Last in her Class (…but beyond comparison.)
I am a trainer. I train horses to be ridden… I train people to ride the horses that have been trained to be ridden. Horses come and go when the circumstances of the owner’s life changes… owners become pregnant, owners lose jobs, owners no longer want to work so hard to ride, owners move out of the area, owners never were in the area and the drive for lessons was too far… Most owners are pretty hard on the trainers in the sense that they expect miracles for money in next to no time. They would never expect their own kids to go to college by age seven but they want broke horses in 90 days. Very few trainers can accomplish this unless the horse is extraordinary and to be honest, there are few extraordinary horses out there. Like genius children, a handful a generation is about all to expect. The rest of the horses are blood sweat and tears. Typically, we (trainers) don’t get good horses in training. We get the horses that have been mal-handled with snotty attitudes, pushy obnoxious little buttheads that we know are going to make us sweat and bleed. Sometimes, those buttheads happen to be our genius potentials but because someone messed them up as babies, they’ll never climb that ladder of success. Or at least not easily.
Nearly a decade ago, I worked with a mare that ended up being a standout individual. She was in training for a bit and then her owner took lessons on her. I cannot remember the exact timing of everything… which year, when she came in training, when the Friesian keuring was in the middle of her training and when they took her out of training to spend a few months of lessons with her owner on her. It doesn’t really matter because that’s not the important part. What I remember is the feel of that horse.
During the Friesian keuring, she came last in her class, and all I could think was, “That’s not fair!” Not because this mare had such extreme conformation she knocked you over with her beauty. She had a very old-style baroque Friesian look–kinda coarse and clunky. And I knew she’d never knock them out with her trot in hand–irregular and flat moving. A horse with three left hooves. She was a very unassuming horse when standing around.
But put a saddle on her back and she changed. She didn’t breath fire… she didn’t trot-to-knock-your-socks off… what she did was opened her mind to you. I was humbled.
Trainers can get most horses to do most movements with some consistency and technique within a certain amount of time. Eventually. But there is a barrier. The horse will still hold themselves separate from the rider. The rider still has to wait for a response from the horse after giving a cue and then make the decision whether that was the correct or incorrect response. The horse eventually becomes obedient. But there is a difference.
This horse gave her mind and body to me as her rider. It was a learned behavior until she realized it was just easier to move this way, to allow me to ‘be’ the mind of her body. No resistance. I thought something, and like the extension of my mind, her body performed. And yet she was still in her mind, (not an automaton) and we could rejoice together in what she could do.
Very few horses, (like very few people, LOL) can do this. To totally give in without losing themselves to the overpowering nature of the other.
I remember thinking, “I can passage this horse…” (with no previous training on her part) and her saying, “Wow, look what I can do!” It was a little passage to be sure, but the joy was there.
This is why I felt so disappointed with her showing at the keuring. She was beyond the keuring and she was being held back by the protocol and rules of the keuring. She was so much more than the keuring that it seemed like having the previous mentioned college student relearning the ABC’s. What’s the point of crawling when you can fly?
I know that when her owner was taking lessons on her, she never felt this fullness of joy that was Her. It was the wrong time for the two of them. The mare was just learning the feel of submission and her owner was still a little shy of her horsiness. They never connected completely in the saddle. I was always very sorry of this. But that is not to say they never connected. The owner/horse connection can be just as strong as the trainer/horse connection. They fed her, cleaned her stall, helped birth her babies, etc., And these can all be a very secure, strong connection.
But MY connection with this mare is one that I will ALWAYS remember. She wasn’t particularly humorous (had my share of barn comics in my time, LOL) or spooky… she was a little headshy about putting on the bridle and taking it off but she got over it. (Training does that, LOL) But I will always hold this horse as one of the feels that I strive for in every horse that I ride.
As a trainer, horses come and go. After riding hundreds of horses myself, the feel of horsemanship is constantly evolving. But, I will always hold that particular feel as Her, the shining example. “How do they compare to Her?” Only one other horse I’ve ridden can even hold a candle to her as far as that ability to give her mind and body to me. It’s a quality that somehow was not even checked for at the keuring. Too bad for them. She was a quality horse. She was beyond comparison and quite frankly, absolutely extraordinary for a horse that came last in her class.