Monday, October 27, 2014

Is your horse a go-er or a pusher?

Talent vs. Work Ethic | Horse Collaborative

The article above isn't about the horse.  It's about the rider.  And it asks and answers an excellent question:  Is it better to be a low-talent, hard-working type-A rider or a high-talent slacker?  Which is more likely to achieve success in the upper levels of competition (or even the lower levels of backyard fake competition)?  Only you know where you fit on the continuum, so I'm not going to guess.

As I read the article, of course my thoughts went to my own riding and to my horses.  I'm by no stretch any kind of competitor anymore, and I never went beyond local competition.  I did, however, amass 64 ribbons and a bunch of plaques and trophies, so my medium-talent was goosed by my work ethic and the luck of having at least a few horses with the same level of desire.  And here's the thing that messes up my world.  I have two horses that are "go-ers".  Like my Trans Am GTA with the Corvette engine, there's no need to step on the gas on those two.  Just taking my foot off the brake is sufficient for launch.

A Go-er if ever there was one,
Dolly needs no incentive.  She could
probably use new brakes.
But I also have two horses that are "pushers".  They're the ones for which I spend hours working out my leg muscles, because without a consistent hug around the girth line, they'll pretty much stop.  Dead.  No movement other than breathing and blinking.  Oh, they've gotten used to me, and they know that they're better off just giving me what I want so they don't have to listen to me whine or feel that hug turn into a death grip (because dirty stops are not my fave thing).  But left to their own devices, they'd bring home the blue in the Aimless Amble Under Saddle class every time, both English and Western.

So what happens when a Type-A, medium-talent (ahem) like myself is faced with workaholic horses and slackers in the same game?  Frustration comes to mind.  And I find that depending on my mood, I'm far more likely to pick one of the go-ers for a ride on any given day.  The pushers I reserve for days when I've got a Whole New Plan for their workouts and can't wait to give it a try.

Does it affect my own talent vs. work ethic balance?  Heck yeah!  Nothing makes me feel less talented than sitting on a horse that's standing stock-still, looking back at me over his shoulder instead of enthusiastically attacking the project I've invented to keep him engaged.  And if I let my work ethic get the better of me, the number of curse words I can growl out is stunning.

My question, then, is what is a high-work-ethic type to do about a situation where the horse simply isn't on the same page?

The answer:  Change your expectations.

Note, I didn't say "lower"; I said "change".

On the other end of the scale, it took
months to convince Dakota that there
are gaits other than the lumber-about.
Fortunately, that's Cliff's favorite gait.
In my case, this has meant that I need to read the moody boys' attitudes first thing in the morning and decide whether it's a day for pushing under saddle or a day for doing something different. Different can be ground work, or it can be obstacles under saddle, or it can be something weird I read about in this month's horse mag.  It doesn't have to end badly.  It only has to be guilt-free.  Hopping aboard a confirmed slacker when you're in high gear is not necessarily the best thing to do, so it's in everyone's best interests for you, as rider, to not take it personally if the under-saddle piece of the workout ends quickly.  Have an alternate plan, and be prepared to switch gears without feeling as if the decision amounts to a loss.

Of course the obvious option is to find a horse that meets your needs.  But that's too simple.  Every horse has its own personality, and none of them is as perfect as you'd like them to be.  Neither are you.  Get over it.

There are no winners or losers in a partnership.  The relationship between horse and rider is a specialized one that needs to be reassessed regularly.  If your horse isn't happy in his job, then give him a new job.  You're the one with thumbs and the keys to the kingdom.  Do what needs to be done to create harmony instead of putting your goals in the forefront.  Leave your ego at the barn door, or go find a sport that doesn't involve interacting with another living being.  Bowling comes to mind.  Whatever.  Just be realistic and judge your work-in-progress with an open mind and a caring attitude.  You'll be happier in the end.
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