Friday, February 22, 2013

Honesty and Horsemanship

By C.W. Anderson
Growing up, I had more access to books than real horses, so I spent hours and hours reading. I lived and breathed C.W. Anderson and Marguerite Henry and a host of others. From them, I gleaned some of my most basic riding principles: "Always the rider, never the horse." I internalized it so deeply that I didn't even realize how much it affected me.

When I was struggling with Izzy, I kept beating myself up. "I'm not good enough", "I'm just bad at this", "I'm too out of shape", whatever. It had to be my fault, every time. Part of selling her was letting go of that and realizing that while I have my shortcomings, she also had hers. It wasn't that I needed to just get better--it was that it was never going to work for us.

Cuna really was the one who let me see that I actually can ride and I've mostly moved on. As I was reading today, I ran across a quote that just resonated with me.

"One of the most common mistakes I see riders make is to accept total responsibility for a refusal. It is the rider’s responsibility to remember the course, compete at the ­appropriate level for the horse’s experience and training, approach in a rhythm and not ask for impossible angles or efforts. The rest is up to the horse. The horse’s response cannot be to say to his rider, “You blinked. I can’t jump when you blink. I can’t work under these conditions!” Oh, no. The fact that you needed three-sixteenths of an ounce more pressure with your reins or that your heels could have been down ­another five ­degrees has nothing to do with it. He knows how to jump. You arranged an ­obstacle in his path, and his job is to jump—first time, every time." 
-god (aka Jimmy Wofford), whole article here.

The stunning Izzy mare
I realize there is a balance here. The horse must be taught, but to acknowledge that the horse also has responsibilities is just freeing for me. I know I'm not the only one who struggles with that, "Is it me? What am I doing wrong?" when the truth is, there are two sides to every discussion.
I'm going to stand on my happy horse soapbox for a minute here and just say that this sport is entirely too dangerous and expensive to not love every second. Really. Especially if you're an ammy owner type who just has one horse to ride most of the time, it's not worth it to fight it out with an animal you don't enjoy. 

Cutest horse ever. Even lets me dress him.
You doubt? I am all mushy goo goo over a certain 18 year old OTTB gelding who is the sweetest, crankiest, most mean bastard horse I know. And I'm not a mushy goo goo person. Just ask Rinsie.

Here's what I'm trying to say: we need to be the best riders we can be and not blame our horses for out shortcomings. We need to couple that with an understanding that horses aren't perfect. They have personalities. Not every horse is a match for every rider and that is ok.

Cuna is the walking definition of a schoolmaster and he understands his job. The reason I can jump a giant oxer with no reins on him is because he knows that if he's pointed at a fence, he is to jump it. When I make mistakes, he points them out to me, but he's never mean, dirty, or scary. Because Cuna holds up his end of the deal, CW Anderson's mantra rings true: it is always me, never him (usually).

If you're struggling with a horse that tests your limits as a rider and that you don't look forward to seeing, consider that maybe, just maybe, you should look for your very own Cuna instead of blame yourself for what just won't work.

I know I'm not the only one out there who has worked through this and I love connecting with other people on this issue. Anyone else have a Cuna? Think they need one? Walking through the process now?

PS Original Cuna is not available.


  1. Great blog post, its so true that with the time and effort spent, you should enjoy your ride. Recently I have come to terms that for my current fitness and time constraints, I would be best suited with a packer, a more chill horse. Then I know its mostly me when things go wrong :)

  2. I like JW I do, but I think the part that should be highlighted is this "it is the rider’s responsibility to remember the course, compete at the ­appropriate level for the horse’s experience and training, approach in a rhythm and not ask for impossible angles or efforts." To add to that probably throw in an "compete at the appropriate level for the rider" too. Sometimes it really is the rider's fault, and the trainers fault to boot (ultimately the trainer's fault if they are overmounting their students or the students fault for not listening to the trainer and being a horse they can't ride anyways, the midlife crisis horse so to speak). It's hard to string all of the above together. If you have a horse that can take a joke, and take care of you, you are a lot better off then being on an unforgiving horse or a green horse who doesn't have the sense to jump it first each and everytime.

    I think your transformation with Cuna is awesome and I wasn't even a blog follower that long when you had Izzy before you got Cuna and still it was amazing how you've blossomed. More people should have a horse they love that can foster them the way Cuna fostered you. I love my horse too, I think he and I had a unique experience (to me, I mean other people have them too) of bringing each other up, and helping each other blossom.

    Anyways.. ramble over.. Ponies are awesome.

  3. Could not agree more. It is heartbreaking to me to see so many adult ammys who stick it out with a horse that is inappropriate for them (usually a trainer has talked them into this horse ...) or a horse they just don't get along with. They struggle, and get resentful to those who are able to make progress. They make self-depricating remarks about how much they suck. Then why are you riding? Yes we all get frustrated and I do love self-depricating humor AS A JOKE. But there is a line when it just is not fun anymore. I went through this with my previous horse, a Morgan. I loved him dearly. He was a diffcult ride and hated dressage. Do I have the skills to ride him? Yes. Was it fun for me? No. I dreaded riding him. He needed a different career and different rider. So I sold him. I didn't "give up on him." Now I have Hamper - who I cannot wait to see and ride everyday. We are a perfect match. I'm not sure why many people cannot see the light?

  4. I think, to a point, it's same reason people stick it out in bad/unhappy (read, not abusive, just not "right") relationships. It's familiar, there's guilt, there's the "what ifs," etc. Those things don't make it right to stay in the relationship, but may not necessarily be enough to leave, either. The real question is, "what if it's not either of you and you're just not right for each other?"

    But before you get there, you have to be able to cope with the guilt, get past it, and see that there is more to life (read, riding, lol) and that every moment should be enjoyable.

    When you love going to see/ride/hang out with your horse everyday, it makes everything worthwhile. Even the bad moments with Cuna, that would have been a million times more awful with Izzy, don't seem so bad, right? And, you're able to learn from them...that's what makes an awesome pair.

  5. When a horse and rider are not well-suited to one another, nobody wins. At best, at least one of the pair becomes bored or unhappy, at worst, one or both of them loses confidence or gets hurt. You are right. Life is too short to not enjoy yourself and the horse you are partnered with.

  6. here here! I just laugh when people say; "oh he was tense, he was tired, he was lzy, he was not paying attention, he wasn't bending...." the list goes on and on.

    You are the one riding, you have to make those things happen. The correct statement would be; "I could not get him to settle, forward, bending etc".

    I always blame myself...I think that is when you know you are becoming a more knowledgeable rider.

  7. This use to be a mantra that all of us at my old barn were drilled on. "Its always the riders' fault." But while yes, most of the time it is the riders fault, there are extenuating circumstances. I agree with L. Williams that I think most of the problems riders have with their horses stem from them not being at the same level, or not competing at the correct level best suited for their current abilities.

    That said, I, like you, beat myself up way to much when it comes to making mistakes in my riding. I've been working on it, and it really helps that I have such a good baby mare ;-)

  8. I think that accepting that horse personalities have to mesh with people personalities is one of the most important things to learn!! There are certain horses who will be terrible for one rider, but put the right rider on and they will do amazing things! There is an aspect that has nothing to do with horses training level, nothing to do with riders level, and simply everything to do with personality and that alone!

  9. That was an awesome post. Every word was spot on.

  10. I really really like this post! It's funny because I CLEARLY advocate for doing things the way you did with Cuna. Even with a ton of eventing experience and being totally capable and ready to bring up an unbroke horse, it was CHALLENGING at times for me - like for a couple YEARS. Even though I knew what I was doing and my greenbean was a very good kid, there were days I found myself on dreamhorse looking at packers just wanting it to be fun again. I am so glad I stuck it out through the baby years with Pongo - I wouldnt trade him for anything, but it took a lot of time and patience. A trainer once told me a good horse takes years to fully train and she is right. Anyone who thinks they can pop their trainer on a greenie for a couple months and end up with a packer is nuts. Anyways, I'm just rambling to say you made great decisions and are an inspiration! In the same way that I hope Pong and I for people taking on the challenge of bringing up a young horse! It's all about your level & personality + the horse's level and personality. Every single time!

  11. I am going to put on my perfectly-blunt-and-honest pants here and admit that I was very close to dropping your blog from my RSS feed when you had Izzy. It was heartbreaking, and I could see myself in the very same situation doing the very same thing for a gorgeous horse that I loved that wasn't right for me. You could read between the lines and see that you were scared and that you were scared of being scared and also scared to change. These are relationships too, change in any relationship is hard, even if you're unhappy. The transformation in you has been incredible since you got Cuna, and so much fun to watch, but like any "match made in heaven," I think it's that much more rewarding both to experience and to watch via blog posts because you experienced what it was right to have an awesome, but wrong, relationship first. And because you had the maturity to realize it and make a change for the better. In conclusion, I am so happy I did not drop your blog, and have loved every second of the Cunafish Adventures. :-)

  12. Like many other I LOVE this post! Although I found my own version of your Cuna it is not without others who I hung on to maybe a tad too long. My friend and I say it all the time, we spend WAY too much money not to love every second of it! So glad you found your Cuna!

  13. I love this post, I have my own version of your cuna he's a riding school horse called Gatsby, who I compete and work with in the holidays as well as having lessons with him, he's so much more than 'any horse in a riding school' I completely agree that it's to expensive not to love our animals!

  14. This post is so true and very thought provocking! I love it.
    P.s. Sorry about the spelling.

  15. I've always thought that most people's relationship with their horse is sort of like their relationship with a long-term significant other or spouse, and therefore it's really really REALLY hard to walk away, even though all signs are clearly marked Exit and everyone around you sees it. Sometimes you're just too deep into the relationship to see it yourself.

    But when you've got the right partner, you help each other through the rough times, you work as a team, you make allowances for each other's faults. It's a beautiful thing!

  16. You know, sometimes I don't think you realize how wrong it really is until you experience how right it really can be.

  17. Excellent post. But hard for me to read, because it rings so true and yet underscores that I have not set myself up for success the way that you have. I moved on from an unsuitable mount only to get an even greener one. Hemie and I are enjoying each other and I do love seeing and riding him every day. But in my gut I know that I should have found a way to get a confidence-boosting packer horse instead of a fresh OTTB. For now I'm choosing to stick with my path - we are both having fun, staying safe, and loving each other. But I can still acknowledge that I *should* have done what you did, which is also what JW and Nicku and countless others suggest as well.

  18. It is always inspiring to read your posts now that you have your horse 'soul-mate'!

  19. Great post and so relevant for me right now as I've finally decided to rehome Faran....

  20. Pretty much all the comments I had have already been made so I'm just going to say - so true!!!


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