Sometimes a fresh set of eyes and a different perspective is exactly what you need to break through a training block. Our in-house cowgirl Kristen Kovatch explains.
The longer I work with horses the more I come to terms with the fact that I’m a perfectionist, a hard position in which to be if you’re planning a career working with animals who specialize in mirroring your personal strengths and weaknesses. As I learn more—seemingly on a daily basis—about teaching riding, coaching a team and training and maintaining a stable full of horses, I am creating my own definition of what it means to be a professional horseperson.
Among the great defining moments: that “lightbulb” moment when a student grasps a concept and puts it into practice; reaching a competitive or training milestone with a project horse; the sense of personal pride walking down the barn aisle at the end of the day after a long and successful horse show. There are also the more flippant definers: getting calls or texts on my phone from anyone from other trainers and horsemen to students to horse donors or sellers or buyers at any hour of the day; the self-important swagger I find myself adopting when I’ve successfully backed my trailer into a parking spot; the token herding dog that follows on my heels (and only occasionally chases the barn cats hell-bent all the way down the barn) the weird dirty-dog-horse-grain-arena dust smell of the inside of my car (I’ve spent years perfecting that blend! I finally smell legit!)
And then, unfortunately, there are other moments, other truths that I’m coming to regretfully accept are part of the whole deal. My own horse, my cutting-bred project mare “Playgirl,” is constantly at the bottom of my list of horses to ride; ultimately my duty is to the school horses first and my own horse second—but more like third or fourth when I also consider all the various extracurricular student-affair tasks I’ve accumulated in working for a private university. At the end of the day, when I could be making time, I’m also thinking longingly of things like dinner, my comfortable bed, a glass of wine and a movie. As far as professional horse-industry jobs go, working for a university is, admittedly, extraordinarily luxurious and I ought to be counting my blessings.
But in forcing myself to make time, I’m already admitting that riding my own horse is one of the last things I would want to be doing at that moment, resulting in ride after ride in which I consistently demand more than either of us can handle, my patience shorter and shorter each time. My own horse ought to be a reflection of myself, so if I am a professional, she ought to be perfect.
My co-worker and friend Rebecca—my hunt seat-riding, training, coaching and teaching counterpart—observes the same effect on her own horse: when she can find the time to ride him, she is equally unfair to him. Over lunch on a Friday afternoon, I commiserated to Rebecca my shortcomings in my relationship with my horse, how I felt I was letting down my side of the bargain and turning her into a monster of an animal. Simultaneously struck with inspiration, we worked out a plan that Becca would give her a ride or two and see if she couldn’t help us with some of our hang-ups.
Becca has since ridden my mare twice and worked out some of her issues. The first ride, she spent 45 minutes trying to pinpoint Playgirl’s exact issues—what seemed like major issues to me were actually sideline effects, masking the most critical problems. The second ride re-established the diagnosis and allowed Becca to really play with what works for the horse—and even better, give me a minute-clinic on how to work through some problems myself.
While I don’t profess to know what might help Becca with her Dutch warmblood gelding—yet—I’m willing to return the favor to her as well. We try not to limit our exchange of knowledge and suggestions merely because our coworker doesn’t ride our discipline: horses are horses, and while style is important to specific disciplines, one style cannot address every horse within a discipline. In trying to force Playgirl through what I had learned as a stylized training approach, I had skipped over several important steps and been blinded to some of the most glaring problems—all issues that my hunt seat friend with a different education and a different approach was able to correct.
I’m looking forward to getting on the warmblood sometime soon and going for a ride. I know I will have as much to share, a fresh perspective, to help Becca help her horse just like she helped mine.
About Kristen: Kristen was an English major at Alfred University and was then hired on after graduation as the western teacher and trainer at the university’s Bromeley-Daggett Equestrian Center. She would joke on that irony but her students don’t find it very funny any more. Kristen coaches the varsity western team, teaches classes in western riding and draft horse driving, and keeps several of her own horses in training on the side. She shows reined cow horse and also shows western pleasure and horsemanship for fun. Between her horses and her students, Kristen is never short on stories to tell. Some of these stories can be read at her blog at thewesternlife.wordpress.com. She has also been published in Today’s Equestrian and Take the Reins.
Kristen & Playgirl