When I was in college, I rode a horse named Watson. He was very fancy — an imported jumper–who had a nasty spook. After refusing to stay in any ring with fences, he was transitioned into dressage work. Things went relatively well, except he continued to have a habit of removing his riders. For some reason, that never happened to me. In our lessons he thrived and we eventually moved up to schooling Fourth Level. Not once did he buck, take off or do anything to hurt me. After a season of success, I brought him home with the plan of taking over ownership.
Let me pause in this story to skip to another:
While reading the tragic news of Silva Martin’s riding accident on EventingNation.com yesterday, a particular part stood out to me: “[Husband] Boyd, who is scheduled to ride five horses at Red Hills starting tomorrow, started driving south as soon as he learned of the accident, and he’s still a couple hours away from being able to see her at this point.” It is an incredibly touching sentence and one that I believe speaks volumes about the type of relationships we need in the equestrian world: those built on reliability, selflessness and support. “You get my back and I’ll get yours,” is what creates the strongest partnerships and I am not just talking about marriage. Build a similar bond with a horse and the sky is the limit.
Back to Watson ….
After bringing this now-Fourth Level horse home, we scheduled a full vetting. What could the vet find? I had participated in multiple clinics with skilled trainers without a single issue.
The answer is everything. The vet said, based on radiographs, that she could not believe he was able to trot sound (which he did happily for me during the initial exam). Her suggestion was for him to retire immediately because he was most likely working through a lot of discomfort. It made sense why he had been throwing everyone off. He had been working for me because of the bond I had developed with him that no one else took the time to create.
Of course I never got on him again. He had my back and now I had his.
It taught me two very important lessons that I keep in my mind every minute I work with horses:
1. When you put 110 percent into a partnership, you have the opportunity to receive 110 percent back.
2. It is your job to refuse the last 10 percent, because 100 percent is all anyone can ever truly give.
In addition to her work as senior editor at Dressage Today, Hilary is a professional dressage trainer competing through FEI with her USDF “L” Education Program certification and silver and bronze medal. She owns and operates Moore Hebert Dressage at Alsikkan Farm in Germantown, Maryland.