There are many different ways to experience horses. For many people owning an equine partner may never be in the cards. They may ride lesson horses, ride friends’ horses, and pay for that occasional tourist trail ride. A majority of people in the horse industry will seek out a trained animal they can ride, compete, and enjoy while a trainer handles the occasional tune-ups. The few, the brave, the bold will find their special animal and commit to training said animal themselves. In my opinion, (and I’m sure many disagree) this latter group are the blessed ones. While any interaction with a horse is something to be thankful for. There’s not a day that I’m not grateful that I was riding a four year old with only thirty days professional training at the age of eight. My dad gifted me a green 16.3 hand, five year old when I was eleven. While growth in your riding is an accomplishment to be proud of, nothing beats the feeling of bringing up your own horse/pony at the same time! Taking the hard knocks when your bones are still made of rubber and you bounce when you hit solid ground is one of those Mastercard priceless experiences.
I mean why would you purchase a bomb proof, been there done that packer/seasoned campaigner when you can experience the discovery of every single invisible to you gremlin that your horse will identify? Can you even truly appreciate that packer/campaigner when you never experienced those first show freakouts? Why would anyone want to miss those first thrilling moments, when your horse processes that there is a tiny predator perched on its back, and decides what to do about it? Should it stand frozen, maybe try to slide you off with a rear, or better yet the ever popular explosive buck? Do you really want someone else to experience the first thrill of flight that your horse has to offer, even if it means being hurtled straight through a fence? What could be better than sitting on an animal that hasn’t quite figured out how to balance themselves with additional weight on their back?
Maybe X Games aerobatics aren’t quite your thing. You may decide to pass on many of the “first” experiences, but pick up the reins while the animal is still green, but not exactly “trained.” Green horses give you plenty of opportunity to get your adrenaline kicks. There are the lightning speed side-steps that leave you suspended in mid-air just long enough to see the confused animal you were once riding standing beside you before your a$$ makes contact with the ground. Your horse may bolt, and you can enjoy warp speed, until one of you figures out how to stop. There are those first few trips over ground poles, where your horse stumbles and barely regains his footing before you both face plant in the arena dirt.
Once your animal graduates from green, and you begin more technical movements there is the elation of nailing a difficult maneuver and then not being able to replicate it for another month. Who would want to sacrifice that experience to a professional? There’s no feeling like watching your normally angelic animal lose their $hit at a competition because a sponsor’s banner comes untied during your pass or the venue staff overturns a wheelbarrow filled with metal landscaping implements while they are walking by the arena. There may be entire months where you progress at the speed of a sloth stampeding through quicksand. Those are the moments where a rider becomes a true horseman.
Riding a horse your trainer keeps tuned is a great way to improve your equitation and bring home some ribbons, but trained horses have taught me very little and done even less to improve my riding. A push button, bombproof pony taught me how to sit a trot and keep my balance without hanging on the reins. That little horse will forever be remembered as a saint, but the experience I gained from green/half-trained animals gave me the knowledge and skills to ride just about anything even if it’s not always pretty. Starting a colt with my dad in my teens gave me a foundation for our current rescues and mustang adoptions. Now that I’m in my late thirties with a toddler depending on me, I’m more selective about what I’ll swing a leg over and when (I’m not as durable, bendy, or bouncy as teenage me ), but I don’t need to lunge all the spunk out of my animals before mounting either.
I don’t rely on lunging or another human to prep my horse at shows. When my horses are feeling a little fresh or unnerved in a new environment, I know how to handle it (or at least survive). When my horse reverts to bad habits, I know how to school and correct the problem. I can enjoy the “heat” of my gelding and appreciate the desire to do nothing in my mare. These animals also get used to my “style” of riding. They are trained to my cues and expected response times, not the cues of the masses. My horses aren’t push button rides that any rider just jumps on and is successful, but then I’m not training for anyone but me. I can impulse rescue/purchase/adopt completely untrained animals, and through a lot of blood (mine), sweat (mine and theirs), and tears (once again all me) produce useful members on the GHLHF.
Bringing up your own horse also comes with a lot of responsibility. Of course it’s always the human’s fault when something doesn’t work out. It’s not like horses stand around dreaming of becoming champions (I’m 99% sure that they are only thinking about food All…Of…The…Time). If you are fantasizing about a “relationship” with your horse, I can promise you there is never a moment when they aren’t thinking, “this would be a whole lot cooler if I had a snack, preferably something sweet.” There is absolutely no one to share the blame when you are the sole trainer of the animal. You can’t say another rider messed up your animal. You can’t blame training. The proverbial “buck” and often the literal buck 100% stops with you. In my case that means I also have to accept my own limitations. I have a full time job, husband, toddler, and way too many animals. Therefore, I have a limited amount of time to devote to training. Trainers have the benefit of training/riding multiple horses everyday. They have more opportunities to learn and practice new techniques on many different equine personalities. It’s a jam packed day if I manage to work with three animals in the dark after Offspring has been put to bed (usually I can only fit in two), and I usually don’t have the time to ride/work horses every single day.
So why do it if I’m destined to be a Non-Pro my entire life? It’s for those magical moments when my horse/pony finally nails something we’ve spent days/weeks/months trying to accomplish. It’s for that feeling of collecting a fifth place ribbon out of a class of thirteen, when I’m the only person in the arena sitting on a $1000 rescue who once had a one way ticket to the slaughterhouse, wasn’t bred for pleasure classes, does not have any professional training, and didn’t have the benefit of a trainer standing in the warm-up shouting instructions at me. It’s magic to finally figure out exactly what makes a specific animal tick when I’ve used every training trick in my bag and had to get creative/discover new ones. I’m not putting down the riders/owners that are happy to have their trainer do the heavy lifting, and simply enjoy riding an uncomplicated horse. I salute and encourage people entering the equine industry. There are far too few of us, and it feels like our numbers are dwindling. The sport across most disciplines is becoming so elite that many people are pushed out before they have the opportunity to succeed. But…I do feel slightly sorry for those riders that never bring up their own horse or experience the struggles of training. They won’t ever experience the magic of truly building a partnership from the ground up!