Uncharted Territory

I’ve slowly come to the realization over the last 6 months that my horse is finally not green anymore. He’s legit “broke”. Like… more broke than I am educated. This is a first for me.

A much simpler time on a much greener Henry

I’ve always had green horses. Forever and ever and ever, green horse after green horse after green horse. My education has always exceeded theirs, and it never really got to the point where I felt like I was sitting on an animal that knew more about it’s job than I did; I sold them and moved on to the next project before it got to that point. Even as a kid, I grew up at a barn where I rode whatever I was told to ride, and usually those were green or sometimes semi-rank horses.

like – “first person to throw a leg over it” kind of green

My first horse was, uh, not exactly rideable (I got run away with A LOT) so while he was experienced o/f, he wasn’t a horse that taught you how to be a good rider. Mostly I just tried not to die. Every once in a while I would luck into getting to hack one of the fancy jumpers in the barn, and there was the summer I got to ride and show the semi-retired one (and ate dirt), but I never had a really well educated horse and therefore I never really got a super intense, intricate education. Every horse I had after the first one was very very green, either off the track or not started at all. I come from the school of Get ‘er Done.

odds are good that he ran off with me shortly after this

My very first dressage ride back on Henry after his rehab I came to the very obvious conclusion that he’s not only caught up to me, he’s surpassed me. The trainer rides he’s had this year put more polish onto the education I’ve given him, and he learned things from her that I have yet to replicate. For me this is completely uncharted territory.

wtf Trainer, why you teach him beautiful counter canter loops?

At happy hour last week with my horse friends I started telling them about this, and what a strange thing it is for me. This is a place I haven’t really been in before. I’m really good at making a green horse quiet, I can deal with all kinds of idiotic behavior, and I think I’m pretty good at giving them confidence and making them rideable and putting on the basics of flatwork and jumping, but when it comes to the real minutia, the things that take lots of finesse and separate the “sufficient” from the “good”… I’m lacking. Like Karen touched on in her post yesterday (a product of this exact happy hour conversation), the ride has evolved from being mostly reactive to being solidly proactive. I used to have to swing a leg over and see what kind of horse I had that day, usually spending most of the ride getting him to relax and come into the contact. Now I can just get on and go to work, and as long as I ride him well, we can have a good ride pretty much every time. If we’re going to get better from this point, it’s on me.


The good news is, it’s made me a lot more aware. More aware of exactly where my body is and exactly what I’m doing. If one thing isn’t working, I try changing little things until I get what I want. I often catch myself sitting a little too far to the outside, or being a little too restrictive with my inside rein, or blocking him with my seat bone, or whatever other stupid tiny thing is making a big difference in my horse. Mostly it’s a game of always asking for more – more bend, more balance, more angle, more lengthening, more power, faster responses. Better with my hands, better with my body, better with my seat. Every single step has become very deliberate for me, and if I want to ride the horse to his potential, I really do have to ride every single step. At this point the horse pretty much knows all this crap, it’s just a matter of me being able to a) get it b) develop it further. Sometimes I miss the days where trotting around quietly on a loose rein or picking up the correct canter lead were our main priorities. (not really)

the left lead used to be a feat

I brought this up to trainer last weekend too, and I thought she put it really well – “You’ve done a great job of making him really rideable, now you just have to learn how to ride him.”. This is the part I’ve really never really gotten to before. Not having a green horse anymore – it’s a little daunting. But on the other hand, this is kind of a really fun point. This is the point where I actually get to work on myself as a rider and start learning all that minutia that I’ve missed out on for so long, and my horse gets to help me. We’re flip-flopping our roles in this relationship.

I’m finally starting to really understand the phrase “Good horses make good riders”. As trainer pointed out – I’ve got my good horse… now I just have to learn how to ride him.

No biggie?

28 thoughts on “Uncharted Territory

  1. How cool! I can totally relate. This past year before I got pregnant I started going out and taking lessons on dressage and hunter “schoolmasters” while riding the baby ottb at home. It was a game changer! I doubt I really knew what self carriage and a collected canter was supposed to feel like until then!


    1. I’ve always wanted to ride one of those super high level schoolmasters, just to get an idea of what it’s supposed to feel like. That has never happened. So much value in that!


  2. well just send Henry to me then. that will take care of it 🙂 AKA quit your bitching and enjoy the ride LOL

    I am thrilled he has come so far now you can concentrate on you! This will be even more fun to watch/read!


  3. Totally relate. I get on a well-schooled horse and I realize I had better remember everything I know immediately and it is still not going to be enough. But it’s also amazing to ride a horse like that. And you made one! Yay!


  4. Duke was the horse that had more buttons than I knew how to push. So far, he’s been the only horse I’ve ridden like that, with cues so subtle and so abundant. It was like – I didn’t know what I didn’t know, didn’t know that type of ride was even possible. Those made horses are amazing.


  5. This is the fun part! At least for me. Getting a horse to that point where they’ll start making you a better/more effective/more nuanced rider is so cool. And then you get to learn so much more and everything just keeps getting better and better. It’s the best.


      1. Absolutely! I had a time (and still do!) where I felt like every moment I had to think about what to do, like, “now add left leg. Keep outside rein contact. Now shift hip. Recenter in the middle of the saddle.” And so on. But it did start getting easier. I’m afraid of losing some of that without having Drifter to ride.


  6. And how incredible that you got him to such a point as this in the short amount of time you’ve been together! That’s what strikes me a truly special. Henny is a really awesome horse and I think most of us dream of getting to this point in time with our own horses.


  7. Yay! I’m at this point with Georgie too, and I feel like things are getting REALLY fun now. You’re right- you can work on you now, but also asking more, and knowing your horse is strong enough and capable to do it. One thing I’ve learned is I need to adjust to Georgie being where she’s at. I need to work on subtlety. Like, she doesn’t need big kicks or excessive work from me. She responds to the quietest of aids now.So exciting and I can’t wait to see where you and Henry go from here!


    1. Yeah, I kind of constantly have to remind myself that I CAN create just about anything I want, I just have to do it right. You kind of get used to the placating/sympathetic ride, and it’s hard to readjust your mind to the fact that the horse is better educated now and can handle a lot more pressure. That’s my current struggle!


      1. Totally am right there with you. My trainer has to constantly tell me “Ask for more. Don’t settle for what you know she can do.” Ugh. It’s a great spot to be in, but I need to readjust my brain.


  8. I have been taking occasional lessons on a really well broke western horse occasionally. It is really challenging to figure out how to push the buttons correctly. At least half of the time I push the wrong button, or I’m off on my button pushing just enough that I don’t get what I’m trying to ask for. Figuring out how to ride a horse like that is so rewarding though.


  9. Such a great post!!

    I totally can relate- my Henry and I hit a point about 2 years ago that he really was broke, knows his job and will take care of me… which is SO nice after having my second daughter.

    Another big factor is that we have 5.5 years of a relationship built up and it’s an awesome feeling!


  10. Congrats on the realization you have such a cool and educated horse! This is something I think about: When is a horse not green anymore? I don’t view my guy as having “arrived,” but I don’t think I can refer to him as green anymore.


  11. I’m here now too except I’m not nearly as educated as you so it happened a lot quicker haha. It is so odd now that I don’t feel as much like I’m teaching her and it’s more like you said that if I ride well she goes well and when she isn’t going well it’s because I’m doing something wrong.


  12. I always rode green horses too, until I got Rio. It was amazing getting to learn things and work on my as a rider with him. Unfortunately, it made me think I was great and I went back to green horses. I have regrets. Old horses for me from now on!


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