In Defense of the Complicated Horse

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.


That’s not happiness to see me, is it?

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.


This. This is what you get.

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.

23 thoughts on “In Defense of the Complicated Horse

  1. “You canโ€™t sort out a complicated horse unless you have experience, and you canโ€™t get experience until you start riding complicated horses.”

    Bingo. And you’re 100% right, it’s so worth it. Excellent post!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is such a great post. And I can’t agree more with consistent, quiet work making such a huge difference. I’ve seen so many horses that were labelled reactive/complicated/difficult/hot turn into real pleasures to ride once they were in that type of quiet, steady program.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This post is spot on. I’m glad Eli has been such a cool dude for you. I wasn’t sure what my plan was for Annie and always figured I would sell her after a year or so if things didn’t fit (which is what I assumed would happen) but she is so cool even when she’s a twit that I can’t let that go.

    Made horses don’t make you a true rider. It’s the ones that make you work that teach you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have really lucked out with Eli. Completely agree that made horses can only take a rider so far, ability-wise.

      Annie is super cool! I am still trying to figure out how to steal her ๐Ÿ™‚


  4. This makes me think of Reef. He’s not a jerk, but he’s a bit tricky and for most (including me for several months) a “problem” dog. BUT, we’re starting to break some of that down and in a few years I’m expecting to look back from the AWESOME dog I have to complicated dog he was. I have heard from many people on our flyball team, the difficult ones often turn into the best ones. I think that can be said about dogs and horses.
    Of course the good ones like Thule and Conrad are also the best ones.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I very much agree! Every step of the way, Val has been the hardest project I’ve ever had, but also one of the most talented and and by far the most rewarding. There has been a lot of learning by doing–I’ve never ridden such a reactive horse, and we’ve sort of bumbled along from time to time, but he’s finally a horse I’m really proud of, and I’m such a better and more confident rider these days.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. My retired gelding was definitely complicated and it took years of steady work (and tears) (14 until I was 23 when I finally retired him) to make him rideable. I’ve never felt more proud than when I was watching a teenager show him and my trainer turned to me and said, “He’s such a well-trained horse, and you can tell he loves his job.”

    Current mare is a firecracker, who is complicated as mares can only be…. We’re getting there.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ve always found the uncomplicated horses to be rather boring to ride and, frankly, to have had the life trained out of them. I’ve never ever found a horse to be that ‘flat’ on their own. All sparkle in their own way. It’s just that some have more vinegar than others. Like you, I went through a period when I’d get on just about any horse just for the opportunity. Whether it is age and experience or age and the knowledge that gravity is increasing and I will break more easily, I’m not sure of the answer, but I do tend to consider more carefully before climbing aboard. (The ground is getting harder, too, in case you haven’t noticed, and it jumps up quicker than it used to.) But then-I started with a complicated beast. People bring me the complicated ones. What can I say? I do complicated.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh man, the ground is totally harder and comes up way, way faster now. Even just dismounting, I *c a r e f u l l y * slide down instead of just hopping off these days. My ankles are more crunching than springy now.


  8. I have a complicated off the track mare too! Her name is Toffee which so doesn’t suit her. Not a sweet bone in her body, but she’s a good looking horse! We have many ups and downs, but still persevering… good to hear that Eli calmed in the end, we still grow at least 2hh when we go somewhere new and it feels like I’m sitting on an unexploded bomb!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Pingback: Looking Back on 2016 | Patently Bay

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