Horses have been part of my life for over four decades. I was horse crazy then, and I’m horse crazy now. But a lot of life has passed in between those times. Horses have been a continuous part, but not always the focus.
Like most horse crazy girls, I had big dreams – I’d ride in the Olympics and become a successful horse trainer. But I was geographically and monetarily challenged, so dreams they would remain. Growing up in the Sacramento Valley of California, access to the sports I loved were highly limited. Dressage and Eventing were in their infancy on this coast, and mainly limited to the wealthier, historically horsier, parts of the state. So access to quality trainers was limited, if not impossible. Being raised by a single mom making poverty level wages, it was miraculous that horses were in my life at all.
Many sacrifices were made in my childhood just to fulfill my one dream – to have a horse of my own. We lived in the same one bedroom apartment until I graduated from college. We didn’t eat out, wore our clothes until they fell apart, and largely had no social life – but I had my horse, so all was well. I worked for lessons, and we scrimped and saved for any shows I was able to attend. As time went on, I was able to earn show money by riding and training other people’s horses. But having my own horses was always important. As many will tell you, that brings challenges to ambition – raising, training and caring for your own horses is far more expensive than riding other people’s horses.
It was this fact that began the erosion of my ambition to train horse professionally. I began to look around at those I admired most, and there was one clear factor – even with the best horsemen, if you do it to make money the horse becomes a commodity. I seriously questioned whether I could ever do this as a business. Growing up I had always been the outcast – at the risk of sounding cliche, horses were my best friends. When offered a price on my Ben that would have meant 1000% profit, I did not hesitate to turn it down. It would have been like selling a child, to me. I suppose that should have been my clear sign that I could not be a professional trainer!
Still, I enjoyed helping the amateur riders I taught, and I took great joy in developing my own horses. When I raised my own Dutch Warmblood mare and trained her up through most of the Grand Prix movements, I knew that my skills were finally reaching maturity. Although she was a challenge, and taught me many hard lessons, she became the ride many only dream of – cock your hip, and you had canter pirouette; now shift right and you have canter half pass; stretch tall and you get piaffe. All of this with a soft rubber straight mouth snaffle, and no more contact than the weight of the reins. The day my very hot mare stood stock still while two loose horses bolted across our competition arena, and then went on to get high score for the day, I knew I was doing something right!
Unfortunately, I reached this peak at the same time I grew increasingly disillusioned with the sport side of Dressage. I began to see more riders gaining success through spending large amounts of money rather than long hours in the saddle. For me, Dressage had always been about the development of a partnership over many years. Riders learned from the ground up, and horses were brought along by the same rider, from Training through Grand Prix. It was not so much the idea of beginning riders having well trained horses that bothered me – it was the fact that I watched so many then hang their shingles out as trainers, based only upon their awards gained on horses trained by other people. Being able to ride a test successfully has nothing to do with training horses or other riders.
At the same time I was becoming distanced from my sport, my mare was injured and we lost access to suitable facilities. Life took over, with a new job and new friends. The horses stayed, but the motivation was gone. We did some riding, and I worked my horses at home – but with long breaks in between and little drive.
Then, two years ago, I decided it was time to either get serious or sell the horses. As much as I love them, they are very expensive pets and a lot of work to keep at home. It was hard to justify, and not fair to them. So, I found myself starting out with an out of shape appy in his late teens and a seven year old mare that didn’t even know how to lunge. This was not the best situation for someone trying to get reengaged! There was no reason to believe this time would be any more successful than the past – but somehow I was more determined this time.
This time truly is different. I’ve begun to rejoin the horse community, in small ways. I’ve reconnected with my horses on a level I haven’t experienced in decades. I’ve rediscovered my old skills, and learned some new ones. I’ve immersed myself in every classical or science based text I can get my hands on, and I now have a better understanding of why some of my past techniques worked … and why some really didn’t. I have four distinctly individual horses – each with their own quirks and baggage – and we learn from each other daily. It’s a joy just to walk into the barn each day!
This blog will be about how I reconnected with these fabulous beings that share my life; about relearning skills long untested; about coming to terms with a sport I no longer recognize while finding where my place is (or isn’t) in this “new world”. I’ve made connections on the internet that have helped me keep my balance and motivation, so it seemed time to give something back. If even just one person finds something to relate to in my personal journey, then it will have fulfilled the promise of shared experience that is the internet.
Be good to your horses!