Be True to You -- and Your Horse Too
Do all of your friends have identical personalities? Of course not. Every friend group has an alpha, the attention-seeking boss who insists on setting the agenda and picks the dinner spot every time. Then there is the caretaker/peacemaker, the one who just wants everyone to get along and is sensitive to each person’s needs and preferences. Then there is the comedian, the one that keeps everyone rolling in the aisles with side-splitting laughter, even when they aren’t trying.
Horses are no different. Honestly! Their personalities, learning styles, and abilities are as different as the people you associate with. This is a critical lesson to learn as a jockey or trainer. It is impossible to train every horse the exact same, giving the same lessons and workout plans for every ride and have equal success with both horses. That’s nuts actually! I want to teach you about adaptability.
As a trainer, you MUST adapt your training program to fit the learning style, needs, strengths and weaknesses of each horse.
As a jockey, you MUST adapt your riding style to best utilize your mount’s skills, make up for their weaknesses, and get the most out of them as an athlete.
The best coaches across every sport under the sun have applied the principles of adaptability to get the most out of their athletes. In order to take your riding/training to a Super Bowl level, you need to be able to evaluate each horse on the fly in your training/riding program and make adjustments accordingly.
This doesn’t come easily. It takes a lot of hours in the saddle, the patience of a kindergarten teacher, and the intuition of a tarot card reader, but it can be done! The best way to build this skill is by riding a wide range of different horses. I’m not talking about just different barrel horses. I’m talking about horses trained in different disciplines. Try out a reining horse or spin a few on a rope horse. Know someone with a moderately safe race horse? Mount up!
When I was preparing for Miss Rodeo America, I had about 3.5 months from the time I won my state title until I had to compete at the highest caliber rodeo queen contest in the world. I set a goal for myself to ride as many different horses as possible before swinging a leg over my draw horse at Miss Rodeo America. I called every single horse owner I knew within a 100 mile radius. I rode green colts, I rode seasoned horses, I rode reining horses, I rode trail horses, I rode rope horses, I rode 4-H horses, I rode nags that had been turned out in the field and not touched for a decade. If it had four legs and a mane, I saddled the thing up and rode its hide off! This experience taught me how to quickly assess a horse and make adjustments to my riding style on the fly in order to get the most out of them. Each horse taught me something new, something I could then apply to my own training program with my prized ponies.
I have approached my barrel racing career much the same way. Because I have zero, and I mean ZERO experience aboard a legit barrel horse, I have a huge knowledge and experience gap to overcome. Just like I did as a rodeo queen, I try to ride a multitude of different horses to dissect how I can ride my own hard-charging, pale pony even better.
Each horse I ride, I don’t try to modify their style of running to my style of riding but vice-versa. I want them to express their individuality -- heck, I support their pink hair and tattooed individuality-- I actually want to make the most of it. If they are a scrambly, tight-turning smaller horse, cool. Go with that. If they are a real ratey horse with more of a rollback than a continuous flow around a barrel, neato. Let them do that. Build their confidence in their abilities and in you as a lead mare by accentuating their style, strengths, and personality, not by trying to reprogram them to a style that is easiest for you to ride.
This principle is paramount when shopping for a horse. Once you bring that NFR-bound beauty to your barn, celebrate their individuality. Let them be them and you will get the most out of them that they have to offer.
Saddle up, amigo!