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?