If you are a lifelong student of dressage, like me, you live by Socrates' words: "True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing." I cannot count the times I have said this to myself and students. Many of those times involved what I like to call the "Artist" Horse. If you have worked with an Artist Horse, you know what I mean. Like any true artist, they are brilliant when they are inspired, but they can be very particular at times and others ... a massive pain in the #%&!*.
Here are 3 ways to recognize an Artist Horse:
1. He likes to show off ... in moderation. At any show or clinic, he will pull out more energy then you knew he had in him and maybe even wink at the judge. (Think: Child beauty queen dancing on stage, fueled by 10 Pixie Stix and soda). And, like that child, will crash and burn the moment his energy has been spent. You just have to pray that it happens after your big class and means zero energy and not a tantrum. This can result in anything from feeling like you are trying to get piaffe from a donkey to Artist Horse calling for his stablemates for 5 minutes while you are riding in front of an Olympic-level judge. And if your trainer gets on to "show him who is boss" Artist Horse will gladly set her straight.
2. He is selective about equipment. Nothing was working in my saddle search for one Artist Horse. Custom saddle from X company, custom saddle from Y company, borrowed saddles, demo saddles. Nothing was perfect. He would feel OK, but maybe it was some underlying issue that was the problem. Just as I was about to give up on the saddle search and call the vet, I was handed someone's used custom saddle that was very underflocked in the back. "Try it," I was told. "We can always have them put more flocking in if you decide you like the way you feel in it." So I did. It sat very low in the back on Artist Horse, but I was just going to get on for a little bit to see if we were even close. Wouldn't you know, we picked up the trot and he floated. His back lifted up and suddenly, in motion, the saddle was level. I looked in the mirror, called for witnesses, and we all saw the same thing. What was a 3-inch downward slope in his back at rest had lifted in work and now his back was level in the trot and canter. This "ill-fitting" saddle was the perfect match for Artist Horse, but a touch too small for me. So what did I do? I bought the saddle and went on a diet to fit in it, because if anyone was going to adjust it certainly wasn't going to be him.
3. He picks favorites. I had a student who owned an Artist Horse. Without fail, whenever he saw her coming in the field he would run in the other direction. She is the nicest woman and didn't have a mean bone in her body, but he ran from her like she was taking him to his death. I would have to catch him for her, because when I went to the field he would come trotting right up to me. I told her it was because I did the feedings and he must have thought I was bringing dinner ... I never told her that he trotted over for the woman who was half-leasing him ... and my working student ... and my barn workers. Actually, he just ran from his owner. No matter what she brought him (carrots, grain, sugar), he would always run around the field for at least 10 minutes before giving up. When Artist Horse decided he was tired, he allowed her to walk to him and put a halter on.
Do you have an Artist Horse? Post your own way to recognize an Artist Horse in the comments below as #4 and explain it as I did...