The Least Desirable Job in Horses

On the plane back to home, I was dreaming up interesting topics to ponder on this blogspace.

As a kid, I would have happily lived at the barn for free. Of course, this was before the acknowledgment that all my food, clothing, and time costs money. I still might live at the barn, but I would also need to be able to afford toilet paper, pringles… the necessities.

This train of thought, what I would and would not be willing to do as an adult, pushed me into thinking, is there any paying job related to horses I had no interest in due to the nature of the work?

I am a flexible and amiable person enough to see merit in most horse-related jobs. Farriers have a deep importance, vets are a trusted resource, massage therapists encounter dedicated horse owners, barn managers care deeply for their herd, show officials create these fabulous events….

The one I was actually stumped on was a trainer.

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The brilliant Charlotte Dujardin; Photo by Allie Conrad.

To me, nothing sounds better than riding horses and getting to teach interested students. That aspect of the job creates community, and positions you to watch progression. Notwithstanding difficult clients (of which, there are a number in this industry), I could jive with this part of the job.

What I think would be hard is selling horses for profit. It carries a lot of risk – financial and reputational. The people you are selling to are often your competitors (fellow trainers). It’s a people business, but also one that feeds on gossip.

I think the stress of pushing horses out the door would get to me, as I am a softie that builds connections with each of these animals.

I will be the first to recognize many trainers look out for their sale horses welfare in such a way that commands deep admiration. But, to do this requires extra effort and honesty. And you have to be, at times, willing and capable of taking a loss.

What do you think is the least desirable job in the horse industry?

Trajectory

There can be real frustration in riding so many horses over your lifetime. Sure, it is really wonderful and valuable to sit on a lot of different types and get to refine the asks.

But, sometimes there is not a sequential progression as a rider. I step into bad habits on specific horses and jump to another before I fully resolve them.

Because of that, I feel as though I am a library of slightly-aggressive, make-it-work methods. In fact, my recent solo hacks has been really restorative for me to focus once again on the fundamentals.

In my collegiate and early adult riding, much of the focus has fallen on the needs of whatever horse I was riding, and you can see the evidence of that in my weaknesses.

A dirty stopper encouraged me to drive with my tailbone.

A heavy mouth gave me broken wrists and open fingers.

A speedy, flat jumper gave me quick, over-active shoulders.

All of my mishaps originate from poorly-executed attempts of correcting a behavior or dealing with a quirk.

 

Some flavors of this definitely happened.

I’ve become this patchwork of the past horses I’ve ridden. In turn, this has made me cautious, skeptical, and untrusting.

I need to become a better partner in the future, because they do not deserve to be haunted by the horses of my past.

I continue to struggle with linear growth as someone who, by the nature of my circumstances, will always be hopping from horse to horse. I can ride almost anything, but I want to excel and really communicate better with the animals that I sit on.

I do think I am getting more opportunities for specificity now, and I am hoping that when I one day own my own horse, all my tools and tips will help that horse as a well-rounded rider that can handle curveballs.

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Loved this horse, and trusted him wholly. I am hoping to return to that.

 

 

 

Is Horseback Riding a Sport?

So many of us equestrians have been in conversations with a skeptical and bombastic uncle that assures us that “horses do all the work”. I don’t even engage these people anymore as most of them introduce the topic with a smile on their lips and watch for a theatrical reaction (nice try, you are talking to the person who after hours on hold with customer support will still use “sir”, “ma’am”, and “please”).

It does bring into the forefront why we treat horseback riding as a sport, and also why it even matters how it is defined.

There are two main ingredients to the definition of sport – skill and physical exertion. Skill is less arguable. Because my general practice is to keep my passion for horseback riding quiet around new acquaintances, I’ve managed to shy away from stories of disastrous trial rides on family vacations. But most are willing to acknowledge that they could not imagine taking the quarter horse they rode in the Rocky Mountains over a course of 1.60m jumps. Skill brings tact, and both are necessary inputs.

Skill is undeniable. But physical exertion remains a question mark.

I don’t know about you guys, but a day spent at the barn leaves me feeling tired. When I owned my horse, I did everything myself. Turnout, tack, cleaning, grooming, feeding, picking stalls, etc. The work does not stop there, once you swing your leg over the saddle, it is pressure, release, softness while strong. Most people recognize the effort involved in dancing with a 1,000 lbs+ animal.

This, Stephen Colbert, does not qualify as a sport.

Playing devil’s advocate, when watching a cross-country course for instance, the horses physical feats are very clear to an uneducated eye. Foaming, sweat, leaping over obstacles. What is not present to these new observers is the rider’s fitness. Let me say, their stamina is no joke.

Not shockingly, I claim we check boxes of skill and physical exertion (and danger, which may bump it up from a hobby level as well).

Why does it matter? Who cares if it is not a sport? Whether we qualify horseback riding as a sport may be phrased as whether what we do is worth-while.

Often my “is horseback riding a sport” or “does it belong it the Olympics” will eventually boil down to us explaining why we our commitment meets the minimum threshold of worthiness in the eyes of others. Equestrians dedicate hours to bettering ourselves and advancing in our passion, and it invalidates our time by dismissing what we do as “not even a sport”.

There is a lot of sleep to be lost if you worry about the opinions of naysayers. I don’t allow those dissenting thoughts to affect what I love and how I spend my time, but as we advance this sport, it may be a valuable to consider the barriers we face in the general audiences.

Why do you categorize horseback riding as a sport? Or, better yet, why do you not?

Crystallizing Moment

I forgot Smileworthy this week (I am the worst) but I wanted to introduce a new feature which I hope to be a regular theme on the blog.

Crystallizing moment. It could be as simple as wearing yoga pants to Thanksgiving dinner (BLESS) or as complex as synthetic aperture radar (ask for my personal blog for an explanation of that one).

With horses, I have a lot of these. As my over-analytical mind likes to assess each and every action, lightning-rod moments occasionally strike my brain and make everything clearer. I am thankful when my excessive reflection occasionally amounts to a productive perspective, because that is not always the case.

This time though, I was riding the big guy (who, by the way, is still for sale). Riding a simple course of outside-angle-outside, I realized I was constantly agonizing about the next jump.

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His face… the size of my torso…

Not innately a bad thing, but I had been completely letting everything slip into a meh description while I desperately worried about finding a distance to a jump 25 strides away.

This realization I had – which I have been told before by countless trainers – is that jumping is flatwork. You cannot have a good course without having good flatwork, which is a saying I will tattoo on my back one day (kidding, probably would get a tasteful neon butterfly).

After realizing, huh, maybe this whole between the jumps thing is the part I need to be focusing on, I did the course again. This time, I corrected our balance, turns, consistency of pace, and watered-down my two-point.

And to the surprise of no one at all, the course was more refined and, dare I say, quite good.

My mantra the last two lessons has been ride your canter, focus on basics. By and large, the jumps have come up way better as a result of that.

We are the Lucky Ones

I am so grateful.

Thanksgiving is one of those underrated holidays that sneaks in without much fanfare, but brings warm feelings. I am leaving its questionable origin out of the equation when lauding the day for its whole-hearted moments with family and appreciation for life’s blessings.

Since I primarily write about horses and riding here, I will keep my list to a strict equestrian theme.

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Exceptionally thankful for this peeking derp.

This year, I am thankful for –

  1. Riding Regularly. I get to spend time with these magnificent and kind creatures that center me and generate giddiness.
  2. Good Education. I am so happy with the instruction I am receiving. Objectively, I am doing more simple work, but focusing on so many details that I had let slip. It feels good to progress.
  3. Bystander Support. My friends and family, bless all of them, will continually ask me how my “horse races” are going, and I love them dearly for inquiring about my passions.
  4. Online Reading. These days, you can learn so much about horses and horseback riding online. Whenever I feel stuck, it seems like someone online had a similar problem and mapped out solutions.
  5. Happy Horses. All of the horses I ride have not been over-worked or unsound. They have guardians aside from myself looking after them and that can be elusive in certain areas.
  6. Black Friday Deals. Okay, I know we are thankful for what we have and all… but it doesn’t hurt to get some deals too!

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What are y’all thankful for?

Go Big or Go Home

As a female giant, I often feel like I miss out on some of the more fun aspects of riding. Mostly ponies. I wish I could ride ponies and spitfire smaller horses. Of course, I can do these things now, but I feel like a real squishing evil villain when I do.

And, as is now well-documented, my continuing journey to fight my over-active shoulders does not help small ponies. Apparently it’s not advised to push your nose beyond a pony’s ears in a two-point. I cannot imagine why…

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Why am I wearing bicycle shorts? Why is there no saddle? Why do I have a fanny pack? Unimportant – look at the pony squishing.

I finally got to reap some benefits of this unasked for height though. This weekend, I got to ride a super fun 18 hand (ish) horse.

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Le sigh…. Also note his withers are taller than me (5’9″).

At times you get on these big guys and they ride like a pick-up truck. Hard to turn, brake, and lacking of “sporty” features. This guy was a total exception, would ride around engaged, easy to bend, and light in the hand. Super fun to jump.

He’s for sale. I need a sponsor.

Although, given his height, I worry about soundness and trailering, guy that big cannot go in any old trailer.

All you nice people out there with money, please buy him and do awesome things.