I’ve slowly come to the realization over the last 6 months that my horse is finally not green anymore. He’s legit “broke”. Like… more broke than I am educated. This is a first for me.
I’ve always had green horses. Forever and ever and ever, green horse after green horse after green horse. My education has always exceeded theirs, and it never really got to the point where I felt like I was sitting on an animal that knew more about it’s job than I did; I sold them and moved on to the next project before it got to that point. Even as a kid, I grew up at a barn where I rode whatever I was told to ride, and usually those were green or sometimes semi-rank horses.
My first horse was, uh, not exactly rideable (I got run away with A LOT) so while he was experienced o/f, he wasn’t a horse that taught you how to be a good rider. Mostly I just tried not to die. Every once in a while I would luck into getting to hack one of the fancy jumpers in the barn, and there was the summer I got to ride and show the semi-retired one (and ate dirt), but I never had a really well educated horse and therefore I never really got a super intense, intricate education. Every horse I had after the first one was very very green, either off the track or not started at all. I come from the school of Get ‘er Done.
My very first dressage ride back on Henry after his rehab I came to the very obvious conclusion that he’s not only caught up to me, he’s surpassed me. The trainer rides he’s had this year put more polish onto the education I’ve given him, and he learned things from her that I have yet to replicate. For me this is completely uncharted territory.
At happy hour last week with my horse friends I started telling them about this, and what a strange thing it is for me. This is a place I haven’t really been in before. I’m really good at making a green horse quiet, I can deal with all kinds of idiotic behavior, and I think I’m pretty good at giving them confidence and making them rideable and putting on the basics of flatwork and jumping, but when it comes to the real minutia, the things that take lots of finesse and separate the “sufficient” from the “good”… I’m lacking. Like Karen touched on in her post yesterday (a product of this exact happy hour conversation), the ride has evolved from being mostly reactive to being solidly proactive. I used to have to swing a leg over and see what kind of horse I had that day, usually spending most of the ride getting him to relax and come into the contact. Now I can just get on and go to work, and as long as I ride him well, we can have a good ride pretty much every time. If we’re going to get better from this point, it’s on me.
The good news is, it’s made me a lot more aware. More aware of exactly where my body is and exactly what I’m doing. If one thing isn’t working, I try changing little things until I get what I want. I often catch myself sitting a little too far to the outside, or being a little too restrictive with my inside rein, or blocking him with my seat bone, or whatever other stupid tiny thing is making a big difference in my horse. Mostly it’s a game of always asking for more – more bend, more balance, more angle, more lengthening, more power, faster responses. Better with my hands, better with my body, better with my seat. Every single step has become very deliberate for me, and if I want to ride the horse to his potential, I really do have to ride every single step. At this point the horse pretty much knows all this crap, it’s just a matter of me being able to a) get it b) develop it further. Sometimes I miss the days where trotting around quietly on a loose rein or picking up the correct canter lead were our main priorities. (not really)
I brought this up to trainer last weekend too, and I thought she put it really well – “You’ve done a great job of making him really rideable, now you just have to learn how to ride him.”. This is the part I’ve really never really gotten to before. Not having a green horse anymore – it’s a little daunting. But on the other hand, this is kind of a really fun point. This is the point where I actually get to work on myself as a rider and start learning all that minutia that I’ve missed out on for so long, and my horse gets to help me. We’re flip-flopping our roles in this relationship.
I’m finally starting to really understand the phrase “Good horses make good riders”. As trainer pointed out – I’ve got my good horse… now I just have to learn how to ride him.