“Firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something”
It’s something almost everybody struggles with at one point in life. Something that’s so hard to gain, but can be lost in a split second. As a rider, I’ve learned many times how much trust can have an influence on results. It’s often a deciding factor between success and disaster in our sport. As much as any team needs to be able to trust one another completely, horse and rider have to have the same connection.. Except without words.
Something I knew before, but am very aware of now, is how much every horse varies. Just like people, horses have very distinct personalities. Some will be easier to build a partnership with, while others will be standoffish for quite a while before you really get to know them.
When I first began riding, I was put on a big black beauty named Otis. My first ride on him was bareback, being led around the back pasture at Bluebear. Not long after that you could find the two of us galloping across fields chasing geese. He was the first horse I trusted completely. That being said its much easier to trust when you’re 7 years old and have absolutely no fear. Nonetheless we formed that special partnership that all equestrians will know of.
I’ve been through many horses since Otis. Washington, my mom’s horse, and I never quite got past the despising each other part. Monty, the loveable little appy who took me to my first provincial show and taught me oh so much about staying in the saddle before and after jumps. Then there came Flash, a chestnut mare who very much lived up to the stereotype of chestnut mares. Flash and her previous owner had been in the same 4H club and teams as I had (with Monty) for a few years and we’d seen Flash win everything in site, as well as be a complete bitch here and there too. When we bought her, we knew she had issues- but what horse doesn’t? This beautiful girl became my closest friend and my worst enemy depending on the day. She was a horse that was hard to trust, I can’t lie. We had some pretty rocky days. But the relationship we built was rock solid. She took me to many wins and taught me almost everything I know about trust, and how to handle chestnut mare syndrome. Unfortunately she developed some soundness problems in the last couple years I owned her, which made competing much more of a touch and go scenario. Eventually it became painfully (literally) clear that she was sick of the show routine and was ready for the next part of her life. She enjoyed demonstrating this by bucking, rearing, and playing games in the middle of classes. Our last show together was Carman Fair 2010 where we had a less than ideal show, which ended with her rearing, me bailing, landing very hard on my shoulder- ripping my favourite show shirt, and the judge finally looking our way. Since selling her was too hard and we wanted to know who would own her, she was traded back to her original breeders- who still remembered her as the first horse who ever made them money in the show ring (she was 2nd in the ’97 50/50 futurity). In return we got Felix, and the right to one more of their foals.
In comes Willard. Another horse who it took me a long time to build trust in. It took so much to get him to where he is today (or where he was in August of last year anyway). I grew up a lot in the process. In order to build trust, you first have to have confidence enough in yourself to build your horse’s confidence. This was the case with Will. He needed me to be the confident one as he was as timid as a mouse. You’ll find a lot of horses are this way, especially green horses. If you knew me when I was younger, you’d know that I wasn’t the most confident. As I got older and more involved in athletics, theatre, and progressed in my riding, this changed of course. And it got easier to ride Will- and thus Will began to grow up too- becoming what he is now.
When you really think about it, it takes so much trust to do what we riders do. Hopping on a 1100lb plus animal and expecting it to listen to you let alone jump around a course of big obstacles sounds insane to a lot of people. But personally, and I know many will agree, I could not imagine doing anything else. The past few days I’ve been exercising race horses at an extended trot around the pastures of Airhill farm. These thoroughbreds are all on average about 16.3 or bigger and are some of the best race horses/ jump race (steeplechase) horses in New Zealand. Galloping up steep inclines is at its best a little terrifying but I’ve found that I’m absolutely in love with it. Every muscle in my body is sore and tired, and I’m way past the point of exhaustion. But I’m still saying yes to another ride out and smiling as the horse races up the hill on the way to the work out trail. In this kind if situation you have to be able to build the trust quickly. You don’t have months or years to build a relationship. You have seconds, maybe minutes, to trust the horse you’re on and establish a confidence. As I said earlier, each horse is different. Yorkie, one horse I exercise, is quiet and likes to know I’m there with him, and needs more contact on the reins.. While King is quite hot to start out, will not stand still and needs a more relaxed contact to relax himself. All these little things need to be picked up on quickly if you’re going to have a successful ride.
I’m getting pretty excited to get home to my own horse, as much as I love riding all these talented horses in this beautiful landscape- there’s nothing quite like that feeling when you’re on a horse you have that special bond with. I’m sure Willard will present me with some new challenges, as he’s become quite the spoiled brat in my absence. I’ve gotten myself back in shape, now it’s hammer time for Mr.Willard. Poor guy. His leisurely days of lazy life are nearly over!