Quitters vs. Go-Getters:
How Not to Give Up on Your Horse
By Pony Glam Guest Blogger Madison Brown. See BIO below.
Imagine, if you will, being passed around from family to family. Each one tells you that they're so excited to have you! You guys are going to do awesome things and go on awesome vacations and be an awesome happy family. Until one day you do something not quite right, and everything changes. They're not excited to have you anymore, and you're not going to go on those awesome vacations, and you're not an awesome happy family. They hand you off to the next one, and then the cycle repeats.
After an experience like that, you would probably get pretty bitter. You wouldn't be excited about any of these new families. They're just going to push you along like the last five or six, and so there's really no point in trying to get along. You act out and you don't trust anyone. You've become jaded by your past experiences.
Plot twist: you're a horse.
This is the story of hundreds of thousands of horses around the world, condensed into two simple paragraphs. They start out excited, bright-eyed and full of promise and potential. Then they do something that horses do, like spook or stop or buck, and everything changes. They get sold, and sold, and sold again. Some end up at auctions, some end up at sale barns, some end up south of the border in inhumane conditions. But it all started with a happy young horse and a rider who was so excited to have them, so how did this happen?
There is an epidemic of riders who give up on their horses too quickly. The truth of the matter is that horses are living, breathing animals with minds entirely of their own. They are not robots, and they are not always going to be the exact same every time you get on. Sometimes, they're going to be really tough. Sometimes you end up on the back of a horse that's different than what you were told or what you were expecting. When that happens, you've got to keep your cool and handle it like a horseman. Don't take it personally, don't take it out on the horse, and don't lose your grip on your goals.
There are horses that have gone on to become incredible athletes, that came from very surprising backgrounds. Everyone has heard of "the eighty dollar champion", Snowman. There are some like him, who go on to be famous. There are some who become smaller-time champions in their own right, too. Chloe, the queen of Pony Glam, was at an auction at one point in her life. My jumper, Arli, was passed around from person to person and at one point was even at a rescue. My other horse, Sailor, came to me with the alter ego "fire-breathing dragon" assigned to her by her previous owner. All of these horses have become greats in their own ways, with the help of riders and trainers and handlers who took a deep breath and put in the time. So here are some tips on what to do if you find yourself in a situation with a horse that is not quite what you were expecting.
Give It Time
When Arli came to me, he was depressed, skin and bones, and had made two other people cry before ending up in my trailer. He had his quirks, for sure. He was strong under saddle, he had no left lead, no lead changes, and no "wait" option on the way to the jumps. From what I was told, he was once a very mean horse who bit and kicked and didn't like people. That's almost impossible for me to imagine as he's always been a big puppy dog with me, but here is one very important fact: horses know your intentions. Arli knew that my intentions for him were genuine, and that I wanted nothing more than to take care of him. He trusted me from day one.
Don't get me wrong, it took some time. This summer was trial and error of feeding, training, jumping, showing, you name it. It hasn't been easy. But I chose to give it time. I gave him a chance and I did my part by giving him a reason to trust me and a reason to be good. He has turned into a horse of a lifetime because of it.
You have to give it time. You can't expect every horse to step off the trailer and be the winner of every class with the same trip every single time. Sure, there are horses like that out there. But they're rare, and you've got to understand that not every horse is that way. Which leads me to my next point...
Know That No Horse is Perfect
Like I said before, horses have a mind of their own. Just like us, they have bad days and they have bad moods, they have good days and great moods and everything in between. As a horseman, you have to be able to roll with the punches and understand that you're not getting on the same horse everyday. Learn to ride the horse you're on right now, not the one who won his last class or bucked you off last week.
Ask. For. Help.
This is hands down the single most important thing. Do not be afraid to ask for help. Professionals are there for a reason: we're here to help you! There is no shame in asking for someone's assistance to fix something that you're not quite sure how to fix yourself. It's okay to not know, and it's okay to ask for help. The only way to ensure that you never learn anything is to think that you already know it all. You may think there is glamour in doing it all yourself, but there's a lot more glamour in a properly trained horse and rider combination working well in unison.
Know When Enough is Enough
Sometimes it really is true that you and your horse are not meant to be. And that's okay! Know your limits and know your horse's limits. Sometimes you get a horse for a certain purpose, and that horse is not capable of what you need it to do. Sometimes you get a horse and you guys just do not mesh well under any circumstances. If you've done your due diligence, you've asked for help and you've given it time and you've gotten a second, third, fourth opinion, and it's just not going to work, that's okay. But when that happens...
Do Right By The Horse
Ensure that your horse goes on to a home that is going to be right for him. Even if he wasn't perfect for you, he might be perfect for someone else. Get help finding him the best home possible with someone who will be able to unlock his brilliance and get along with him. Do not just ship him off to an auction/shady sales barn/Craigslist creeper. Above all else, always do right by the horse.
And so there it is, some ideas on how to handle a tough horse-and-rider situation. Give it time, accept the imperfect nature of animals, ask for help, know your limits, and do right by your horse. If you follow all of those steps, every time with every horse, you will end up right where you need to be.
Madison “Maddy” Brown is a 21-year-old professional rider and trainer. She grew up in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and is currently a third year Journalism major at the University of South Carolina. As a junior, she showed in the hunters and equitation from the local circuits to the “A” rated shows, trained under a hunter pony breeder, and catch-rode for some of the top pony hunter trainers in the country. As an amateur, she rode on the Gamecocks NCAA Varsity Equestrian Team and competed in the adult jumpers and adult medals before going professional. She now trains horses and students out of Eastover, South Carolina under her own Maritime Equestrian and competes in the jumpers with a very spoiled Trakehner gelding named Arli.