How Good Are You?

I’m sure I’m not the only one here who reads sale ads all the time. Not because I’m looking for another horse- Frankie will have to buy his own brother if he wants one- but because I find sale ads completely fascinating.

Stop sleeping and go get a job, you freeloader.

There are a lot of different aspects I find fascinating, but one of the main ones is talking about rider ability: “beginner-friendly,” or “suited for intermediate riders.”

What. The Heck. Does. That. Mean.

(Heads up, I’ll be focusing mostly on the H/J world for this post because that’s really where my interest and focus lies.)

Rider ability is such a nuanced, shades-of-gray, subjective variable to capture. So lets go through a few hypotheticals to illustrate what I mean.

Random picture of Manfriend because DANG he’s cute

Rider A and Rider B are doing similar exercises in their lessons. They can both canter off the line and are able to grab mane over teeny crossrails. They can both be a little timid but are happy enough to learn as they go. Rider A is 7 and Rider B is 13. While they do similar work, Rider B has much more body awareness and control, her posting trot is more controlled, and she has better balance. Despite both of them doing the same things, you would not sell them the same horse.

Rider C and Rider D both compete in the 3′ jumpers. They can both make it around safely at that height and enjoy competing on the local circuit with some degree of success. Rider C has been riding a 15yo schoolmaster who has done this job for years, and Rider D rides a young OTTB that she’s brought along from the ground up. You would not sell them the same horse.

Then on the flip side, the horses.

“Who, me?”

Pony is such a cool horse. He’s very easy and lazy on the flat, but for someone who knows what they’re doing, he’s super scopey and talented over fences- and hot. Is Pony better suited for a home with a more experienced rider who is willing to put up with some quirks for the sake of talent? Or is Pony suited for a lower-level home where he will never be asked to do more than go around on the buckle? He’s good at both of those things. Well, how old is Pony? It’s a lot harder to sell a 14yo as an upper level partner than it is to sell an 8yo in that role. What breed is Pony? What gender? What training program/maintenance/feed/moon sign were they born under? All of these inform where Pony has the best chance of finding a happy home in a job they like (only halfway joking about the moon sign).

So a horse that may be only suited for an advanced rider could be perfect for a beginner rider, doing beginner things. I’ve known a horse or two like that.

He liked me a lot more last year when I didn’t make him work as hard

I’ve known riders just learning how to canter that consider themselves intermediate, and I’ve known riders comfortably coursing at 2’6″ that call themselves beginners. I don’t think either of them is right or wrong, because it’s a completely made up system.

Added to that is the fact that many adults reeeally don’t like being called beginners. It messes with our pride. Sometimes we prefer the term “novice rider.”

For myself, I’d consider myself solidly intermediate. I can comfortably school around a 1.15m-1.20m course and compete at 1.15m, I have a working understanding of connection and adjustability as it pertains to longitudinal and latitudinal motion, and I’m reasonably certain that I won’t ruin a horse that you throw me on. Probably.

But a lot of those “rider abilities” are actually my horse’s abilities. I’m lucky enough to have a very forgiving, quiet ride who lets me make mistakes and learn. If you put me on another more difficult horse, I would not be able to do many of the things I can do with Frankie.

Pretty positive that another horse would immediately tell me to eff off if I tried to pull this on them #SaintFrancis

I think someone with a more difficult horse that may be jumping lower heights/doing less “advanced” exercises is likely a better rider than I am- their position is probably more solid, they probably have more nuance in their aids, etc. The resume of activities they can do may look different, but the strength and ability is there.

So that’s my little rant for the day. How good is good? What makes a good rider good? What “level” of rider do you consider yourself? Why? What are your thoughts on this?

25 thoughts on “How Good Are You?

  1. SprinklerBandits 08/07/2017 / 9:03 am

    In my recent horse search, I immediately ruled out any horse that had a “needs intermediate rider” or better clause. As you said, there’s no clear way of defining what that means to each seller and I just didn’t want a bunch of someone else’s baggage. It ended up being a non-issue as I bought an unstarted baby, but it was definitely something I thought about on the way.


    • hellomylivia 08/08/2017 / 7:22 am

      Absolutely- it could have been something totally minor, or their definition of intermediate could have been completely different, but it also could’ve been a major problem. It’s so hard to know.


  2. Holly 08/07/2017 / 9:15 am

    So, so true – and then you throw in discipline differences. Take a top reiner and put them on a jumper and well, we’ve all seen that YouTube video. I feel this a lot because I’m confident on most all stock breed show horses and would consider myself intermediate or advanced there – but as we’ve seen of late, put me on an eventer and I’m a beginner up here doing crossrails. Sure, some things carry over – I know basics of riding, but then I’ve had to ‘re-learn’ a lot too – my reins are too long, my leg is too far back, my hip is too open. Nuances, sure, but also probably things someone who had started in the discipline would have learned really early on.


    • hellomylivia 08/08/2017 / 7:23 am

      Absolutely! Like having me attempt to do dressage would probably be downright comical. The balance and general understanding of the aids can be fairly universal, but those nuances are hardddd.


  3. Karen M 08/07/2017 / 10:12 am

    I try not to worry too much about how to categorize myself or how others categorize me. I bump up against this problem weekly because of my side hustle and there is not a clear way to explain any of it very well without a ton of diplomacy. If it comes up during horse shopping, you can’t take the ads at face value, you have to just go sit on the horse and see if it’s what you are looking for or not.


    • hellomylivia 08/08/2017 / 7:24 am

      Agreed- there’s absolutely no substitute for sitting on the horse. It does make me wonder how many good horses are not even being tried because of poor marketing on the part of the seller.


  4. CallyJumps 08/07/2017 / 10:21 am

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head in realizing that it all comes down to the horse/rider pairing. And that even fence height isn’t a good gauge, because I thought about that yesterday watching a few jumpers go before the round we did as a fun warmup–the ones out there winning by whipping around are not the ones who are going to move up and be successful, it’s the ones like me, who went in and rode it like an up-tempo eq trip, or the rider on an obviously green horse who did the adds but had a textbook track, who are at a clearly different skill level.

    I think of myself as advanced intermediate. On my own horse, I’m competent at 3′ hunters and eq, can put in a solid 1st Level dressage test, and can get around a course sidesaddle. I can get on most anything and w/t/c nicely, and especially in a lesson setting, would be able to get on pretty much anything and competently jump around 2’6-2’9 or so, bigger on a horse I clicked with right away. Because lets be honest, there are some really nice horses who are just not a particular rider’s type of ride, too. Mine is well behaved but sensitive like a sportscar, and I like that more TB type of ride, and struggle a bit with the ones that need a foot on the gas constantly, just because I’m not as used to it.


    • hellomylivia 08/08/2017 / 7:27 am

      The kids blasting around the lower jumpers are absolutely terrifying, for realz. You and Cally are legit the most versatile badasses pretty much ever, is there anything you guys can’t do?! And very good point about “clicking.” Like you said, I think we as riders can be more “advanced” on a horse whose ride matches our own style.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. tntibbetts 08/07/2017 / 10:23 am

    Having grown up on the AQHA and NRHA circuits and now doing the hunter/jumper thing I have a fairly broad perspective. Plus I currently have a horse I’m trying to sell so this is very timely! The horse I’m selling is a 5yo QH. I fox hunted on him last season and my Mom previously showed him in a small local show circuit in Eastern Montana in mostly western classes. I had a buyer ready to sign the check, then a trainer (who they consulted after trying him twice and having him vetted, weird) said there was no way a 5yo horse was safe for the rider. Sight unseen the trainer said this. You have to evaluate the horse in front of you and hope that the seller is telling you the TRUTH about the horse. I would never say my horse is “beginner safe” or “requires an intermediate rider” because those statements are so very subjective. It depends on the rider and what they want out of their horse. This horse is quiet and honest and he isn’t spooky. That is what I tell prospective buyers. He has the most life experience in the show pen and the least life experience on trail rides. So if someone is looking for a quiet trail horse, I tell them how he is on trail rides from MY experience, but that he’s a saint in the show pen.

    For myself, I know that I prefer a kick ride to a horse needing some whoa. I’m definitely an advanced rider, but I know my confidence level and what I enjoy riding. Mostly I like to buy babies and bring them up myself. If they turn out to not be what I want, then I’ll put a solid foundation on them and sell them. Horses are the original used cars! Buying and selling is such a game!


    • hellomylivia 08/08/2017 / 7:29 am

      “It depends on the rider and what they want out of their horse.” Yes, this. All this.


  6. the_everything_pony 08/07/2017 / 10:55 am

    I do the same thing and look at ads as well. It is so interesting when they do say they’re “beginner friendly” or “intermediate rider is a must”. Because just as you outlined it could be different things. On the flip side I find those “in search of” posts with “horse must be kid friendly” or “safe for kids but not over 8 yrs old; but have a low budget” really fascinating. Because my horse is kid friendly, but kids would not be able to ride her. She might become a packer by the time she’s fifteen, but then people don’t want a 15 yr old horse. It is just very interesting. And like Holly commented, I feel confident with most stock horses in the western disciplines, but now that Amber and I are doing eventing, I feel like a beginner again. I think we do okay because we’ve been a team for so long, but on any other horse starting eventing I know I’d be a total beginner. My elbows flap, my wrists turn down, my lower legs go too far forward and I tend to tilt on my right hip and I look down A LOT. So it’s been super new for me to do this, and I think it helps to really understand horses as well as yourself. Just like SprinklerBandit commented, the “intermediate must” of a horse could very well be baggage from the previous owner. I found I really liked the articles that described the horse’s nature more than what they’d be suited for. I liked the ones that said “horse is kind, has a good work ethic, very careful about things and needs time to understand, horse loves to be in your pocket but gets nervous about things”. Those I liked because that told me more about how the horse would suit me than if they were scopey or needed and intermediate rider or has the potential to do whatever height. I think in a way we like to generalize things, give it a term we “understand”, instead of just telling it like it is.


    • hellomylivia 08/08/2017 / 7:31 am

      I completely agree that describing the horse’s nature can be so much more insightful- I think often that’s able to get at how “advanced” of a rider they can handle, while being clearer about why.


  7. Tracy - Fly On Over 08/07/2017 / 12:13 pm

    I agree that these general terms are WAY too broad in terms of rider competence and it makes it really hard to shop online. Videos help me a lot, because I don’t care what you say in the ad, I can get a better gauge of whether or not the horse might work based on how it goes and jumps than anything anyone could tell me. That said, there’s no substitute for sitting on the horse.


    • hellomylivia 08/08/2017 / 7:33 am

      Absolutely, the video will tend to “out” certain things, even if they weren’t mentioned in the ad. I kinda prefer to see imperfect sales videos for that reason- I know I make mistakes as a rider, and I want to know if the horse is forgiving enough to handle rider mistakes.


  8. Shauna 08/07/2017 / 12:22 pm

    Very interesting topic. There really are a lot of shades of grey in there. As someone who is currently shopping, I try to be careful that I am looking at horses that are appropriate to my skill level.

    Having said that, I did try 2 horses that were advertised as being for experienced riders only. One was a very sweet, honest DraftX that was just really green, but could easily have been brought along by a reasonably competent ammy – he was just too green for that person’s lesson program. The other horse I also found to be a fairly easy ride- but may have been more dodgy as the fences went up, possibly due to some existing physical issues. Neither required what I would consider to be an ‘experienced rider’. So it is definitely a term that is open to interpretation.


    • hellomylivia 08/08/2017 / 7:36 am

      I think green horses open up a whole other dimension to this as well! Like you said, a horse that isn’t a good fit for a lesson program might just require a little one-on-one attention to bring along into a super solid citizen.


  9. Rocking E Cowgirl 08/07/2017 / 2:36 pm

    And this is exactly why I never want to horse hunt ever again!


  10. laurelashtonw 08/08/2017 / 2:22 pm

    My favorite is when the horse needs an “advanced beginner.” Like, what?? I really think the only way to really know is to actually go and see the horses, and good videos help too.


  11. Boss Mare Eventing 08/09/2017 / 12:34 pm

    I usually buy horses through word of mouth from people I trust. That`s how I have managed to be lucky. I don`t know how other people horse shop, it looks like a total nightmare.


    • hellomylivia 08/10/2017 / 8:43 am

      It’s definitely not something I’d ever want to do by myself- like you said, you need to have people you trust to help out!


  12. Karley 08/25/2017 / 4:15 pm

    What a great topic.

    I have been st this riding business – working with a trainer – for a long time. I’m a pretty competent and capable rider. Does that mean I want to have to ride the ‘needs an experienced or pro rider’ horse- most of the time no bc that typically means they need lots of ‘work’ lol. I’ve put in my time and want to have fun now.

    I don’t mind green, a kind green… I brought Henry from the track to the wonderfully unicorn he is now- with my trainers guidance.

    I’m also not stupid brave anymore in my old age haha!!


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