Horses don’t care about potential

Kroni turned out to be a very talented horse, once I found him the “right” job.

Sometimes you’re lucky and you buy a horse that ends up with more talent than you expected. More talent than you, perhaps, need for the type of riding you prefer. And, more times than not, I hear those lucky people lament the fact that they are “holding back” the horse, who could achieve greater things with a better rider.

I read this on a friend’s FB page last week as she talked about her horse:

Honestly, she has so much ability! Sometimes I think she is wasted on me. Not that I don’t love her and do things with her, but she is capable of so much more.

She’s right that she has a lovely, athletic horse who has a lot of ability. But she is certainly not wasting that talent. Nope, this is a sensitive horse with, shall we call, an amount of “exuberance” that many people would not be able to ride. My friend rides this horse beautifully and they have a fantastic partnership. It sure looks like a happy horse to me.

I do understand where she’s coming from because years ago, I said the same thing about my Trakehner, Kronefurst, to my trainer. Kroni was a beautiful and athletic horse with extravagant gaits and a big jump. He also had some quirks, including a tendency to rear and a very defined opinion about how he liked to be ridden. After I said how much more Kroni could have done with a better rider, my trainer laughed and said he was damned lucky to have found me because his quirks might have led to a bad ending.

Patriot's day
For several years I rode him in a Patriot’s Day Re-enactment, rousing the Lincoln Minutemen. I could tell that he wasn’t crazy about riding down into the crowds, but he did it because I asked him.

Let’s face it. Horses don’t understand potential. They don’t hunker down at night and bemoan the fact that they will never gallop around Rolex.

I do believe they know when they’ve done a good job, and I certainly think that many horses like to have a job that they understand and can excel at. But they don’t care about ribbons and they never berate themselves for not achieving the human definition of success.  They want to please their human and that may well be enough. Well, that and lots of turnout and grass.

I bought Kroni with the intention of eventing him, but I only took him to a couple of competitions. He was always fussy with his mouth — partially it was because he had a thick tongue and a low palate; partially it was because he felt trapped when asked for any collection. After struggling with the dressage phase for several years, it became clear to me that this was never going to be his strong suit.

Kronefurst, my Trakehner, found his true purpose in life foxhunting. Here is is in his bitless bridle, waiting patiently for the first cast.

Ultimately, he found his calling as a hunt horse. From the very first time I hunted him he let me know that this was what he’d been waiting to do. Out hunting, he didn’t need to have a bit — he was completely controllable with a bitless bridle. He was bold but never out of control. He jumped anything that was in front of him. And he stood at the checks on the buckle. We had a deal: I would never ask him to do something that he couldn’t do and he would take care of me.

Sure, if he’d had a different rider, he might have won more ribbons but I don’t think he would have had more fun.

If you’re lucky enough to have one of those horses with a little bit more scope than you actually need, just remember that your horse doesn’t care about potential. He only wants to be well cared for and loved, and to please you. So enjoy that extra bit of ability, give him a pat and know that he is only performing for you.

9 thoughts on “Horses don’t care about potential

  1. Thank you, Liz. You beautifully wrote down what we all should consider – sometimes it’s enough to love what you do and have a good friend. Not necessary to put ourselves constantly under pressure to achieve more and more and higher set goals. Live and let live and while doing so enjoy life 🙂

  2. I think, for me, it’s a perspective that’s come with age. I’m no longer interested in competition for it’s own sake and get much more pleasure from the time I spend with my horses.

  3. Exactly, well put! I have had a few well-meaning people suggest selling/having a pro ride my warmblood gelding so that he could “reach his potential”…and I was like… he doesn’t care. 😛

    1. I see many people who pick a horse for a specific job . . . only to find out that that isn’t what the horse wants to do! It’s especially an issue when foxhunting because if your horse doesn’t like it, the ride can get a bit hairy. I’ve been lucky so far to have three horses that enjoy it but I didn’t buy Zelda until I knew she’d be fun to hunt.

      1. Oh I’d love trying out hunting one day! I event my horse and he just loves the cross country. We also tried team chasing and he did so well! I had my doubts about his group cantering skills, but hey – no problems! Again – so good to read your sound thoughts on this matter, it’s all too common that people either think their horse is way out of their league and is being tortured by having to carry an amateur rider, OR they try to make the poor horse do things the horse doesen’t like or have natural ability for.

  4. Oh, so beautifully put. So lovely a post, that sums up everything that makes us and our horses who we are. Those of us who think of our horses as more merely a means towards points or a ribbon, or than something that is merely animated bicycles are the happiest.

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