I am in a very fortunate position, I have lots of horses to ride and someone else to own them and help me bring them along. That being said, Denny has always said to me that they don’t have the money to go and buy something already doing upper levels for me to ride. So, I have had to work with the young and/or green ones and develop them myself, with Denny’s help. Fortunately, I love seeing them develop and bringing them through the levels from the start.
I was really lucky to ride a couple of Denny’s horses with some prelim experience, but nothing I have ridden has gone above prelim, unless it was with me riding them. I take great pride in this, I love the fact that I brought Union and Rosie up to Advanced and Intermediate, and Jumbie from an unbroken baby to a prelim horse. Union had done a couple of prelim’s before I got the ride, but Rosie hadn’t ever competed before I started riding her, 7 years ago. At the moment, none of the horses I am riding have done any eventing before I started to ride/compete them. I feel like this gives me an advantage that you may not have if you are taking over someone else’s ride.
Now, I want to start this off by saying I do not want to discredit people who are competing at the upper levels on horses they did not develop. This takes an entirely different set of skills, they have to be able to get on someone else’s ride and figure out that horse’s buttons. They need to be able to adapt to that horse and encourage the horse to adapt to their specific ride. This is not as easy as it sounds, everyone rides a little bit differently, and an upper level horse will have lots of mileage going a certain way. To be able to get the most out of the different horses takes a lot of talent.
The benefit of developing your own horses from the start, is that you know them inside and out. You know their reactions in every situation, and they know yours. You both know what to expect form each other, the signals have always been the same. You know when you are ready to move up, and when you may be in over your head.
I took Rosie to Plantation in June, I had a really good dressage test, but when I was warming up for stadium, Rosie wasn’t feeling quite herself. She didn’t feel like she was jumping as well as she normally does. She as clearing the fences, but she felt like she was hurling over them more than jumping through her body. I started blaming myself, thinking I wasn’t riding her well enough. I went in the ring and had three rails down, sometimes we have rails when she is exuberant to the fences, or if I ride backwards. These distances felt ok, she just felt like she wasn’t picking her legs up enough. Again, I though maybe I am not giving her the best ride, then I wondered if I should go cross country. She just didn’t feel herself. I then thought, I am being a chicken, I should at least give it a go and see how she feels. I jumped two warm up xc fences and she felt ok. I went on course and she jumped the first couple of fences ok, she wasn’t locking on and didn’t have her usual fire though. I circled before one big table and then pulled up a few fences later. She jigged off the course and I started wondering if I made the right decision. When we got home she still felt blah and we did bloodwork. Turns out she had a mild infection, so she wasn’t feeling well. I am so glad I listened to her, and pulled up on the course.
I do wish I had listened to my gut right from the get go, and realized she wasn’t feeling well. When you are out competing, it is easy to blame yourself and think, I just need to ride better! I try and look out for my horses, I never want to hurt them and I am probably too quick to back off and reassess. I guess I would rather be that way, than regretting it later on.
Rosie’s next event, in New Jersey, went really well, she jumped around like a star and was totally back to normal. She then did GMHA, it was a tough course, that caused a lot of problems. I felt confident about it and felt that I knew how I needed to ride her.
There was a big mound, with a skinny key hole on the top. I knew I had to ride up the mound with a lot of power and trust her at the top. I also heard a lot of people talking about how spooky the big drop into water was. I know Rosie so well, I knew she wouldn’t spook at it. I rode both fences just as I wanted to and she skipped around the course, making it feel easy. I think if I over rode either of those fences, I would have made her second guess. I know her so well, I really need to trust that I do know how she will react and ride the fences the way I know will give her the most confidence.
This is something that I also think comes with experience. When I was competing Union, he took a very special ride, I needed to add where others never would. Every time I wouldn’t listen to my gut and would ride the line I heard everyone else talking about, it wouldn’t go well for us. This showed my inexperience, I didn’t trust that I knew my horse well enough, or that I would make the best decisions.
I have learned to trust my ride and trust what I know about the horses I am sitting on. I still ask other people’s opinions on the courses and discuss the various options and lines. When it comes right down to it, I always go back to how will my horse react and what will be best for my horse. I have ridden them so long and brought them along, that I know what may be problems and what I can feel the most confident about. There are always holes that show up along the way, and you have to do your best to do back and fill any gaps in, but that is part of learning and developing horses the best you can.