Thursday, April 12, 2012

"Don't you feel bad?" The young rider dilemma

Adorable AND formidable
Years ago I competed in a large hunter pleasure class with competitors of all ages-- but mostly kids under the age of 15. Harv being the kind of horse he is, we won. I left the ring and a friend came up to me. We had this exchange:

Jane: "Congratulations!"
Me: [shrugs in embarrassment] "Jane, I got a blue ribbon, but I had to beat a bunch of little kids to do it." 
Jane: "So?"
Me: "So there's probably a kid in pigtails crying into her pony's neck. Wouldn't you feel bad?" 
Jane: "Not for a minute." 

 Jane explained her point, which is an excellent one. Junior riders are the most flexible/lithe, most energetic, most trained, most supported riders of the equestrian world. Like the youngest, littlest gynmasts, they're GOOD. And they have lots of time in the saddle, a lot of it in lessons/training.

Here's a case in point, courtesy of Friesian-Welsh. Wow. I hope never to see this little one in the warm-up ring prepping for the same class I'm in!


  1. Absolutely!! Given a choice between competing against other adults and competing against kids, I would take adults any day -- and NOT because I am a softie about kids. They would kick my butt!!

  2. When you're fairly Novice and on a shoestring budget, I think competing against anyone and winning is a big deal. You would not have been in that ring if you were an accomplished A/O in the AA ring. You were a "horse-mommy" who was learning with her "baby" and getting some show miles. That kid who was crying will be over it in 10 minutes and has, literally, decades of showing to go. Pays to be a winner.

    On a different note, that video solidifies that I need to get my kids on the horses! We have two perfectly calm and nice Tbs that would do just fine with my kids (the kids are 3 and 5- the horses are 12 and 13).

    I need to start dividing my time between my riding and keeping our horses fit and sane, and getting my kids riding. Time's a wastin'! They can almost read! :)

  3. Wow! I seriously need to get my son (3.5yo) onto my pony! Must continue to bug the husband to let me buy a saddle for said kiddo. My saddle is just waaay too big for him (and is frankly too big for myself AND my pony!)

  4. You're not competing against each other, you're all competing against the standard and the vagaries of the day. Whether you're in a class of three or thirty, what I love most about dressage tests is seeing the sheet at the end so you can really get a sense of where it all worked out. I never got feedback like that in the hunter ring!

  5. awe that poor freisan if you watch her hands at the trot she keeps tap tap tapping the horse with the whip. Shes amazingly talented though wish my parents paid for my passion :(

  6. Lucky kid, but I am more in awe of the horse.
    A huge talent with the attitude of a saint.

    Can I be next?

  7. Well.
    So much for my theory that if I keep at it in 35 years I may be a version of the 83 year old Japanese gentleman that competed in Hong Kong. If they are starting this tiny and riding this well, perhaps the Monty Python version is more realistic......
    Your friend Jane is a smart one. I spent far more on my daughter's riding than my own, and I'm no Bloomberg. Folks with means spend it on their kids, and kids have the freedom and time to devote to practice that we wrinklies with jobs , families and obligations can only imagine. Good on you ( and the marv Harv!) for making it work-

  8. OK, I'll be perfectly honest. I'd be much more impressed if I saw a video of her riding the horse in a test or along the rail away from the influence of the trainer/handler. All we really see is her sitting on the horse as it's worked in hand, and circling the trainer on an invisible lunge line--note at the end how the trainer signals the horse to stop and come in. Doesn't mean the child cannot ride, but doesn't mean she really can either--especially on a horse that size.

    I can still remember, years ago, when a pro trainer's son went into the FEI class on a schoolmaster. The kid was a great rider, but the horse was so big, his legs were no where near the "cueing" spots. Dad warmed the horse up, kid got on and began the test. It started off beautifully, but as it progressed, the horse slowly started to "fall apart." The kid was just not big enough to really affect that horse.

    All that being said, some big horses will stay light and willing for a small rider, but it's rare to find one that sensitive and well trained. That's why the term "suitabilty" is so important in most riding sports. Love to see that little girl on a horse she could actually get her legs on.

  9. I felt super weird showing last fall against kids in my Novice and Maiden Western Equitation classes, but the fact is they didn't have an age division for the Novice and Maiden classes, and I had never shown Western Equitation at all before (I was coming from a hunter background), forget about having won X number of ribbons, so I really did belong there. Somehow I still felt guilty when I won.

  10. I'm sorry to be the sour apple in this in regards to the video. I'm sure that the little girl is a very good rider for her age, however I think it's clear that she is blessed to be riding a horse who knows its job. The first half of the video, the trainer on the ground is doing the work. The little girl is really not doing anything but sitting atop the horse. When the video changes to the trotting, as posted above, the girl has little control over her hands (which I am sure she will gain as she gets older & stronger). I think this is a case of having a very well trained horse that you simply put a child upon. I'm sorry if I'm offending anyone by saying this. I'm sure the girl will grow up to be a very nice rider, however I don't see anything highly praiseworthy in the video.

  11. Jessica, you're right! I wonder how much is the young's talent, and how much is the fact that we know we can do so much with them, we put them on the most talented, trained and successful horses? Every trainer seems to want an up and coming young rider to turn into their protege, not us over 30's!!! : P

  12. Speaking as someone who along with other adult amateurs competed against local pony clubbers in open shows, I have actually come out of a ring waving a ribbon and gleefully announcing "and I beat the pony clubbers!"
    Rotten little saddle monkeys beat us oldsters in every class, esp over fences!

    You have to understand, those young and limber kids ride every day after school, with barn managers, instructors, etc always helping them. While us grown ups are flabby, out of shape, and lucky to find time to ride on weekends, let alone school regularly or get lessons!

    When I helped run an open show, I actually sponsored what we called a 'Jack Benny' class, for people 55 and older so there was at least one class we has a fair shake in. LOL!

    We also has a 'Fossils' class for horses 18 and older.

    So be proud of that ribbon! Those kids are tough competition.

  13. Even if the little girl is not as technical of a rider than she first seems, and the trainer really is doing all the work, you have to applaud her immensely for her bravey! How many young riders her age would even venture onto the back of that big friesian, plus sitting cross-ankled on the rump of that big, cantering, grey horse!

  14. I'm all for "Jack Benny" and "Fossil" classes. When it comes to kids, there is no way we "mature individuals" can compete with the "cute" factor ;o)

    As for the child in the video, yes the trainer is doing all the work--hand signals on the "invisible lunge line" and standing at the shoulder giving the horse either verbal or pressure cues. And I don't get the point of having the kid ride behind the horse "side saddle" only without anything to anchor him/her to the saddle.

  15. Love it! Wish my little guy had a horse that nice to ride on, much smoother trot to learn on.

  16. I am so flattered you used my link. :)

    And, what a GREAT POINT you make. Because I am likely to feel exactly like you in this matter, I can understand and empathize. I would feel kind of guilty beating out a bunch of little kids in any venue. However, you are SPOT ON ... BRAVO.

    Working adult riders have a whole other battle to fight. We don't generally get our lessons paid in full by others, we don't bounce when we fall, we have to eke time to ride/train between juggling families/work ... and a LOT of us are "re-riders" which is kind of humbling when you think about it. We all thought we were impervious when we were kids, but we feel every muscle ache and every twinge of failure in our riding without the flexibility of SEVERAL DECADES to rectify it. We constantly wonder when we have "hit our limit," if you will. Or, we think this IS as good as it gets. Children still enjoy big dreams without as much as a thought to implications/consequences.

    We're also less inclined to do things like that little girl riding sideways on the rump of that beautiful P.R.E. (I assume) in training ... because we worry more that a bad enough fall will result in us not being able to pay our bills as easily.

    So, I think it is a GREAT, GREAT point you make ... and a relieving of some of our unnecessary guilt for giving those kids some healthy competition. ;)

    The biggest problem I have is with snooty people that are quite levelled up knowledgeably competing against the training level ammys just because a slew of blue ribbons gives them a rush. THAT is a tiiiiidge unethical, IMHO, and discourages a lot of newbies to the sport. ;)

  17. I also have to be a little bit of a devil's advocate here. Everybody that picks on the minor detail that this little girl is not as "skilled" because she is riding a very well-behaved, well-trained, well-controlled mount needs to remember: We that start kids that young to ride OUGHT to keep the situation as PLEASANT and as ENCOURAGING as possible without regard to anything else. This child seems quite happy and confident regardless of horse size inappropriateness. That's a good foundation for her young mind ... regardless.

    Would you honestly put your little, little girls on mangy pony mutts with Napoleon complexes that buck them off into bushes during their first 3-5 years of life? Not I. I'd have my little girl on an in-hand, well-trained, well-behaved SAINT ... regardless of horse size! You want to give little kids highly successful situations to work off before they start to ride independently and on trickier mounts. Ponies can be trickier!!! I should know; I have a 1/2 pony and a full pony. ;)

    I'd aver this is a good way to bring out the positives in riding when introducing it to a child THIS young. If the Friesian and P.R.E. under strict trainer guidance make this child a confident, happy rider, then I applaud it. I do not dissuade this technique or expect any more "tests" of rider skill at that tender age. She and her trainer are doing JUST fine. JMHO. No need for us to pick and pick because we are maybe a little jealous of her grand opportunities. ;)

    P.S. I promise THAT big-ole Friesian is NOT being TORTURED by the training whip or those little-bitty hands on the reins. I have a Friesian and know MANY other folks in the area with Friesians. They're a whole other animal! It takes a TREMENDOUS AMOUNT of "try" to affect a big, dopey draft when you are a flea-sized girl. Most Friesians are VERY "behind-the-leg" without adequate reminders and not NEARLY as sensitive as TBs or WBs. Trust me!!! This Friesian is like mine ... he could care less ... and he's great for the "floppy" riders because he doesn't shoot off at every jab of the whip or jerk on the rein. So, please don't worry about that horse so much ... he's in no danger ... ;)

  18. That horse looks amazingly well trained. That being said, I completely understand what you mean about the "bad feeling" when beating younger riders in a class. I'm a bit in the "gray area" here - in my early 20s, just phasing out of the USDF Jr/Yr age division. However, I never really had consistent lessons or a horse of my own until recently - when I'm in college of course. I remember winning a equitation class in one of my first shows at 19...definitely felt guilty until I realized that the pony clubbers I was competing against were all very, very good riders who'd had a lot of time to practice, parental support, etc. My hat's off to those riders who have much more on their plate than me!

  19. Friesan~ your comment about the pros competing against the ammies made me laugh because that's what happens around my area, and then the pro uses the win to advertise the client's horse for sale saying "came in first in his last three shows at 2nd level!!" Yeah, just 'cause he was the only one IN second level.

    1. @Horsemom - I am glad I could make someone laugh. ;) I recall showing my horse in one of his first shows when he was only four. This is the stage when we were more concerned about the MORtifying pylon letters marking the 20x40 arena and donkeys on the other side of the Leyland Cypress screen just beyond the letters K.E. & H.

      I was hoping this would be a good intro show for us, but I found out quickly that some people have this OCD sort of thing going, even about the intro level stuff!!! First of all, my horse was spooking and balking at everything, I was a neurotic MESS, and I could not get a full lap around the outside of the arena before the bell rang to start the test because of the %&$@#! donkeys!!!

      Finally, one of the nicer ladies offered a lead around on her more "seasoned" mount. People were gasping and murmuring as if I should be kicked out of the show grounds for accepting that helpful "act of kindness" with my greenie. WHAAAA??? Really? At INTRO level??? What else IS intro for if not TRAINING a horse? What were all these "seasoned" horses doing there anyway??

      When it all came down to it, we got a decent 6th out of 13, a respectable score of 68% (low marks were b/c our "free" walk looked more like a "panicky giraffe shuffle" due to the phantom donkey brays) and all was well. BUT, I did notice that the riders that beat my pants off in intro B showed up at a VADA show later that month ... riding the same mounts in 2nd level ... so, yeah ... I was a bit, erm, conFUSED about that. At least it kind of made me feel like my 6th place was "earned."


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