Figuring out how to ride a complicated horse … I’m not sure I really have yet, other than to say I have sat on at least a few and didn’t die. It’s more like staying out of the way of the good, and surviving the antics. I am not even sure I would put Eli in the “complicated” category anymore, although four years ago or so when I first sat on him I definitely would have.
Which brings me to what I am about to assert: A horse is only as complicated as the rider is uneducated.
I don’t say this lightly. And I’m not saying all horses would be easy if you only knew how to ride. And the relationship to a horse’s complicatedness is not necessarily a direct one to a rider’s knowledge, experience, and execution. But there is a relationship. If I had tried to sit on Eli at 19 or 20, I would most likely have immediately gotten off and handed the reins to someone else and request never to be asked/volun-told to ride the horse again. However, I sat on him as a more experienced rider, a rider who had become familiar with the Thoroughbred breed over the years, and rider who was more aware that horses aren’t the problem — people are the problem, and rider willing to sit on almost anything once (I should probably rethink this policy). All these things added up to a certain confidence (or possibly stupidity) — combined with humility — when approaching a rather spooky, reactive, intractable mount that I couldn’t even brush without triggering a buck in the crossties. Turns out the mount’s steering was a pretty bit terrible, too.
I don’t know what happened to Eli before he got to me, other than he did race as a 3- and 4-year-old. His personality will never be cuddly or affectionate. But he has transformed from complicated to tractable, confident, and most definitely amendable to jumping anything. Honestly, the jumping was always there; everything in between pretty much sucked. More experienced riders could pilot him around looking quite good, but I sure as hell could not. Not until I developed a relationship with him did he start to appreciate the fact that I’d never ask him to do anything too stupid or unfair. And he started to settle. (And then I realized I didn’t want anyone else to have him–well-played, horse.)
To omit Eli’s significant tooth and sinus issue would be remiss here–a horse’s health is a MAJOR factor in his rideability. Check that first, and frequently. Eli’s issue was addressed, and I cannot adequately convey in words what a relief this has been, as the positive effects this has had on his character cannot be overstated. He is still a jerk. BUT he is a less-reactive, less-spooky, more-trusting animal now. I chalk a lot of it up to him not feeling like shit anymore, of course, and a fraction of it up to me giving him a routine, and riding consistently, and riding quietly for the most part.
You can’t sort out a complicated horse unless you have experience, and you can’t get experience until you start riding complicated horses. You’ll never feel like you can keep up, but you have to keep trying. Quiet, steady, compassionate perseverance pays off, always.
You get to do things you’d never thought you’d do again, like jump a certain height, or have a great horse show, or develop a strong rapport with a horse that seemed unreachable.
I have all these things now with Eli. I had no idea I would be where I am, with this horse, just reeling in the joy of riding him. Before sitting on Eli the first few times, I had been content to hack around on whatever needed a little exercise, generally declined to jump when offered, and didn’t ride with any kind of purpose or structure. I had no idea how much I wanted all of that back until I started riding Eli, and I could tell a really superb, fun horse lay concealed in the guise of a “problem” most people didn’t want to deal with.
If you have the drive and want the ability, ride the complicated horses. The reward comes in the form of an adrenaline rush like no other. The reward becomes effortlessness.