One of my favorite topics of discussion with my trainer is around finding the right match of horse and rider- I consider myself so ridiculously blindingly amazingly lucky in that I have a horse that could not be more perfectly matched to me, so I’m fascinated by all the factors that go into making that match.
I do think that a lot of it is impossible to know before the horse and rider get to know each other (we certainly didn’t think Francis would be this incredible), but some pieces can be fairly apparent off the bat.
Maybe we don’t stick the 5’6″-and-growing 12yo girl on a medium pony.
The kid with aspirations in the hunter ring will probably be happiest on a mount with good movement and a nice jump.
A timid rider will likely become more nervous on a horse with quirks like head shaking or kicking out.
That’s not to say that none of this is insurmountable (except for the pony thing, for the love of god stop handicapping your kids into the pony divisions. But that’s a rant for another day). The hunter kid might be able to work with a horse to develop better movement, and the timid rider might be able to learn some guts to ride the quirky horses. It happens every day. But for a horse that someone wants to be able to ride comfortably immediately, there are plenty of things that make that partnership much easier to build quickly.
One way my trainer likes to put it is that in a good partnership, there needs to be at least 100% confidence in/desire to do their job. The horse and the rider together make up this percentage. For purposes of discussion, I’m going to talk about jumping because that’s the world I know, but I think this can apply to any discipline.
If the rider is really really timid and isn’t sure if they want to make it over the jump, then the horse needs to be so well-schooled that it is definitely going. In these cases, the horse makes up for the inexperience/uneasiness of the rider.
If the horse is green or nervous and doesn’t want to jump (or if the the horse is tired, as sometimes happens with Frankie), the rider needs to have 100% conviction that they are getting to the other side. In these cases, the rider makes up for the inexperience/uneasiness of the horse.
Anything less than a sum of 100% can lead to a runout- either because the rider pulls out of the track, or because the horse stops.
The best partnerships are where you’re above 100%- where both the horse and rider are eager to go do their job together. The top showjumpers are operating at 200%, with mounts that are incredibly well trained and confident, and with riders who know how to encourage the best work from their horses.
I’d say that Frankie regularly operates at around 60-70%. I am confident that he is going to jump the jump in front of him- he has never given me a dirty stop. He locks on more often than he used to, but he’ll never be the drag-you-to-the-fence type. I don’t think he’s at 100%, because if I pull or don’t steer he won’t jump the jump- because he assumes I don’t want him to. When he gets tired- at the end of a long course, or in the second trip of the day, or later in the week- this percentage goes down a bit. Not because he’s unwilling, but because he needs more support from me.
I think I’m operating probably around 60-70% as well. It may be ugly, it may be messy, but I will jump the damn jump. I don’t have any baggage of riding a stopper and I ride a horse that will always give me what I ask, so in general I don’t pull out of a line/off a track unless I think I will legitimately hurt myself or Frankie by asking him to go for it. In the past my percentage has gone down as well as I get tired, so I’m working hard to make sure I can actually raise my percentage- to make up for any drops in Frankie’s. I’ll also be able to raise my percentage by improving my skills on course.
That makes for a combined percentage of at least 100%, which is part of why I love this horse so dang much. We both have such a fun time going out there and doing our thing.
Of course, our goal is to constantly increase that percentage as a team. For Frankie that means building the “fire” in his step and building his fitness so that he doesn’t flag at the end of a long day. For me it also means building fitness, and it also means improving my cues to the point of being able to encourage the best possible jump out of my horse. That way if I’m ever on a horse that’s less perfect than Frankie (so literally any other horse), I can lend them some confidence that we’ll make it over together.
What do you think about this way of looking at a partnership? What do you think your and your horse’s percentages are?
PS- By the time this posts, I should be several hours into my journey west. Talk to y’all from WEC!!!!