Would you ask your grandfather to run the London Marathon at Mo Farah speed? Would you expect a tortoise to keep up with a cheetah, or rhino to complete an agility course? I suspect not!
Over the years I have been presented with so many different shapes and sizes of horse (and riders) and I have learnt to appreciate what the animals capability is from a conformational and athletic point of view. Ignoring this will cause issues in later life.
Horses can’t say ‘ouch’, ‘I can’t bend that way’ or ‘I’m going as fast as I can, so we must be prepared to listen to them and understand. You, yes, you are the trainer of your horse, not just the scary person in the middle of the arena making you red faced and are ultimately responsible for their welfare (and vet bills)! Whatever level or discipline you ride at, please, first and foremost, learn to read your horses’ body language and facial expression to see if they can cope with the work you are asking of them.
Most sports and even leisure riding requires a good amount of fitness and strength. It is so easy to loose empathy and ‘kick on’ with a horse who is breathing heavy with a thick winter coat and a stomach that resembles a pregnant hippo. We have a duty to make sure our horses are at the correct fitness level for the job we require. If you can’t run round the outside of a school, why should they?
We then have to think about other factors, conformation being a huge one. I see all too often a rider with a horse that is built to pull a 30 tonne Guinness wagon asking them to become an agile show jumper, or a horse built for steep hill terrain asking them to move like a long limbed purpose built dressage horse.
Ambition is a wonderful thing and I don’t want to quash anyone dreams, but be realistic. Horses can turn their hoof to almost any sport but WITHIN REASON. Being aware of the horses capable limits will give you harmony until that limit, try and push them over and you may feel the wheels fall off and you loose the quality you had before.
Experienced trainers will always guide you to a realistic goal and an honest trainer will tell you if your ambitions are fair or above and beyond the horse.
An analogy I use (I use too many on a daily basis) is: You wouldn’t buy a transit van and expect it to win the Monaco Grand Prix. In return, you also wouldn’t buy a Maclaren F1 car to do a tip run!
Happy training everyone.