The Horse Nation staff thanks the lesson horses in their lives!
“Sometimes it is the most difficult horse that has the most to give you”- Lendon Gray.
International Lesson Horse Day is always full of stories about tolerant, patient and forgiving lesson horses and ponies that plod along without a care even when their rider doesn’t possess the quietest of hands or most balanced seat. These horses are truly gifts from above, but so are the horses that challenge us and push us out of our comfort zone.
Enter: Point South. South is the most difficult horse I have ever had the chance to ride and every day that I saddle up I am thankful that I had the opportunity to work with him. South knows his job and appreciates a rider who also knows their job but he carried on, only mildly frustrated, as I struggled to find my rhythm with him. Having the ride on South not only gave me the opportunity to make my lifelong dream of riding with George Morris a reality, it also taught me so much more about myself and the areas I needed to work on as a rider. I cannot extend my appreciation enough to South for pushing me outside of my comfort zone and reminding me that good riders never stop learning. You are a saint in your own special way, Southy boy, and I will always love you for that.
Morgane Schmidt Gabriel:
“You need to be harder on yourself than your horse.” -Stacee Collier
I’m a firm believer that every horse teaches you something, you just have to be willing to listen — even when you’re pretty sure you already know what you’re doing. Although I’ve been ridiculously fortunate to have had a whole slew of fabulous equine teachers over the years, it’s my current partner who is really showing me how much more I have to learn.
Will, AKA The Beastlet, is a 17hh, KWPN gelding who is pretty much the love of my life. He’s tall, dark, handsome, intelligent, forgiving, talented, and immensely comical; I don’t think that a horse could have more personality than he does. At eight years old he’s schooling I-1 and has started showing the Prix St. Georges; we should be setting the world on fire in the show ring. But we’re not.
For all his talent, heart, and equine genius — and he IS a genius–, he has been unfortunately saddled with a rider who has never ridden or trained a horse of his caliber. While I have ridden and trained to the FEI level, I have not done so before on such a big, powerful mover. Fortunately for him he doesn’t particularly care about scores and accolades. Unfortunately though, he does have to slog through me trying to relearn much of what I thought I already knew. Specifically, I’m learning that how I’ve been using my body isn’t totally effective for the FEI levels and that while I may be able to gloss over that little issue while training, the hole gets magnified in a show situation.
It’s a humbling, often frustrating, experience for sure but one that is 100% necessary. As I’ve been fumbling through it the last few months, I can see and feel the improvements, but they’re still not easy. Turns out that it takes quite a bit of effort to make it look so effortless. 😉 I’m reminded throughout it all though how incredibly fortunate I am to have such a tolerant, patient partner to struggle though it with. He’s certainly taught me that when the frustration sets in I need to be harder on myself than my horse, because he’s giving me all he knows how to and it’s my job to be the level of rider he needs.
The first horse that taught me how to ride with a little, old Arabian gelding named “Trib,” short for Tribute.
Trib worked at the local dude string stable I was volunteering at to score free riding. I was in college and had decided horses were WAY more fun than going to school. Trib was what you called a flea-bitten gray, but he had so many freckles in his coat that from 10 feet away he actually looked pink in color, with a white mane and tail. He was a real life My Little Pony. He was honest, forgiving, and oh-so-patient. I remember learning how to canter on him. Things kept going splat, splat, splat on his back… until finally I got it and learned if you move with the horse, instead of bracing against him, cantering actually became easy instead of terrifying.
I was only there for a few months before school let out and I moved back home, dropped out of college and bought my first horse. Best decision I ever made.
Those few months riding Trib were some of the best I can recall, and every time I see a little, old, gray Arab, I think of that pink pony.
The horses in the western program at the university where I taught and coached for four years had to do double duty — not only were they teaching our students all the finer points of horsemanship and reining, but they were also forced to put up with my novice abilities as a coach and instructor and my constant balancing act between making sure riders got enough practice and horses still had a few moves left in the tank for the next day. Lesson horses they may have been, but I refused to let the students treat them like spinning, stopping, lead changing machines that operated on a quarter.
I’d like to think I did both parties equal justice, that I left an impression on my students and made the horses’ lives just a little bit better in four years I was there, reminding both riders and horses that there was more to life than endless merry-go-round circles on the rail. On International Lesson Horse Day, I think of those horses I left behind me when I left that position — horses that I did not own and could not take with me on my next adventure, but horses who had carried me in more ways than one. I hope they are happy, healthy and continuing to relish the role of teacher: it’s an important position, but such a heavy burden.
Go lesson horses! Go riding!