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?
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.
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.
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.
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?