To What End

Do the ends justify the means? Well … my guess is that many of you readers are relatively well-educated and literate, so you probably had access to a good library and maybe even read a few dystopian sci-fi novels — the moral of most being that, no, the means are most definitely not justified by the ends. If you want a rigorously well-ordered society you have to oppress people. Oppressing people is morally reprehensible; the oppressed inevitably resist. The ordered society falls apart as a result of the means. Let’s all rejoice, then, in freedom and chaos; be wary of tyranny and security, and balk especially at the broad chasm of uncertainty that blackens the space between security and freedom (where most of us live today).

Ah, but this is not a blog about dystopian fiction. Or American politics. This is a blog about my pony.

notconfo

dis chunky monkey who is not chunkiest

When I first started riding Eli, I had plenty of leeway to ride him around as I saw fit, but I didn’t own him and didn’t realize I’d be buying him later, so I stuck to trying things that would get him to go in the job for which he had been marketed. I usually rode him in a standing martingale, once or twice in draw reins clipped to a breastplate and pretty much slack–at the wishes of the trainers, which I didn’t question (honestly still don’t). I worked primarily on trying to hack him out as a hunter–go straight, go quiet, go forward. This did not come easily for Eli (except the forward part) but I didn’t try to stuff him into a hunter mode all at once. I did as little as possible. He started to get better.

Circumstances changed drastically within a few years, and I realized I wanted total control over Eli’s fate, so I bought him. And I thought about what I wanted to do with him.

Should I keep trying to pour him into a hunter jello mold? He has the gaits and jumping form. He has a lot of other issues, most of which have now been addressed but not entirely. I’d be mushing myself into a hunter jello mold, too. The issues are not Eli’s alone, but also turn on my shortcomings as a rider. I have a certain level of confidence in my riding, though, obviously. I know I am pretty good with the young horses, and thoroughbreds, and most comfortable in the jumper ring. Eli’s personality wouldn’t present too many issues in the jumper ring, either. This could work.

yupitworks

Proof of concept. SGLPhoto.

I made this decision easily, and thought about it for maaayybee half a minute. But what if I hadn’t?

What if I had kept trying to get a hunter out of a horse that simply isn’t well-suited to it mentally? What battles would we have fought? How many times would he hit the standing in the corners? How would we ever figure out lead changes with that kind of pressure? What if I had tried to force my horse into a career that caused us both much more grief than joy? What would the end result have been? I cringe when I think of the adversarial and difficult relationship Eli and I could have developed had I tried to make him into what he had been marketed as. Imagine even that if we could have accomplished a way of going in the ring that would be fitting for a hunter round … at what cost to get there?

This is not to say that I have taken no missteps with Eli, because I am sure I have. But, I have the luxury of asking these questions without having to answer them. I even have the luxury now of being tempted to play in the hunter ring at schooling shows, having accomplished a few decent rounds in the jumper ring. Merely tempted–still planning on jumper classes for the foreseeable future. My horse and I can have fun because we have a harmonious and goofy relationship, built on apples, “forced” cuddling, and trust. Horses are roulette, anyway. There are no guarantees. Their lives are too short to squander on the wrong job, folded into a box of superficial compliance only to collapse. It does not matter what the end result is: it isn’t worth it.

It is not worth it.

If the time you have with horses is almost nothing but struggle, fear, acrimony, and tears, change it. If you don’t know how, get help, or walk away. Imagine how the horse feels. If you want to get thoughtful, think about why the horse resists you. No outcome justifies a broken soul, yours or the horse’s.

32 thoughts on “To What End

  1. Great post. IMO (and strictly my two cents), what you’ve said here can go both ways.

    Could Roger be moderately decent in the hunter ring? On some of his quieter days, absolutely. His canter is lovely and he always squares his knees over fences, he LOVES to jump and his changes are (almost) automatic at this point. People who’ve watched him go have mentioned the hunter ring to me, and he’s even done a few hunter classes at schooling shows, just for some low-pressure miles. Selfishly, I think Roger could do decently well in the hunter ring, but that’s also the absolute last place I want to be…..because *I* don’t care for the hunters. (I honestly don’t think Roger cares what ring we’re in, as long as we’re jumping over stuff). I think everything you’ve said about Eli’s mental state not really jiving with the hunter ring, can also apply to us as riders. I have never wanted to be a hunter rider, and there are many reasons why I really don’t like the hunter discipline. I think as riders we have to check ourselves to see if we’re equally as happy in whatever discipline we choose, if that makes sense. If we’re in a discipline simply because our horse is best suited for it, but we don’t enjoy it, I don’t think that’s fair to us or them. As you mentioned, “If the time you have with horses is almost nothing but struggle, fear, acrimony, and tears, change it.” I think that sentiment equally applies to both horse and rider, and we have to be as fair as possible to our horses, and absolutely honest with ourselves.

    *major apologies for the rambling novel, and/or if none of this makes sense. I am agreeing with your post, if that’s not immediately clear haha

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  2. Eli is lucky to have you making these choices for him! it’s so worth it to take the time to make sure both horse and rider are on the same page re: job. i’m really hopeful that my new horse wants the job i’m offering him, but if he doesn’t we’ll figure it out. i already learned with isabel that it wasn’t worth continuing when the horse’s heart wasn’t in it any more.

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    • Dude, yes! It’s baffling to me. If it’s a daily struggle how is it worth it? There are always speed bumps and frustrating rides along the way with horses, but if it’s all the time why keep going?

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  3. Right?! I die a little inside every time I hear or read about a rider have “trouble” with their horse and it is clearly because they are trying to pound a square peg into a round hole. I bought Sterling (thoroughbred, never in danger of going to the track!) as a yearling and was committed to letting him tell me what he wanted to be when he grew up. He could be a cowboy or a barrel racer or a jumper or a fox hunter or a hunter, whatever his little heart desired. He vehemently was opposed to being a fox hunter or a trail rider pretty early on. I never rode him western, but once he started popping over little jumps it became obvious what he wanted and liked to do. Lucky for me, it is exactly what I want to do, too! We are happy as little clams in the hunter ring and other than minor issues like going straight and cantering consistently and his rider getting him to decent spots, he’s perfect. A horse who likes his job is so much more fun to ride!
    Great, great great post!

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    • Thanks!! Yes, I can’t wrap my mind around people who keep trying to do the wrong thing and rarely have any fun with their horses. It’s so much easier when horse, rider, and job are matched up well.

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  4. Great post. I’ve had to learn how to mold MYSELF to one of my horses. I’ve had to realize that he’s never going to be exactly what I pictured, and figure out how I proceed. Not every horse is meant to fit in every discipline/situation and there is no sense in forcing it.

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    • Very, very true. I definitely have had to adapt my ride along the way to suit Eli’s shenanigans. It can be hard sometimes but as long as it’s not hard all the time it’s probably the right track.

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  5. I see the same people having the same struggles and realize that to some extent I was them with Houston. He was never exceptionally talented over fences. I definitely didn’t have a lot of fun jumping him regularly and I finally stopped trying. Now our dressage rides are a blast. He is happy and I am happy. There is minimal stress and drama. I learned a lot from him and never want to make a horse fit a job that doesn’t suit them again.

    Annie on he other hand is a blast and a half. She LOVES her job. And while she does think dressage is boring she isn’t generally unhappy. She’s just learning. I think there’s a lot to be said for a rider that listens to the horse and doesn’t use any means to get their desired outcome. Wellbeing to all! 🙂

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    • I have been this person, too–I think many riders and horses got through periods of bad fit, and how else do we figure that out, anyway? It is so easy to see how much Annie loves her job and how well-suited she is to it!

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  6. Amen! It can be super disappointing when a horse is mentally and/or physically unable or unwilling. I believe most horses are good and want to go good. If your hitting wall after wall it’s time to rethink things like you said. Imagine how the poor horse feels being put in an uncomfortable or scary situation day after day. Listen to them, even if the outcome means they aren’t suitable for your discipline or even riding in general.

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  7. I totally get this. I love jumping, but I don’t have the confidence Riesling needs. He loves to jump with a confident rider. But I’m not. It wasn’t fair to force him to rise to the occasion so instead we took up dressage. He was already super confident in it, and gave me confidence too. I’m working on getting more confidence this year so I can jump him again, if he wants to. He seems to enjoy the challenging flatwork of dressage but I’m not going to push it too far. I’ve had him for 8 years now, hes 15, and hes given me so much. Meanwhile I look at the yearling in the paddock next to him and wonder what his trade is going to be. I’m hoping he will love jumping and dressage but if not I’m 100% prepared to send him to a western trainer (not like a rough and tough cowboy or peanut roller) to give him the education he needs to do that in his life if he so wishes. It is so much more fun and rewarding when a horse loves what they do.

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  8. I always wonder what ‘line’ it is that we have to cross to take training to torture in this aspect. Obviously painful and unfair training methods aside because no one should want that.

    If you had continued to quietly and calmly work him toward the hunter ring would that have been unfair to him or would it have just taken a lot longer? (Not AT ALL implying that you’re not patient and weren’t taking your time. I always admire people who really have their horse’s preferences in mind.)

    There is always going to be some resistance in training–physically and mentally. The whole idea of training is to get the horse to understand and enjoy their work. At what point is their resistance confusion versus distaste for the discipline? Maybe I’ve just been lucky with my horses and they enjoy the work we do so I haven’t had to experience this.

    I also get really frustrated watching other riders struggle for years on something that obviously isn’t working. I wonder if it’s more a horse/human personality thing than a training thing.
    The moral of this story I guess is listen to your horse and be willing to try something new or simply stop pushing for more? Another moral is that I like to ramble.

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    • For Eli, I think I would have had to introduce him to a show environment and kept exposing him to it as a non-showing horse for a while before taking him in the hunter ring, and also get the lead changes completely fixed. Time could still grant us a chance in the hunters, but he can be very touchy off property and I didn’t want to stuff him in the hunter ring and struggle with trying to keep a steady pace and quiet jumps. This is not to say that it couldn’t be done because I am sure the right professional could have accomplished much more than I have in the same amount of time.

      I totally agree that in training there will be some resistance, some miscommunication, greenness, and questions the horse simply doesn’t get or questions you will never ask correctly. It’s the people who have the same struggle day in and day out that make me wonder why they keep doing it–like you, I get frustrated seeing that.

      LOL your last sentence! Coffee choke out my nose reading that.

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      • I definitely understand some horses being better adapted to handle show situations. I had another OTTB who melted down at shows (we kept him at home in the quiet country and the change of environment was too much for him). I had him only 18 months. I struggled for 18 months making progress in our training at home that would disappear into rears and bolting at shows.
        At first I felt really guilty in thinking about getting rid of him. Until I made the decision and felt only relief. Life is too short to struggle with a horse who isn’t well suited for me. I honestly never thought about him being ill-suited for what I wanted, just too much horse for me–now I think that I do have experience with this situation! How weird to not notice that. 😛
        Glad you enjoyed my rambling comment! lol

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        • The show environment is crazy–I think most horses need at least a little exposure to it initially to get them used to it, but it has to be a good horse/rider match in that situation, or have a professional ride through it the first few times, and then there are those horses that never get used to it.

          Life is definitely too short to struggle with the wrong animal!

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  9. I had the same hunter struggle with Val when he was still a green bean sale horse. I could get a good ribbon on him in the hunters, but it took really finessed riding that was honestly exhausting and hard to produce regularly, and he’s been so much happier as a jumper. Really he’d prefer it was all we did with no flatting, but we try to compromise. Ha. But really, this seems like a struggle a lot of people have, and I’ve seen a lot of people seem so much happier letting their horse do the job they want to do, even when that sometimes means moving on to a new horse themselves. Hunters are really where my heart lies, but I love jumping in general, and I’m ultra competitive so I still thoroughly enjoy jumpers.

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  10. Definitely good thoughts you have to keep in mind – both with young/green ones as for where are they going, but also continuing evaluation of where they stay happy once in that career because just like we re-evaluate our career choices, it’s only fair to do that for them. I know a lot of western pleasure horses who picked up an extra event or two to keep them happy later on. My mare is the extreme example: we accomplished what we wanted to (more or less), we came to a decision point of where to go next, I have the luxury of a barn at home, space and money for her, and she’s happiest having no job at all… so that’s what we did. Sometimes people question me when I say I have a perfectly sound show horse retired at home with a feral mustang mane, whiskers and a hay belly, but she is so content with that being her life, why would I change it? (Recognizing not everyone has the luxury to have a perfectly good horse sit around and go on four “trail rides” a month)

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  11. I mean the standing martingale is definitely not required just because everyone seems to use one. I rode Mr Ramone in the breastplate in all my Hunter classes and still did well. But he was infinitely more suited for the Hunter ring than the Jumper ring and I agree with you, no square peg should be shoved into a round hole.

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    • Oh I totally agree a standing is very often unnecessary. The trainers had Eli in one because he likes to toss his head a bit. Much less since we got his sinus sorted out but he is still a little *too* expressive for the hunters.

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