Nobody knows your horse better than you do, and nobody cares more about your horse than you do. You can't expect a clinician, trainer or teacher to know your horse as intimately as you know him. That's why it's your job to look after your horse and be his advocate. It's a lesson I have learned the hard way.
Let me tell you a story. Years ago, I was riding in a clinic. The clinician did not know my horse well. At that time, my priority and goal was to be a good student and follow orders. I was trying to do what the clinician told me to do. After I had worked my horse what I considered a fairly reasonable amount of time--and the work had been fairly strenuous--I knew my horse was extremely tired. He was done. So I said to the clinician, "I think my horse has had enough. He's really tired." The clinician's response was, "Oh no, the horse is fine. Just keep going." So we worked my horse for another 10 or 15 minutes. The next day, my horse "tied up" (extreme muscle stiffness and pain). Luckily, we didn't have any long-term damage. But I remember, when I was able to put him back to work and saw him going around on the longe line and he wasn't moving the way he used to move, I just stood there in the middle of the longing circle with tears rolling down my face. That was the moment when I said to myself, "Never again will I put the well-being of my horse in somebody else's hands. I must always take care of him. I must always be his advocate."
In my effort to be a good student, I did what the clinician told me to do instead of being the advocate for my horse. I should have been brave enough to say, "No, that's enough for today. Tomorrow is another day." You as the rider, trainer, owner and caretaker have to be the advocate for your horse and other horses as well. When you see things that you think are unkind, be brave enough to stand up and make a statement.
Jane Savoie was the reserve rider for the bronze medal winning Olympic dressage team in Barcelona, Spain. She was the 1996 and 2004 Olympic dressage coach for the Canadian eventing team in Atlanta and Athens and coached Sue Blinks at the 2000 Olympics. Author of five books, including A Winning Attitude, she is a popular clinician, instructor and motivational speaker. She lives in Berlin, Vt., with her husband, Rhett.