Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The fierce bad warmbloods

You may have seen the video below, entitled Breathe, already. Based on the riding experiences of Youtube's Half Pass Gal (HPG), Breathe has made the rounds on various listservs and bulletin boards, including the Chronicle of the Horse (COTH) bulletin board. The COTH discusion thread was titled "Amazing rider!!! Holy Cow!" Watching the video, I am amazed too. That girl is tough as nails, and the horses are fierce and scary. HPG is only 19. I hope she lives to see her thirties!

What I learned from watching
The video is instructive in numerous ways. She knows how to sit a buck. She sits back and she looks up. She stays cool. Her style is athletic and gutsy. There is much to admire in her riding.

Welcome to my jaded world
I'm basically a coward at heart -- I want to live and I want all my body parts in working order. I'm in no position to critique anyone's riding, especially someone who can stick to a horse like that. But I do have some thoughts on the video itself. As the resident cynic, I offer a counterpoint to the applauding masses on COTH.

A few things about the video trouble me, starting with some of HPG's on-screen horse-whisperer type prose:

These are not problem horses
These are problem pasts
This is not worth creating problem pasts
Take the time to understand.

It's a bit didactic, especially for a 19 year old whose role (in this video) is focused on staying on. If she has empathy for these horses, she's also not averse to using them for a bit of self-promotion. Five of them, to be exact, behaving like total maniacs. I'd expect that an experienced, full-time horse trainer might have five dangerous horses on his resume. The average 19 year old has classes to attend and after-school specials to watch. How has HPG amassed so much experience with dangerous horses?

Some of my questions...
  • Ride #1, pictured right. If the horse is a nut on the lunge, why would she get on him at all?
  • Are her parents crazy?
  • Are the owners insane?
  • Are the personal injury attorneys queued up in the barn aisle?
  • Does HPG have a video camera trained on every ride? Why?
  • What happened just before each of the episodes? Did a clown wielding a blowtorch emerge from a nearby shrub?

A time for reflecting
HPG is clearly an assertive rider, very ballsy, and these are problem horses. But the amount of footage of really bad behavior is, well, unusual. I see two explanations:
  1. Perhaps there is a heavy concentration of naughty horses in her region. Perhaps her reputation for sticking in the saddle has made her a naughty horse magnet. Maybe people send horses to her from afar, horses that are consistently, predictably, very very naughty. Maybe that's why she has all of this footage.

  2. It's a given that people are sending her horses who behave badly. Really badly. Maybe too badly? She must know the camcorder is on, and the camcorder operator is waiting to capture some exciting footage. Could she subconsciously be riding in a way that evokes equine theatrics?

Youtube videos like this one invite idle speculation like this. People see video footage apart from any context and they go with their gut reaction. I DID read the introductory paragraph. Sorry, not enough to fully explain how this video came to be made. HPG, if I'm wrong, I apologize. If Riley turns out to have a big buck, you'll have the last laugh!


  1. She's a lovely rider, but the music and captions are so heavy-handed they make me suspicious...

  2. The girl obviously is a good rider, for staying on. Perhaps she is a magnet for horses behaving badly. My hunch is she likes doing this and likes being the yahoo cowgirl in the spot light with a reputation for being tough and fearless. Personally if any of these were horses in my care, I think before putting a rider on any of them, I would spend a lot of time doing tons of groundwork, until they were safer to pilot around. Just my opinion, which I'm sure nobody else shares,all that ground work might take too long and not be quite flashy enough for spectators to ooh and ahh over.

  3. You raise some very good questions and I have one of my own...what will happen to this poor girl when (and this is not an if becuase it will happen at somepoint) a horse flips over onto her from all the rearing? I consider myself a brave rider but I also consider myself to be sensible. I will get on horses some might not, but I am always cautious about it and if I saw a horse that lounged like the first one I just wouldn't get on. There is a line between brave and stupid and I think this girl might be crossing over it. I hope she learns to be a bit morse sensible with her mounts before she gets herself hurt. And I love your comments about having a video of every is so true! I mean what is going on with all the video taped naughtyness?

  4. I like this girl. Her calm during the storm is to be commended. In my many years of riding, I've been through incidents like she is experiencing in the video. The fact that she has been on more than one rambunctious horse can be due to a few reasons:
    1) She may be the head trainer's top student at a large show barn. Many times these riders are asked to work with horses that are fresh if the trainer is not available, or the trainer will work with the student on these horses to increase that student's experience. I understand this, I was one of those students back in the day and I know it is still done.
    2) She obviously IS gutsy. I'm sure it's no secret and other owners know she can usually handle whatever a fresh horse may attempt.
    3) Yes, we are only seeing what she chooses for us to see. I'm sure this talented girl is not reckless. If a horse has major problems, I would think she'd be smart enough to only take on what she can positively handle and what fits within the realm of her experience. I also find her choice of "inspirational" words odd. I don't feel these are horses with bad habits that she has retrained. From what I see here, she has ridden through some rough moments that maybe other riders, including their owners, are afraid to deal with.
    4) These are all incidents. Moments shown out of context of an entire training session in the saddle. My horse still can throw a buck or a spook on a windy winter day. If all I did was tape the first 15 minutes of every ride in the middle of winter and edit it together, he might look like a dangerous horse with serious issues when NOTHING could be farther from the truth. Many horses are fresh when first beginning a ride and soon settle down to their work after several minutes.
    5) You ask why does it always seem she's being videotaped? It's a training tool. I have asked a willing family member or friend to record my lesson so I can watch it later and hear my trainer's instruction and to study my ride. You can learn a lot by watching from the ground, not only by sitting in the saddle, and that would include watching yourself, not just the videos produced by big name riders.
    6) hey, not all those horses are Warmbloods. At the end, she lists the horses names and breeds and I see a Connemara and an Arabian in there!

    Sorry this was a rambling reply but this was a great post to make any rider think and reflect on what they are watching. So much stuff is put out there for us to see and I agree with you that without the entire story, do we really know what we are looking at?

    Excellent post!!

  5. Sorry for the long comment. a friend passed this on to me and I have to respond. Your reflection as to whether this girl might be a ‘naughty horse magnet’ is a possibility. As a junior, I didn’t have the resources for a fancy schoolmaster, and my first big jumper was a rescue who had been abandoned after nearly killing his previous owner. No one would help me with him because they ‘couldn’t afford to get hurt.’ Selling him was not an option, so I trained him myself (when we were done he had 4th level dressage, could jump a 4’6 jumper course and be ridden bareback on trails.) Consequently, I gained a reputation as someone who would work with ANY horse, no matter how scary. This became my niche – willing crash-test dummy for people’s so-called ‘problem’ horses. And there were plenty of them around.

    But I think your skepticism is well founded. I’ve encountered a slew of riders who like to put on shows by provoking or exaggerating negative behavior so they could ride these ‘bucking broncs’ like cowboys to the ‘oohs’ and ‘aahhs’ of onlookers. People (and sometimes even experienced horsemen) genuinely think you’re a better rider the worse your horse behaves – so long as you can stay on. The theory goes: the more you punish your horse, the more obvious your aids, the tougher that horse must be to ride; therefore, you must be a great rider. And some owners don’t feel they’re getting their money’s worth from a trainer unless they see some theatrics.

    They fail to appreciate that a good rider employs invisible aids and rides in such a way that these behaviors don’t generally occur in the first place. For example, riding a horse that is out of control on the longe isn’t bravery – it’s poor training. It shows you’ve missed an important step in your training and you already know the experience will be negative before you put your foot in the stirrup. It’s just stupid.

    I’ve worked with some extreme horses in my career – not just bucking, sunfishing, rearing (and flipping over), dirty-stopping, bolting, running into walls, etc.. my aforementioned jumper did all of the above and then some; he also had a neat trick of throwing himself on the ground when he got frustrated. But I wouldn’t consider myself an ‘amazing rider’ for staying alive through this, I consider myself a passable trainer because I learned how to work with my horse so he didn’t feel compelled to eject or crush me whenever I rode him, and could reproduce that cooperation with other ‘difficult’ horses. And the first rule is: don’t give them an excuse. I don’t think I’d still be alive if I antagonized every inveterate kung-fu master I came across.

    Which is why this rider concerns me. Watch her often restrictive hand and unfair, punitive use of the spur. Watch her improper corrections. Watch her catch the horse in the mouth as it reacts to the spur. Watch her inappropriate left-rein response to the bay horse’s rearing as she nearly flips him over. This is no way to gain a horse’s trust. It is no wonder these horses act out. It looks an awful lot to me like she’s antagonizing them– either for effect because she knows it will ‘wow’ the audience (like you said, why is all of this on film?) or because she actually equates that with training. And she is very lucky that none of these horses are truly dangerous ‘black belts’, because there are horses out there who would not tolerate a rider like this, and she could get herself seriously hurt.

    Any rider can make a horse buck or rear on purpose. Any rider can also cause a confrontation that will result in these forms of resistance, which I would remind people, is what this is – not ‘wild‘ behavior, but extreme resistance. I’m not saying a fresh or excitable horse won’t throw a buck here and there, or that a freighted horse won’t rear or bolt, but this isn’t what we’re seeing in this video. We’re seeing resistance, and the same resistances are evident in the ‘after’ new-and-improved-horse half of the video, they’re just less pronounced, which tells me that the problems haven’t been solved, she’s just turned the volume down (or maybe just eased off her spur.) I’d love to see these videos without the editing.

    Anyway, I’m really glad to hear someone be skeptical of this sort of ‘big bad horse’ nonsense. You’re not the only one who is underwhelmed and a little cynical about this kind of self-aggrandizing display.

  6. I loved your critique! Like many, I too have enjoyed her video, but simultaneously wondered if she/her parents were nuts. I would NEVER get on a horse like that! I would rather stay ambulatory... :-)

  7. She is ballsy, all right...but then, I think a lot of us at that age (maybe younger) were. It wasn't til I was 21 or so that it actually occurred to me that hey, I might fall off and NOT bounce off the ground like a rubber ball! (I did just that last Wednesday, ugh. I am still limping around with a gimpy knee...)

    The captions are kind of cheesy. I agree that all problems are indeed worth taking however long you need to figure things out the "right" way, and understanding the roots of issues. But how do "pride, goals, ideals" fit in? Are those the problems that someone created in these horses? Or are those Half Pass Girl's values? It could go either way, and in doing so changes the whole tone.

    She is undeniably a good rider in that she has a velcro seat and a quietness about her. But I, like you, wondered just what it was that was making these horses flip out. Do they have health problems - sore back, wolf teeth, something other than general naughtiness that is causing their behavior? I wish Half Pass Girl would provide us with more background and less "fluff", textwise!

  8. I think I've seen the video before, and that girl has nerves of steel.
    I say "before" because I get a message that the video is no longer available... am I the only one who gets that message?

  9. I'm still able to view it.

    Would hate to see it go away, it's not often you see someone riding through bucks this well...

  10. I have seen a bit of this video before and I too have some sense of doubt. Perhaps it would be more clear if a timeline and a bit of each horses story were told. We have all sat those bucks/spooks/ general horse nonsense. She shows nothing of getting any control on the ground. Simply self promotion showing the horse being evil and in the next shot the horse is fine. At any give horse show you see at least one horse being this naughty. I suppose at the age of 19 bucking it out may seem resonable, however at 39, I would rather have my horse from the ground long before I put my butt in the saddle. I am by no means an expert, and she does appear to have lovely form, but I also know that even the best horse person gets hurt, its a dangerous sport. I wish her luck, but I do find the tag line "pride" a bit over the top, as the video says ego to me.

  11. I'm glad I'm not the only one then! I know of a young guy in NJ who was a 'naughty horse magnet' in his early twenties -- son of a famous dressage rider and judge, and also an event rider. He got his share. Perhaps this girl is like that.

    The COTH threads praised her soft hands -- something I did NOT observe in the video, but it seems a little brassy to critique someone riding big bucks b/c their hands aren't butter soft.

    Rudolph Zeilinger (watch spelling here) has a video out with some amazing footage of him sitting bucks during an under saddle class, young horse first time out. He was absolutely passive in the saddle and giving with his hands -- it was truly remarkable. Of course he is a tall guy, with many years on this girl.

  12. Finally got a chance to read your blog and see the video, and of course I have to comment.

    I noticed three types of horses in this video - young, scared, and in pain. The two I see as young are the one bucking on the lunge, and the horse she was riding with the long white whip. I see the bucking in these horses as a youngsters defiance of the aids, the equipment, or possibly the whip. Some young horses refuse to accept that the whip is an AIDE, not a punishment, and buck every time they are touched with it. Eventually they learn to accept a tap with the whip without resistance or lashing out.

    Just two days ago Kaswyn and I had a discussion about the whip - I used it and he bucked. I half-halted and tapped him again. I got a double barrel high kick in return. We continued the back and forth of my tapping and his lashing out until I tapped and he responded by moving forward softly without kicking. He's 17 years old and I broke him, so I know for a fact that he's not been abused. He just decided to resist the aide.

    The two scared horses - the white horse and the one which reared in the show ring - well, horses get scared. The white one really was terrified! Trainers will often punish horses for being afraid, and that will only make it worse. I didn't see her do this. Yeah, she yanks the rearing horses' head around, but come on people. Most riders would have been eating dirt. And needing new undies to boot. She reacted, not in the best way, but nobody is perfect. Obviously the horse didn't want her gone or he could have pulled one more maneuver and she wouldn't have been able to climb back in the saddle and save that test.

    The little buckskin horse who kept kicking out looks like he has hock pain. It didn't look like he was stressed, pissed, fresh, or scared. Just ouchie. I'll bet a course of Adequan or Legend cleared that up.

    Do I think she's a good rider? Yes, absolutely. I think she looks very correct in her seat and her aides. A bit of a showoff to post that to You Tube at 19, but hey, I guess she's proud of herself. I'd be proud of either of my girls of they rode like that at 19. I also have to give props to her trainer. A job well done there. But mostly I'm glad to see her wearing a helmet in all of the rides.

  13. I know this young woman, she rides at my barn. She is indeed an excellent rider and as noted very brave. She is far from stupid and yes she is often asked to help work out some problem horses. She has very soft hands and a beautiful seat. She is very well trained.

    Additionally, I'd like to also point out that this rider has some very serious health issues she is dealing with and it constantly amazes me that she can handle these type of horses.

    Anyway, I just wanted you all to know that she is a good girl and really is just trying to help people that have horses they can't sort out. Her mother video tapes everything she does and that is probably the reason she has all this video.

    (SueCoo2 at COTH BB)

  14. Thanks Sue, So dressage mom was right -- there is a proud mom in the background, taping away ;-). Thanks for the insight.

  15. this is my favorite post! Alesandra Najera


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