For the past few days I’ve been watching another owner/rider dispute unfold on COTH. Certainly after reading about this experience, the Henny dispute and the issues over La Biosthetique Sam, I’d sure as heck think twice about buying a horse for a rider to compete.
The comments on the most recent threads repeat several common themes. Some of which (have a contract!) I agree with; others that I don’t. The one I have the most trouble with is the romantic idea that the horse in question deserves to reach its “potential” through it’s magic partnership with the specific Big Name Rider (BNR) that is competing it. Here’s a comment from one of those threads that exemplifies that perspective. I have removed the name of the horse and ride because it is pretty representative of a way of thinking, not specific to this situation.
I have had horses in my own care custody and control where the selfish owner have decided that they wanted their horse to come home to be a pet in their back yard. Too often owners don’t understand what it takes emotionally and financially to make an upper level horse, and sadly not every horse makes it to the top level of competition like your horse has. To take him away from her now, before he has even peaked in his career is sickening. Your horse has the potential and capability to be a successful 4 star horse but I say that if he were to stay in BNR’s program. Not every horse thrives and prospers with all riders. Horses pick their partner and Your Horse has chosen BNR. For the interest of the horse I strongly hope that you change your position. It would be disheartening to see that horse end up in the wrong hands!
I’m sorry, on a day when the WSJ has an article about the potential re-opening of equine slaughter houses in the U.S. I find it hard to get too upset because an upper level event horse might leave the barn of one BNR and go to another one. Hardly a tragedy since, for the five figures this horse will command, he’s hardly on the way to the auctions. Most likely he’ll be well cared for and will perform adequately for his next rider.
Even if he never achieves his “potential” as a team horse and instead becomes an ammy-owner’s prelim horse or a young rider’s move up mount, he is likely to be a pampered equine who receives top notch care. And guess what — he won’t care that he’s not jumping **** fences and jetting to foreign countries to compete.
It’s easy to project our own goals and desires onto our horses. In truth, most horses seem pretty darn content with enough food, plenty of turn out and a sympathetic ride.
Years ago when I bought my Trakhener he turned out to have some issues that made him a difficult ride with a tendency to rear. I found a wonderful, tactful trainer to help me and I bemoaned the fact that my very fancy horse would achieve his “potential” because of some bad training that he got before I bought him.
“Nonsense,” she said. “If you hadn’t bought him he might have hurt someone and ended up at auction. He’s a lot happier with you.”
And he was. He was an unbelievably fancy mover who became an extraordinary foxhunter. I guess he had a different idea about his “potential.” He certainly didn’t want to be a dressage horse.
I agree that some riders are more tactful than others and can coax a good ride out of a difficult or sensitive horse. Certainly people buy horses that don’t work out for them, because the horse does have an opinion. But I’m afraid that the romantic notion of a horse choosing his rider and eschewing all others is a just that — a fairytale. A horse might like a certain kind of ride, but it’s likely that there’s more than one of those riders out there.
I had one of those horses. If he didn’t like his rider would stand in the middle of the ring and refuse to move. He figured out early on in his career that passive resistance was the most effective. Hit him with a crop and he’d kick out, but he wouldn’t move. When I started to ride him people were amazed by how willing he was, and how much talent he had hidden. I ended up buying him and noticed, over the years that I had him, that he remained picky about his riders. Put someone on him he didn’t like and he’d go right back to the middle of the ring; for other riders he was a willing partner.
So what do all of you think? Is the relationship that a horse has with a certain rider so unique that it should trump ownership issues? Should an owner leave their horse with a certain rider because he or she can unlock his potential? Or have owner/rider relationships just gotten a little out of hand as the “value” of upper level event horses has reached epic proportions, putting the most talented horses out of the reach of all but the most wealthy? Let me know!