BY ANN DEMICHELE
I’ve learned more from horses who’ve said no than those that have said yes.
I’m a professional out of Northern Virginia. I grew up on a farm, and my mother is also a professional. I have three brothers who also competed in Showjumping. We all did pony club, steeple chased, fox hunted, showed in the hunters and jumpers, did a little dressage and Eventing. Pretty much everything you can do in an English saddle, we’ve done.
Lately I’ve noticed something going around in the horse industry in today’s age of, “the customer is always right” and I don’t really like it—the idea that the horses should never stop.
I’ve had several professionals ask about my horses for sale, and I’ve seen many many posts looking for horses referring to this exact thing. Usually someone will say, I like your horses, they look like they’ll do the job, but…they won’t ever stop, will they? Or an ad that says, “ISO a jumper/Hunter/equitation/whatever horse for a kid/adult moving up learning to do the children’s/juniors/gymnastics… cannot have a stop.”
What is this?
Listen folks, I completely understand that no one wants their student to have to deal with a dirty stopper. That’s not fun for anyone. It’s not conducive to learning. However, the idea that the horse cannot ever stop—even when their life is in peril—is nuts. A horse is not a machine. They are not cars. We even have alarm systems on cars that warn us if we cross over the road unexpectedly or get too close to another car. Yet we expect our horses to just go? Always? Do we really want a living and breathing horse so automated that it jumps even when the rider is dead wrong?
I have to ask why. Why do you want that? What’s the point? Do we want our students to get better, or just think they’re getting better? I have learned more from every single time a horse told me “no” than I have ever learned from the ones that saved my life when they should have said no.
When a horse says “No, I cannot do that, let’s re-evaluate,” that’s when the learning comes in! That’s when you can fix the problem.
- Suzy, you were headed towards the standard.
- Joey, you asked him to jump from east Egypt.
- Janet, you had no canter.
- Sarah, you weren’t even close to straight.
- Jeff, you were pulling on his mouth all the way to the fence.
And on and on and on.
Saying no is a good thing! An educated horse should not say yes when the person on top is constantly putting them in peril—especially over a bigger fence. The trend that happens these days is that trainers have their clients purchase horses that can jump way bigger than the person riding, so these clients are completely over mounted. That makes a recipe for disaster.
Your client, who is bouncing as they post to the trot, should not be riding a horse that showed in the high amateur owners unless that horse is 20 and incapable of jumping anything bigger than 3’. This is a very dangerous sport, and giving people a false sense of comfort by having them purchase a horse that ‘won’t ever stop’ puts them and the horse in peril. You can put them in all the MIPS hats and air vests that you want, but that is not going to protect our most precious commodity—the horse.
Put your clients on appropriate horses. Educate them on why the horse stopped. Let them understand that horses have minds of their own. Teach them to ride better. Then maybe we won’t have 8 million people in the low divisions (which are, by the way, often the scariest classes at the horse shows to watch).
Maybe we’ll start developing riders with sense and feel again. Maybe we can have the next Beezie, or Laura, or McClain if we can teach them how to ride with sense and skill as opposed to ego.
Ann DeMichele is a rider and trainer out of Northern Virginia. She starts babies, as well as riding up to the Grand Prix level. She has been riding for 41 years, and a professional horseman for the last 20.