three-stride brush. Heck, I don’t even remember Prelims being that technical (although I never ran one in competition, only schooled them).

          If you want Henny to have a pro on board, hell yeah. If you want to DIY, hell yeah. You make the right decision for Henny AND for yourself, whatever that is.

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  3. I’m just trying to wrap my brain around WHY anyone would give you grief for making sure your horse’s move-up was a positive experience for him by having your trainer in the saddle. #1 – It’s none of their damn business, and #2 – On what planet is setting your horse up for success the best way you can a bad thing!?

    People are insane.

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  4. Since you came from Hunterland, I don’t have to tell you that it’s very common (if not expected) in the hunter/jumper world for the trainer give a green horse (especially a nice one) some competition experience before the amateur takes over the ride. That way, the thinking goes, the horse learns the ropes without having to contend with potential amateur mishaps at the same time. From what I’ve seen, you obviously ride well and have a good eye so, like you say, you could very likely have handled moving him up yourself. That being said, you’ve taken a lot of care with this horse. This may be one of those small cultural differences between equestrian disciplines but, coming from the jumper world at least, having the trainer help you move him up strikes me as responsible, considerate and part of a thoughtful long-term strategy for Henry. Well done!

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    1. Coming from that world is probably why I have no problem throwing the reins at a pro if I feel like that’s the better thing. I’d much rather err on the side of caution than feel like a fool after the damage is already done.

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  5. I could go on for days about this topic, but I’ll try to keep it short. Personally, I would MUCH rather err on the side of being cautious and “going too slow” than try to rush my 6-year old horse over higher jumps or making reckless decisions for the sake of my own ego. Because Roger has osselettes (sp? I never know how to spell that word) in his ankles from racing, trainer/BO and I have a very carefully planned schedule for his training, and we try not to jump two days back-to-back (aside from show days, of course). We’re also just now schooling 2’6″ consistently in lessons, and have been building up jump height and coursework very slowly. Some may call this approach “too safe” or “too conservative”, but I’d much rather have a happy, sound horse for years to come than try to rush to get to 1.0m before we’re ready. My trainer/BO are constantly talking about the plan for Roger, and I bounce ideas and options off of horse friends that I trust. Roger is super athletic and thinks jumping is the best day of his life, and I want to continue that work ethic and great attitude as long as possible. Horses don’t have a say in what we do with them, so I think it’s our #1 responsibility as owners and riders to make the very best decision possible for their well being and the safety of both of us. It literally makes me sick to see people making careless and irresponsible decisions for their horses; I just don’t understand how someone can put their own ego ahead of their horse’s safety. I mean, horses are fragile enough: why not try to stack the odds in your favor as much as possible (as you mentioned)?

    With that said, I really admire the careful planning and thought that went into Coco, and that you didn’t just wake up one day and decide to run XC there. The months and months of boring trot sets and carefully scheduled schooling days ensured that you and Henry had the best possible experience at a 3-Day event. Haters are gonna hate, but I think you absolutely made the right choice with having your trainer run the course with Henry first in the name of confidence-building and safety. Bravo.

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    1. You’re right, the soundness consideration is a good point too. Mine doesn’t have osselets but he’s pretty crooked in the front, so I have to always keep that in mind too.

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  6. I completely agree with your decision about giving Henry some confidence boosting rides at a new level. It makes sense, it builds his confidence and it will make it that much better for both of you when you take the reins for your Training runs (you’re such a badass :D) I just had this conversation with my best friend yesterday. When I eventually have to retire Duke, I’ll probably end up with something fairly green, and I have no problems whatsoever with handing the reins over to a professional for as long as it takes. I want my horse to have confidence in themselves, it’s the only way they can build confidence in our partnership and I can build my own confidence. As far as doing what’s right for the horse – always and always again. I usually listen to my gut feeling about something, ruminate on that thought and discuss with best friend (she’s also my dressage trainer and barn owner/manager) and we usually end up at the same conclusion. But like you and Bobby, it’s so nice to have someone to bounce those ideas off of and get different input.

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  7. The fact that anyone would give you grief over you doing what you felt best set your horse up for success just baffles me. I would LOVE to have access to a trainer who could show my baby for me a few times because I know that would be better for her than me doing it, but since I don’t have that option, we’ll just muddle through.

    I definitely like to bounce ideas off of a trusted group of horse people, and how much weight I give their opinion depends on how knowledgeable they are about the subject…and then I also take into account my gut feeling. You’re definitely not alone in feeling the weight of owner responsibility, although I think you do it better than a lot of people! Your attention to detail with Henry is meticulous — all horses should be so lucky 🙂

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  8. My mind is blown that you got hate for having an amazing pro take him around a course. I seriously can’t even wrap my brain around how that could be a bad thing.

    I totally feel the weight of owner’s responsibility. I want nothing more than a happy sound horse who can do his job for anyone. Anything beyond that is icing on the cake, because he is a horse and is happy eating and drinking and causing trouble.

    I have a group of excellent horsemen (they always put the horse first) that I trust and listen to their advice. Otherwise I would get paralyzed from overthinking everything.

    Henry obviously loves his job and is happy doing what you ask (well maybe not totally happy in dressage yet but you guys have made huge strides there). So keep listening to the people that you pay for their opinion and say to hell with the rest.

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  9. You got hate? Are you kidding me??? Horse people are nutso.

    You seem to spend a lot of time putting together what you want to do with Henry, and, as a habitual planner, I admire that. Other people’s opinions do play into my own decisions, but how much depends on who they are, and it is my decision at the end of the day. I know myself. I know my limits. I’d prefer not to have yet another mental block to push through, so I play it safe for the most part. In most cases, the horse that I’m on isn’t being pushed that close to their physical ability, but that’s not an issue for right now. I’m not competitive at the moment; I’ve been chilling since December. When I do get to a point where I have a horse that I plan to do more with, then I am constantly synthesizing information to create the best possible outcome for both of us.

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  10. I think it’s really important to set both horse and rider up for success… and that has helped me make a lot of decisions. I knew some people wouldn’t agree with my decision to have the working student show Miles earlier this summer, but I felt that it was best for BOTH of us, so that’s what I did. And this philosophy carries over to more than just pro rides — it applies to when my horse gets time off, when to call the vet… pretty much every decision I make.

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  11. While we don’t always see eye to eye on some hot topics, this is something that I 1000% agree with. From the get-go I have admired you for your tenacity in giving Henny the best go, regardless of who’s in the saddle, and preapring him 100% for it. Not only do you condition him for travel and events, but you think of his well-being, which is so important. I wish more riders were like you honestly. I think some people get so caught up in the fun of it, they forget that their horse is doing the majority of the “heavy lifting” and their bodies take a beating. It is the riders responsibility to make sure they’re aptly prepared, and you do an amazing job! It literally breaks my heart to see some riders pushing their horses to the brink, especially the younger ones. I don’t know if they dont think about cause-and-effect of jumping/galloping/competing/training…but its not something to take lightly! Bravo for your “overthinking”

    I CANNOT believe you got flak for letting a pro take the reins for you at Training!! Hell, I tossed the reins to my trainer for BN after years of riding at Training. Sometimes, the pro will give the better ride and its better for the horse in the long run. I think that decision was imperative for his learning and now you can both go kick ass!

    With a younger horse, who is also having foot problems, I def err on the side of caution and try to take things as slowly as possible to build confidence, stamina and strength!

    Love this post.

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  12. i don’t even own my horse and am basically consumed by feelings of responsibility and self doubt and questioning how to keep things fun and safe while still progressing in training. maybe bc my situation feels little weird – the more we’ve learned and progressed, the harder the horse has become for me to ride in some ways. to the point that i’m not really even riding her seriously anymore. i can’t reliably give her the ride she needs, and she absolutely does not need to crash into any more fences. (well. frankly neither of us do). so idk.

    anyway tho, more to your point – i think talking it over with friends and trusted professionals and hearing different perspectives (by which i do *not* mean hateful or judgey chatter by internet strangers) can only add value. ultimately at the end of the day i’m gonna do whatever i personally feel is best – but there’s value in learning from others’ experiences too.

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  13. THANK YOU FOR THIS POST! OMG. So I have two young horses. And up until a few months ago, my dad was helping foot the bill on the fancy one. But then we sold our business and he said now you pay. AND THEN he said you must bring fancy horse home! And I thought about selling him, because I know having him home with just me all alone isn’t the right thing at this point in his baby life. And then I realized dad can’t make that demand if he’s not paying trainer. And so baby horse stays with trainer. I also want some pro rides on Romey my OTTB because I’m doing a crappy job with him. He’s such a good egg and he tries really hard, but he’s also a tester, and I’m failing his tests.
    I often feel amateur shamed because I look for help from my trainers. I read all the time about how it’s so much better and more rewarding to do it yourself. But better for whom? Why should my horse sit in frustration and confusion because I’m doing it wrong and expecting him to figure it out? At the end of the day, we owe it to our horses and ourselves to do what’s best for US. Anyone on the internet or at the horse show who thinks differently does not apply to the equation.

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    1. Im not sure that I’ve ever been like “OMG seriously, she left the horse with a pro?” but I know I’ve definitely thought, many times, “Oh god, she should really put a pro on it”. LOL

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  14. hah you know, i did wonder a bit about you having trainer do the first couple runs at training. but if you’re nervous and having self doubt its absolutely the right move to have someone confident give him a positive experience.

    this is coming purely from my perception of you based on what you post here, but i kind of thought you’re being hard on your own riding. if you were in the right head space you would’ve done a fantastic job. basically i dont think you give yourself enough credit 😛

    as far as rider responsibility and doing the right thing for my horse, it consumes most of my horse related thoughts and plays into every decision i make. as it should!!

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  15. You know my feelings on this in detail. We are the voice for our horses and it is our responsibilities to make the right decisions for them. From injections/various vet care to training and the people we entrust their care to its all on us. I don’t take that responsibility lightly.

    I know plenty of people are probably judging me for what I am doing with Annie but she rarely is jumped 2 days in a row, she is never drilled into the ground, and I am very sensitive to her limits mentally and physically. If I did everything based on the bull I hear from other people I would never get to do anything. Or I would be constantly feeling chastised. I have no problem with handing the reins to someone more qualified but I don’t take that choice lightly.

    In Tryon I had a trainer ride Annie first because I wanted to give her confident experiences. He was a much better rider and when I got on I new 100% it was the right decision. Cheers to like minded equestrians!

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  16. As a trainer, I often have to make this kind of decision not only for my own horses but for horses belonging to absentee/clueless owners that are under my care. And I always try to err on the side of caution. Some owners dislike this tremendously – why isn’t their horse going up the levels already? But I do not want to get myself or any horse killed no matter how much somebody is paying me to do it, so we play it safe and we take it slow. If the client doesn’t like it, then so be it. But the clients that stick around generally find that when the trainer was in it for the long haul, so is the horse.
    If one of my kiddies had a pony that needed to move up, I would 100% have suggested that I take him around first. Good call on Henry’s first Trainings.

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    1. I see this so much with my trainer as well! Clients want their kids to move up because other kids are moving up, and they have NO idea what a move up means. And like you probably, she has lost clients over saying “no.” But I would much rather be with a trainer who is conservative with a bunch of amateurs than one who lets parents or clueless people make decisions.

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  17. I have absolutely no problem getting help from a pro when I am in over my head, when I’m scared or if my horse just needs a better ride than what I can give him. I don’t think that is anyone’s place to judge. I think it is always better to progress at a slower pace than to rush and fry the rider, the horse or both.

    Since I have plenty of gaps in my knowledge about a lot of things, I often ask people I know and trust for advice. In this particular instance, that is advice on lameness diagnostics/treatment. I have little to no experience with it, which I am not afraid to admit. I can’t imagine putting my horse in questionable hands for that and I would never forgive myself if I did.

    With that being said, I don’t live or die by anyone else’s opinion. Some I take to heart and some are simply taken with a grain of salt.

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  18. I would venture to guess that most of the negative comments that you got came from a place of jealousy. Not everyone can afford to have a trainer take their horse around. That does not excuse their behavior – but it wouldn’t surprise me.

    Like you, I am primarily consumed with my responsibility toward my horse, especially as he gets older. I work like hell to make sure I’m making the best-informed decisions possible. I probably err too much on the side of caution, but I’m clear-eyed about that and ok with missing out if it means that I feel better about the choice I made.

    The people who make me nuts can’t square their decisions with their desires. The ones who second guess everything, who flail around, who don’t set a priority and follow it. Or in doing so – in making a good decision for the horse – proceed to whine and refuse to really live with the consequences of it. I am thinking of an acquaintance years ago who wore this like a badge of honor. She could not effectively jump her own horse (who was hot, and a tricky ride, and too much for this rider) so she retired her from jumping. But the dialogue around it became “woe is me, my horse is broken, you people just don’t understand, I’m going to martyr myself over here in the corner” and the horse has since had three or four surgeries for lameness, is on every supplement known to man, and meanwhile, the owner is terrified to ride the horse but keeps claiming the horse is broken. Probably there are some serious soundness issues there – but wow, the endless waffling, panicking, attention-getting, and yapping about it is *exhausting*.

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  19. Oh yes. YES. It’s such a privilege to be a horse owner, and like most privileges, comes with some weighty responsibilities. I fully relate, and thank you for the insightful and well thought-out post about this. It makes me sad to hear that you got flack for doing what you thought was best for your horse (and I think it was a great decision!) I think the internet has created a monster in that people feel uninhibited about voicing their opinions about ANYTHINGANDEVERYTHING. Arm-chair experts are constantly chiming in, and their “helpful” advice is all to often delivered in bossy and judgmental tones. It’s sad that this has become a societal norm for the way we relate to one another online. BUT, your blog is breaking that mold…the comment section is always FULL of encouraging comments and equestrians sharing their experiences or offering well-written advice with one another. Truly…thanks for that. 🙂

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  20. I agree with lots of things others mentioned previously- listen to your gut, take the responsibility seriously, negative feedback probably comes from a place of jealousy or lack of wisdom on their part.

    Having horses of my own has taught me to be way less quick to judge someone else and their horse(s). Horses are humbling in many ways. I have also surrounded myself with a select few that I regularly seek advice and training from. The A Team- A close friend that has bred, raised and trained sport horses for 20 years, an excellent proactive farrier and a very honest, approachable vet to name a few. I’m pretty selective about who I let into the more intimate details in regards to my horses. And anyone that cares to share their baseless opinions out loud gets a mental middle finger.

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  21. Cannot agree more. Was going to write about the same thing in the next week or so, too. As I consider the move to Prelim, I find myself questioning if I should. Not for me. But for Georgie. What if it is just hard enough that it’s no longer fun for her? I refuse to put her in danger because something is too difficult for her, so I am also having my trainer ride her at her first, and perhaps second, Prelim. For the same exact reason. Safe, confidence building ride. And trainer will be 100% honest about whether this is a move up Georgie and I should make. Moving up scares the crap out of me. Mainly because I do not want a horse who loses her love for this sport. So, we go slow (we were qualified for prelim years ago but that means nothing to me) we give them the best chance of success, and we ride them to the best of our ability. And we stop if necessary. Really glad you brought up this topic. And GO HENNY GO! He’s gonna eat up that Training course with you!!

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  22. Owner guilt is so real for me. Especially now that my horse is older. It’s much rarer for him to be 100% than not, so I have to make a judgement call almost every day. Luckily, I’ve been with him a long time and can use my knowledge of his body, his reactions, and our relationship to help gauge what he needs from me. There’s also a significant amount of gut feeling that goes into my daily evaluation.

    I am positive people judge me for riding a horse that starts every ride out lame. But for this horse, I think it’s the right decision. Even gimpy with the old-bones disease, he looks forward to his work and enjoys moving and working. He genuinely looks for the right answer and enjoys our successes as much as I do (okay, okay… maybe not as much, but he’s super proud of himself when I tell him he was a good boy!), and typically ends each ride much more fluid and sound than he started. That is a little validation.

    I do my best to ensure Pig is optimally kept and conditioned to keep up with his work. I try my best to put in my due diligence. I ask my friends and betters for advice or ideas. I obsessively ask them to back me up on things. (Dear friends. I’m sorry for how many times I’ve asked you if my horse looked lame for Janet Foy. Do not expect this question to end.)

    That said, I’ve made some not-so-great decisions before. (Waiting too long to get pro help with first level? Riding a horse with a half-healed splint in inadequate wraps? Asking for piaffe work when my horse was mentally DONE? Anyone? Ugh. Dumb, dumb, dumb.) I try not to get hung up on the moments that make me feel terrible, but I don’t want to forget the lessons I’ve learned through my mistakes. And I try not to let anyone else’s judgement of me affect my own decision making process.

    This is such a tough subject for anyone who has the care of another living being in their hands. Parents, pet owners, zoo keepers, vets, doctors, nurses… I think the best we can do is research, consider, and act carefully. A little hope wouldn’t go amiss either.

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  23. It sounds like you made great decisions for Henry!

    I also feel owner responsibility pretty heavily. However, I don’t jump solid objects, and don’t jump anything, so it looks a little different. I tend towards a slow, low pressure training progression anyways, but the biggest way I look after my horse’s interests, is that every time I ask for something that doesn’t work (e.g. quiet, round, canter transition), I always look to myself for the problem first. I will always make sure that my position, prep, and aids were correct before I get after the horse.

    That said, as long as I don’t blame the horse, Kachina isn’t going to be hurt or overfaced by going around a flat arena or field less on the bit than she could be, so I am comfortable keeping the ride myself.

    I unfortunately don’t have a trainer (though I wish I did!), so trainer rides or trainer feedback aren’t on the table. Part of why I started a blog is to keep myself accountable and to be able to bounce ideas off other people when I’m not sure of the answer myself.

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  24. I’m genuinely surprised that people following your blog would question your reasoning behind having your trainer run him at Training. I must think more of your followers, that they are intelligent like minded individuals who wouldn’t question your decisions, especially since they are not living your life or riding your horse. They are intelligent enough to understand that just because they personally would do something a different way, doesn’t mean your way is wrong.

    Any-who….. I thought it was a brilliant decision to have your trainer run him at Training. I completely see your point behind it, but you aren’t looking for my approval.

    I absolutely to follow you and your blog. You may not want to hear this, but MORE BOBBY AND HALO!!!!

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  25. I definitely know how you feel. I definitely spend a lot of time trying to come up with the best possible scenario for setting my horses up for success. That sometimes means handing over the reins. I am trying to make this very decision in regards to backing my baby. Luckily I have at least another year to worry about it!

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  26. I feel like this was an amazing, honest, and humble decision and I commend you for it. I also always try to put my horse first but sometimes I have a tough time putting someone else up on her. However, if I ever really felt it was in her best interest (maybe putting flying lead changes on her for example) I would totally do it.

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  27. I’ll preface this by saying I don’t think it matters, as long as the owner is happy and the horse isn’t upset. And that every case is unique so it all depends…. I tend to encourage people to upgrade their own horses. They ride them all the time, they know them in detail, and usually have a better feel than a casual rider, albeit professional. The key is getting the experience as a rider to be able to upgrade your horse. But paying for a ride/training on a schoolmaster rather than a trainer riding is a really good option. I like it better because it’s people getting more riding for themselves out of their own $$$’s and being able to help their own horses better long term. But yeah, it depends….

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