by Jenny Veenstra
Guest Blog written by Grand Prix rider Jenny Veenstra
Jenny Veenstra: Being succesfull with a less than ideal horse. It is possible!
Guest blog written by Grand Prix rider Jenny Veenstra
Sometimes you come across horsesthat people don’t have high expectations of. The conformation is not exactly brilliant, the feet are crooked or the gaits don’t show a lot of potential. Still, you have a connection with the horse and want to see what level you both can reach.
On a regular bases I see horses like that actually succeedin dressage. At the same time horses that are supposed to be extremely talented disappear never to be shown again.
How is that possible? And how do you get the most out of a less talented horse?
A student of mine bought several years ago an older Friesian breeding mare she knew.The mare had sweet-itch, a big potbelly, no muscle and very average gaits. A lot of people advised her not to buy the horse, but she had a connection with the horse.I told her she at least knew what she was getting for her (little) money, and with some luck the sweet-itch could be kept down with a flyblanket. With another more expensive horse she really had no idea what she would get and wasn’t sure she would have the same connection. She bought the horse and in a few years time she went up the dressagelevels rapidly. Now, with the mare being 17 years old, she is successfully competing EM level and has not reached her limit yet, the mareis starting her flying changes and is still making progress!
I was asked to train a young warmblood that had problems with the right lead canter, probably from nervedamage after surgery. As a four year old I started his training to teach him the right lead canter for his owner and he really struggled with the right hind leg. But now, four years later, he is ready for Prix Saint Georges and although I have to pay attention to keep him carrying his weight on the right hind leg, he then uses this leg just as well as the other.
Ofcourse we would all rather have a horse that has no flaws at all and has an excellent conformation with three good gaits. But those horses are rare to find and carry a huge pricetag. At the same time there is absolutely noguarantee for success AND there are plenty of horses that are very capable of working well without being that excellent to begin with.
A very important part in that is the character of the horse. A lot of people underestimate the value of a horse that is absolutely willing. Theydon’t look past the physical flaws of the horse, but I know some dropdead gorgeous horses that simply don’t want to work and then there is really nothing you can do. For me, character is more important than conformation or gaits. There are a lot of horses that reach greatness because of their fantastic character!
My Friesian stallion Wolter is an example of such a character. He is now fifteen years old and has been giving me 200% every day of training since he was three years old. A wonderful gift that can bring tears to my eyes when I start to think about it and brought us to Grand Prix together.
The big book of excuses
Not only is your horse’s character important, but also your own attitude plays a big part. Luckily that is something you can control! If you have a horse that has physical challenges, then it is all the more your attitude and working spirit that counts.
If you really want to improve yourself as a rider and are willing to learn, then you are half way there. This is however, not that easy, as I have noticed over the years. A lot of riders say they really want to do well in dressage, but only focus on the horse and not on improving themselves as much.
They regularly look in their ‘Big Book of Excuses’ and always find some reason why they couldn’t train as much or are not open to criticism and have an excuse for everything. It is not a problem if you don’t want to train hard, but then you have to accept that your performance will not be that good either.Especially with a horse that is not an eyecatcher to begin with.
To perform well with a horse like this, you will not only have to get the maximum out of the horse, but also out of yourself. For that, you have to have, or develop a true sports mentality. It is a conscious choice whether you ride dressage for your hobby or as a true sport.
A definite must is to be sure the horse you train has no pain. A horse that is weak and limited because of this weakness, is not a problem in my eyes. It will just take time to develop stamina and muscles, but if you take that time, the power will come.
What definitely is a reason for me to doubt to start training a horse at all, is when the horse has big problems at a young age, like tendon injuries. For some horses then sport is not a way to get them stronger and better, but will actually put too much strain on them and be a hazard to their health. For me that is the limit, sports should make a horse healthier and not unsound.
Being successful with a less than ideal horse is definitely possible. It does ask more of the character of your horse, his attitude and your determination and hard work. That part you control. If you don’t open the Book of Excuses all the time, want to work hard and try your best each day, you can have a lot of fun with the sport of dressage and be successful in it, even with a less than ideal horse.
Grand Prix dressage rider and trainer