One of the aspects that makes a successful dressage rider is the desire to achieve near perfection, knowing that it is a difficult journey, fraught with setbacks, and requires determination, persistence as well as education and experience. By definition, we are not “quitters”, therefore it takes years of experience for such a person to know when it is right to quit. I have been reflecting on this subject for some days now as we have come to the conclusion, after much effort, reflection and discussion that Da Capo is not a suitable horse for our ambitions in dressage. The good news is that he shows some potential as a jumper, and has caught the eye of a young rider who wishes to make the effort to develop him in a different direction than we would take. So, we are happy that he will be able to pursue a path that he might be more suitable for, that we can move on to search for a horse that likes the discipline of dressage.
This situation has prompted me to think about the subject of suitability. I am not referring to the often discussed issue of experienced horse for beginning rider, or expressive gaits or natural jumping ability. I am referring rather to the horse/rider combination, and their mental compatibility. Their desire to do the same thing.
I will take for an example the situation with myself and Da Capo. What attracted me to him in the first place was the dressage characteristics: a bloodline proven to produce top dressage horses (Donnerhall/Pik Bube), large expressive gaits, a free shoulder movement, strong active hindquarters, and a conformation (though it needed developing as he was living in a pasture) that looked promising. And since I am not thinking serious competition, his size was nice because it fit me and my size. Also, I was optimistic since he went under saddle easily, accepted the rider without bucking and was very comfortable to ride. He was also easy to manage on the ground, and very friendly with people.
So what finally made us find him unsuitable? Something as simple as “attitude”. As he became more fit and stronger, he became a bit resistant. Without changing his routine at all, just the same consistent work to develop his muscles and strength through lunging, rather than becoming calmer and more confident, he became more resistant. It soon became clear that there were things he liked to do, and things he could do, but not willingly.
From the tine spent working with Da Capo it became clear that he was an elastic talented horse. It also reminded me that in the end the horse has an opinion also about what he wants to do. After persisting with the riding I realized that he could be “forced” to work, and eventually would submit, but it was not pleasant for me or him. And in the end, forced work does not produce the kind of results I am looking for when I train a horse. Therefore, I chose not to try to force him, but to try to seek a situation for him where both he and his rider can enjoy their time together. I know there will be a willing partner for me and I plan to go out and look for him. As a good friend of mine reminded me, “when one door closes, another opens”. So I am maintaining my “hopes and expectations”, they will just develop on a different path. This is the part that I think the “seriously driven” rider finds the hardest, accepting that they cannot make everything work, and sometimes have to just “quit” and move on. This requires both experience and maturity, and putting the ego aside. DONE!!