“Self-Made”

After Henry and I finished our first Prelim, someone commented that it must feel even sweeter since I was on a self-made horse. At first I was like “Yeah you’re so right” and then I kind of fell down the rabbit hole of overthinking, as one does, and realized it’s not really that simple. What does “self-made” mean, really? And does it matter? Is there really a greater sense of pride to be found in making up your own horse versus buying one that is already going?

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First I would argue that to some people, Henry is not self-made. It depends on what your definition is. By the time I came upon him he was a brain-fried pasture puff, sure, but he had jumped before I bought him. And while yes I have taken him up the levels from BN to Prelim, my Trainer has ridden him some too. She’s probably got a cumulative 20 rides on him over the last 4 years, and she ran him in his first two Training level events because I really wanted him to have positive experiences. Those were the right things for him and I regret none of it. It’s true that I’ve put 99.9% of the work into him myself, but still – I’ve had help. To some people that means he isn’t self-made, and honestly the term kind of makes me feel like it doesn’t give credit to all the support and help that I’ve had. Success doesn’t happen on your own, it takes a village, and I think it’s important to acknowledge that. There is no “self” when it comes to producing a good horse.

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Neither of us would be where we are today without her. Period. Full stop.

Secondly – what is the value in “self-made”, if any? Does that make one person’s accomplishment more or better than someone else’s? To me – hell freaking no! To be totally honest I’m much more comfortable with the idea of buying a green horse and bringing it up through the levels than I am with buying a nice upper level horse that someone else has produced. To me that sounds daunting, and seems like a lot of pressure learning to ride a horse like that, trying to do it justice. I think I’d constantly be worried about breaking it, or doing a really crappy job compared to the rider it had before. I would probably be mortified by any mistakes. Many props to the riders that can do that, because it seems incredibly intimidating. For me personally it’s less pressure and more fun to bring up a greener one, where there are no expectations floating around. I enjoy the process, to which there are pros and cons. At the same time I don’t blame someone for wanting to take a different approach. Having a more educated horse to show you the way can be completely invaluable when it comes to learning and bettering ones skills as a rider, and that’s an opportunity that shouldn’t be passed by.

I don’t think that accomplishments on self-made horses are any less than accomplishments on purchased horses. I think they’re two roads, both full of potholes and roundabouts and construction zones, coming from different directions but ultimately ending up in the same place. I know how hard Prelim is for the average amateur, no matter what you’re sitting on, and I would feel like a real asshole if I tried to belittle someone else’s success just because they got there a different way than I did. It’s a lot of work, no matter what road you take to get there.

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Beginner Novice Henry was cute though.

I think what makes me most uncomfortable with the term “self-made” is that it denotes a sense of pride. Pride is a really dangerous thing when it comes to horses. A healthy amount of pride is fine, I think… like I am insanely proud of Henry and what a good boy he is. But too much pride can quickly bleed over into selfishness and egotism, and IMO that’s where people get into trouble. We’ve all seen it; people that are too protective of their egos to ask for help when they need it, or to do what’s best for the horse. That’s where people get hurt and/or ruin good horses. To me the most valuable quality in an equestrian is the ability to do what they feel is right for their horses, regardless of ego, pride, or the opinions of others. That’s a true horseman, whether it means they’re self-made or not.

How many times have we seen people’s accomplishments belittled because they buy a “made” horse? How many times have we seen people judged because they choose to send their talented young horse to a professional for a while? I’ve been guilty of it at times too. The more I see and experience though, the more I realize that not all of us take the same path, and that’s okay. In fact, I would argue that it takes more selflessness, more courage, and more intelligence to admit when you need/want help, or that someone else could do a better job than you could, or to take on a horse that comes with high expectations.

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Novice Henry was already pretty pro at saving my ass, let’s be honest

I’m convinced that there is no one right way, or best way. The way I’ve done things doesn’t make me better or my accomplishments more. They are horses, after all, and we are human, and we’re all on the same journey. What matters most in the end is being honest with yourself, doing what’s best for your horse, and what makes the most sense for your current situation as well as for your future. If you’ve done that, in my book you’re successful by default. The rest, as I see it, is just noise.

What do you think?

28 thoughts on ““Self-Made”

  1. I think the “self-made” vs “bought” has to do with involvement in the horses’ life, the implication being that those with self made horses are doing the hard work of teaching and training, whereas those that have a “bought” horse are mostly steering it at the correct jump and the horse is doing all the work. Obviously, not a correct assumption in the majority of cases, but I think that’s why people think accomplishing your goals on a “self made” horse is more pride-worthy: it’s your hard work, rather than someone else’s. I think having a schoolmaster is very valuable, so I don’t begrudge anyone who wants to ride and learn from one.

    I think people start to have a sour taste in their mouths when someone buys a horse, runs it into the ground, buys a another horse, runs that one into the ground, and the process keeps repeating itself. Not common, and definitely not what most people have in mind when they buy a schoolmaster.

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    1. Yeah, that’s true. I just don’t see it that way at all, knowing some people that have bought more experienced horses and ridden the struggle bus the same way I have, just in a different way. It’s a lot of hard work no matter how you approach it.

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  2. I think that not all riders are trainers. Meaning, they may ride well, very well in a lot of cases but they just lack what it takes to teach the horse to get through the levels. People have different abilities. I am not trying to put anyone down. It´s just that we are not created equal. Same as horse trainers are not always good riding instructors and vice versa. As long as everyone knows where their strengths and limitations are, it´s all good. It keeps us humble.
    I think there is a lot to be proud about when it comes to a self-made or self-trained horse. Not knocking your trainer who is seemingly one of the few who are equally good people and horse trainers (congrats on finding somebody like her), of course she helped you a lot, but *you* did most of the work.
    It doesn´t surprise me that you are somewhat cautious when it comes to priding yourself in this accomplishment, you are always so very critical of yourself. You are one of the people who won´t ever have to worry about becoming too full of themselves with pride in their work. You are too busy to find the minute things that went wrong along the way. You´ll always have what´s best for the horse frst and foremost in your mind and that makes you a true horsewoman imo.

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  3. I think self-made is what you have there but also self-made means making decisions for your horse’s best interest (and yours lets not die doing all the things right?). Putting your trainer on him when it mattered to give him confidence is making a smart decision. I am the same way I have no qualms at putting a pro on my fat qh who only jumps small sticks and I dont think it takes away that we are pretty much self made too. Albeit you have done a fab job with Henry and made it to prelim where we are back in pasture puff status LOL

    But my point is if you had stuck Henry with trainer for 2-5 years for full training(Never hauling him by yourself places, never riding on your own etc with a trainer etc. etc) no that is not self made in mind. Not that there is anything wrong with that.

    But you board at a SO NOT eventing barn, you hack and train in a field most days, you haul 2 hours or more for lessons, you do all the things you need to do and I admire you for that (don’t let it go to your head, thanks HA)!

    You have used smarts getting trainer to show him when he needed it and for tune up rides. Kudos to you and your self-made Prelim horse. and of course we know Henny saves your ass 🙂

    And he is SO cute over that BN fence and such a small fence for him 🙂 HA HA HA

    Also as to buying a made horse, a lot of people do that and end up not having a made horse becasue they do not invest into a pro helping them. That is the quickest way in my mind to go south on a horse. UGH.

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    1. Yeah, I guess just to me it doesn’t matter whether he’s self-made or not. The value in that side of things for me is the bond that we have, and the fun that it’s been to bring him along. But I don’t think there’s any more value in the way I did it versus someone else’s way.

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    2. I watched this very thing happen last year. Parent bought daughter an experienced, never-ridden-by-anyone-other -than-a-trainer horse. He had been well ridden, but never well trained. He could not cope with the concept of not getting that perfect ride every moment. So discouraging for kid, parent, and horse. Experienced horses are not necessarily easy horses.

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  4. I so agree with Eva. Not everyone is capable of training a horse. And not everyone has the time to bring a long a green horse. If someone has a job and a family, but still wants to show, buying something made makes more sense.
    I can’t bring myself to buy a made horse and quite frankly, I don’t think I’d ride one very well. My parents bought me lovely horses to learn on when I was young, but since I was 13 I’ve brought along my own.I hope to be able to keep Coco and/or Simon long enough for them to become made horses and at that point I will have to put a lot more resources into getting myself trained to better ride a made horse.
    I think it’s a misconception that made horses are point and shoot. Many of the fanciest horses (in all disciplines) are difficult to ride. They are often very sensitive and require a certain kind of ride. That can be just as difficult and time consuming to master as bringing along a greenie.
    You have wonderful horsemanship and you seek guidance when you know you need it, so you are doing your horse justice. You have every right to be proud of your horse and yourself!

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  5. I think you’ve done a great job with H, but totally agree it takes a village. I’d rather have a green horse + lots of lessons than buy a made horse. Made horses actually terrify me a little bit. I’ve been on my trainer’s horses at times and it’s quite the responsibility. Like, “Soooo, sorry you’re never going back to K3D now that I managed to screw up your horse in 45 minutes.”

    Barring some sort of miracle, I will never have the budget for a made horse or a packer, so it’s in my own best interest to learn to ride as best as I can and get the most out of lessons and watching training rides. My trainer’s been on P maybe a dozen times and took him in his first Novice for the same reasons you had your trainer take H in his first training. Egos + horses = a disaster

    BN H was adorable and Prelim H is straight badass!

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  6. I think there should only be one standard by which we judge horse people. Are they being fair to the horse? (Sure, all horses would probably do “best” if Michael Jung did all their training/riding, but that’s not reality… so let’s aim for fairness)

    Henry has blossomed under you, but you’ve also thrown a pro in the irons, when needed/desired. For some people, they know their experience level, time commitments, etc are better suited to a made horse, and it would be unfair to ask a green horse to do the job.

    The problems come up when you either have a rider buying an experienced horse that is still beyond their time/experience level, or a rider buying a green horse who needs more.

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    1. “I think there should only be one standard by which we judge horse people. Are they being fair to the horse? ” 100% agree with this statement, and more appropriately worded than what I came up with!

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  7. I love this post so much. I do think it means a lot more to bring a horse along to a higher level, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a great accomplishment if you do it another way either.
    I’ve done it the hard way with a youngster before, and it was really gratifying to see him be successful. But now that I’m older, with a full time job and some inexplicable fear, I’m ready for one that I can head right to the show ring with. And part of me has felt guilty about that. Like I’m giving up, or taking the easy way out. So your post here kind of makes me feel better about things. Not sure that was your intent, but I thank you for it.
    As for Henry, I think you can consider him self made. Seeking help when you need or want it doesn’t take you out of that equation. And you should absolutely feel really proud of what you’ve done so far together. Feel it, own it, and then buckle up because you’re right, it won’t get you any further on its own. But do, for sure, feel some pride in what you have done with Henry!

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  8. I like everything about this post. Having been on both sides – bringing along a greenie, and now riding a schoolmaster – both are wonderful ways to learn different things. I love riding Duke, who is an almost-17-year-old pro because he’s teaching me and allowing me to work on myself. He will do the fancy things and jump the things, but only if I know how to ask or if I ride well to give him the confidence. It has absolutely made me a better rider. Honestly, I used to slightly look down on those who bought “made” horses (and yes, I admit it was probably tinged with jealously that I couldn’t afford to do that!), but I totally get it now. Still can’t afford it, but that’s what leasing is for!

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    1. Yep, I’m in the same situation as you. I’m currently leasing a packer, and it has made me a much better rider than my previous horse. She had a lot of baggage and issues that needed to be worked through. While I am looking forward to bringing along my young horse in the next few years, I’ve found this time with my schoolmaster invaluable, and don’t feel like my accomplishments with him are any less just because he came to me already trained.

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  9. I think we all have real, personal challenges no matter what we are sitting on.

    That said, I do take a real sense of pride sitting on my homebred babies that I have broken and trained from baby ground work , to first ride, to a horse that can go to a recognized show and make me proud (occasionally with a trainer sitting over my shoulder-absolutely!!) . We might not be perfect, but any mistakes or glory is mine!

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  10. I love this post. Having read your blog for years, it’s really nice to see the journey that you and Henry have taken and all the people that helped support you along the way. Going from the maybe we’ll do a BN/N some day to kicking ass at Prelim — there’s much to be learned from your progression. And that said, everyone’s path is different but if at the end of the day, the horse is happy and progressing and the rider is educated and safe then it’s a win-win. Another thing that’s really unique about every horse and rider is what each individual brings to the table. For instance, I’ve never ridden at a high level, but I am very good at riding green horses and teaching really solid basics (WTC, intro to jumping, learning contact, lateral stuff etc) — and it’s always a compliment when someone rides my horse and says “You’ve done a really nice job with him”, but he has much to learn from more experienced riders than me! Also when your horse jumps crossrails like they are 4 foot oxers, maybe it’s time for a pro to ride them until it gets boring (says the old, crippled woman).

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  11. I agree with you wholeheartedly. It happened to my mom and I when we bought Whisper, actually. A lot of people judged us for buying her already “made,” but exactly as you said – just because Whisper was well trained didn’t mean we didn’t have issues. We had to learn how to ride her (and we totally failed because we knew nothing) and that was a HUGE learning curve. To really understand how to ride her best, it took us YEARS (and we’re still learning, tbh). That was still a struggle bus. Just a different struggle bus from re-educating/training a horse that’s new to a sport or just getting their first rides, which I got to experience with Amber training her from the ground up. That came with its own struggles and failures, but I certainly wouldn’t say that Amber is better than Whisper, or I’m better than my mom simply because I trained my horse “myself.” I had a lot of people that helped me with her over the years. Neither side is better than the other. Whisper has all these cool buttons that we’re still discovering so that always makes riding her fun, and Amber only knows what I’ve taught her, but that’s what makes us communicate so well. Two very different horses, two very different experiences, two very enjoyable rides, and I wouldn’t have it any other way, really.

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  12. I definitely think Henry counts as “self-made” even though, as you generously acknowledge, it takes a village and some trial and error. I don’t begrudge anyone a “made horse” so long as they strive to do right by that horse (and some I’ve seen are ANYTHING but an easy ride!).

    I would like to applaud the humility of everyone who recognize that there are different approaches, and none of them are a guaranteed success (because horses). I really appreciate when someone recognizes what their horse needs–whether that’s some training rides, a slower, more circuitous path up the levels, a regimented plan, etc. and that there isn’t only One Right Way.

    I know I’ve personally felt some embarrassment that I had to enlist more extensive help from my trainer when I encountered an ah “explosive quirk” that just wasn’t going away (ie: this shame spiral of “omg, I can’t even ride my own friggin’ horse”). Now I’m a little embarrassed that I kept trying to muddle through it, when, after a few decisive “No. We don’t do that.” rides from her (it wasn’t pretty, but it was both clear and fair), we’ve been able to get past it and STAY past it, instead of getting bogged down for way too long on the same issue. It wasn’t good for me OR him, and I’d like to think I won’t make that same mistake again.

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  13. Very very well said. It’s so interesting- I’m pretty much exactly the opposite in the sense that I’m very intimidated by a young green ride, and am much more confident hopping on something schoolmaster-ish. At a certain level even the schoolmaster needs a really solid ride to get around, so I think your point that there are potholes and challenges either way really rings true. As long as we’re trying to do the best we can by our horses, that’s the right way of doing things.

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  14. This post is my favorite already.

    Thank you so much for putting this out there. I’ve waffled between feeling like I need to retain my pride and just “get through shit” on my own, but I’ve also taken the plunge and asked a professional to address the problem or bridge the gap for the sanity of me and my horse. It’s paid off in dividends and I learned (the hard way!) that asking for help and pushing your educational boundaries is not admitting defeat or being “weak”.

    I’ve had a few people tell me “You could’ve done X, Y, Z yourself”. Yes, I’m sure I could have. But sometimes you need an extra eye on the ground or a new butt in the saddle to help you bridge the gap and make things clear to both you and your horse. I am glad I took myself out of the equation and said “Yanno what, I need to do this for my horse and my relationship and I’ll be damned if anyone tells me otherwise”.

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    1. I have never ever ever regretted seeking help from a professional. I HAVE regretted waiting so long to do it, or trying to muddle through on my own and messing things up. I don’t understand the shame and judgment that some people feel the need to propagate.

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  15. For me this all comes back to the fact that people don’t understand that someone else’s accomplishment does not in any way detract from their own accomplishments. To take it a step farther, one person’s accomplishments doesn’t lessen another’s so that if I have a friend who purchases a 35k horse and goes and runs intermediate the next day it doesn’t mean that me getting my backward Appy over 18” sticks isn’t a big deal. Likewise if I’m rich and buy a super expensive already trained horse and can “skip” some levels, it gives me no right to look down on those struggling with a green horse at BN.

    Either way horses are about learning, personal growth and the pure joy they can

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  16. I once saw red when someone belittled my event placings because I was on a “made” horse. I was like, “Bitch, thanks for the compliment. He IS made. Now. It took me 8 years of blood, sweat, and tears to get here. Let me enjoy my “made” horse. I made him!” I will say I think there’s something a bit more special to take one you raised and did everything with up the levels, especially to do it successfully. You know at that point that you made the right decisions and progressed them correctly to get where you are. IMO, that sense of accomplishment would be lacking in a horse I wasn’t involved in developing.

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  17. I love the discussion your posts bring.

    I was a glorified lesson kid when I bought my first Fresh off the track tb. In the environment I was in I learned a ton of horsemanship lessons vs riding skills but it was all still valuable. For my next one I still had a tiny budget so ended up with another horse fresh off the track. While I do think I’m learning more than the average rider… experience on a packer would be invaluable for me.

    When lesson parents use me as a reference for buying their kid their first horse I’m very quick to tell them “buy the best trained horse you can afford”. I’ve made it work on my guy and I’m beyond proud of what I’ve accomplished with Zeke, but it would have gone way faster had I had more experience with a “made”horse first.

    It’s a totally different (not better or worse) journey with a self-made vs made horse.

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  18. I love this post. There is a lot of ego that can go into the label “self-made.” I am like you in that it has really taken a village to raise and train any of my horses, even though I have been the boots on the ground so to speak. I don’t want to do it truly alone, I love my support system, and I love supporting others.

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  19. I have a lot of people tell me how cool it is that Hampton is a “self made” horse. But, he’s really not. If only they knew how many people have helped me along the way! Friends, coaches, trainers, vets, farriers, HUNDREDS of other horses who gave me tools and experience. There is NO WAY anyone could do this totally alone. And you are right, buying a “made” horse isn’t always the easy path! They are tough to ride! I’m not sure why our sport shames people for buying finished horses. If I had money I sure as shit would buy a schoolmaster and enjoy the heck out of it!

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