Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Real Talk with Denny: Too Much Horse

I adore the hell out of Denny Emerson and have for a long time. When I was a kid, I desperately wanted to be his working student (though I'm not sure my sensitive teenage self could have handled it). I read How Good Riders Get Good and then read it again and again. He's a genius, and he's hilarious. If you don't follow him on Facebook, follow him on Facebook.

Lately he's been railing against the upper levels of eventing and endurance, because horses are dying and this is bad. Go check out his feed. He compares the upper levels of these sports to the X Games, and denounces them for pushing horses to the very outer edges of their abilities, to the point that it's rare for a horse to be able to compete at the very top level for more than a year or two without becoming lame or demoralized, if not dying at or just after the competition altogether. A good event, he says, should not be one in which no horses or riders died.

I'm with him on this, and this is my main hesitation with getting into eventing. I'm happy to go Novice or Training or even Prelim, but I have no desire whatsoever to go Advanced. On the other hand, I'll do basically anything in show jumping. I'm not good enough to be at the upper levels of show jumping yet, but I want to get there.

I'm really writing this because today Denny's posts have been about what SprinklerBandit might call Happy Horse Ownership. He's on a roll about why people have the wrong horses and what they can or should do about it--or, more specifically, why they keep the wrong horses. Here, I'm just going to quote him directly and at length. All of these posts are from today, September 9.

We all know the saying, "delusions of grandeur" (Tang THINKS he`s a bobcat), but too often that attitude lands riders with horses they can`t quite ride.

Now what?

Three scenarios, I think.

1. The rider improves enough to ride the horse, usually by riding quieter horses.
2. A better trainer rides the horse until it calms down enough to be ridden by the owner.
3. A combination of both---

Or, unhappy 4, the pair struggle away, sometimes for years, what we often see in "real life."

And then: 
"WHY do so many riders have horses that are "too much horse?"

We all consumed and loved all the great horse books for kids, but, let`s face it, the message they sent us isn`t real.

A 12 year old who`d never ridden didn`t REALLY tame a 17 hand wild black stallion, with neither riding lessons nor helmet, I don`t think.

But it`s easy to feed into that 12 year old mentality, not just because of books and movies, but because there`s something wildly appealing to the essence of the myth.

It`s when we get older, can afford a horse, but still linger in Fantasy Land, that we make big mistakes, avoid the "Plain Jane" that we can ride and learn on, and instead get the fancy one who makes us white knuckled with apprehension every ride.

And once "there" the terrible "But I love him" kicks in, and we are trapped. And he is, too. We make each other miserable, and we can`t see a way out."

And then:

 The "snowball effect", also known as the "downward spiral."

You picture yourself leaping off the Hickstead bank, but your reality is that you should be trotting crossrails.

You push ahead too soon, and your lack of skills makes the horse (a creature of flight) nervous.

The nervous horse does what nervous horses do, gets quick, maybe starts to rush or quit, jigs, those normal response behaviors.

HIS nervousness makes YOU more nervous. Or frustrated. Or angry. Or all of the above.

You get more tight, more rigid, perhaps more demanding.

He gets more nervous, and the snowball builds, the downward spiral spirals, and you are both in big trouble.

Deep in our dark little hearts we do know the way out of the "too much horse" trap, but it`s not easy to get free.

It`s to get one that we can ride or drive safely, and find a different home for the one we can`t.

I can hear the howls of protest all the way up here in Strafford, Vermont.



And finally, the last line of this is one I need to remember because it's hard for me to not be all worried about people who are clearly on the wrong horses:

One final thought regarding the "too much horse" dilemma.

We all know some riders who WILL NOT GIVE UP the inappropriate horse. Because of fear of where he will end up, or because of stubborn pride, or because they can`t see what we all see, or whatever other reason.

SO---Reality time---

EITHER the rider or driver will continue with white knuckled fear each ride or drive--OR, the rider will eventually get hurt---OR, the horse will end up as a pasture ornament, and the rider will stop riding for as long as it takes for the horse to die of old age.

And, unless we are the parents or have another heavily vested interest in the well being of that person, IT IS NOT UP TO US TO DECIDE.

What are your thoughts here?


  1. He was on this rant awhile back about people buying wrong horses. With my friend owning a big H/J show barn I see her clients trying to go down that path. Usually it's because people want XYZ which costs $50K but they want to pay $10K.

  2. this is a big topic - thanks for sharing!

    i've never owned, but used to have 'project horses' that i would introduce into a lesson program. one project ended up being way too much for me, and it took a year (and many falls) to figure that out.

    these days i try to keep it all in perspective - what are my goals? are they realistic with this horse? ideally, it should be fun more often than not.

  3. Yes. All this. I've been riding since I was a kid, did the classic barn rat route, didn't own til I was an adult, rode the problem horses, ALL THAT STUFF. Even so, with Courage, my first one straight off the track, I work with a trainer constantly and have her put rides on him all the time to help educate both of us.

    As an adult ammy, I just cannot put in the hours to be as competent as a professional. Period. Instead of fighting that, I just incorporate it into my normal and roll with it.

  4. I don't have a lot of time to ponder at the moment, but I really like Danny E. I think he is spot on without being offensive, which is hard to do in this industry.

  5. I was that 12 year old . . . some people are born with a natural seat and riding ability.

    That said, I think picking the right horse, or having the right horse pick you, is key to enjoying life and horses as an adult.

  6. I've heard a lot about that book, must add it to my wishlist, order it & read it ☺

  7. I was that 13 year old, in my case. Quite literally broke a young ungelded baby horse to saddle all by myself. I read a lot but I had no trainer assistance. He was a fearless little horse until the day he died at age 20 two years ago. Best horse a little girl could've ever wanted. We did everything: rode all over creation, up mountains, on streets, even rode him to school and galloped him on the track one day. He was awesome and I will always miss him. However, this is definitely not for everyone. So much can go wrong. I was lucky.

    Great post. This is so true...it seems to be more the norm than the exception in the equestrian world in general. I have a former barnmate that would benefit so much from reading this...she has not one but TWO mares that are way over her skill set. She is the white-knuckled rider on the nervous horse. And she's already gotten hurt.

    Riding should be fun. It should be something you look forward to. It shouldn't give you an anxiety attack every time you think of getting on your horse.

    Thanks for sharing!

  8. I love this! All of it is so true!

  9. Love following him on FB. He doesn't hold back but isn't offensive either.