Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Price of Success


You may recall I blogged awhile back about my daughter having to deal with the reality of the horse she loved needing to retire. I received such wonderful, heartfelt good wishes and advice from Equestrian Ink’s readers I want to thank you again and hope you can give me some further advice.

My daughter did indeed adjust to riding a new horse, who she now also loves, but last week her trainer decided she has advanced to the point she is ready for a new challenge. The new challenge comes in the form of Tomeo, a young horse who arrived at the barn not too long ago. He’s lovely to look at, a palomino, and seems to have a positive, fun-loving nature, but he’s more horse than she’s used to riding.

She’s still very young. She’ll be seven soon, and she’s at the walk, trot, ground poles & half seat stage. The trainer had Tomeo all tacked up and ready for her when she got to the barn last week, so I didn’t have time to prepare her for the change. She cast a few loving (and worried) glances at the horse she’d been riding and falling in love with, an earnest, sweet blood bay about 14 1/2 hands, I think.

Still, she mounted Tomeo, who seems closer to 15 hands, and listened attentively as the trainer told her about him. I was holding my breath as she started off, with a barn staff member walking next to her. I sat in a chair near the ring with my two year old twins in their dual stroller next to me, keeping my eyes glued to my daughter every moment except when I was retrieving fallen toys or sippy cups.

Three different parents stopped by to say hello and mentioned how tiny she looked on Tomeo. Having had the same thought, I have to admit these comments did nothing positive for my blood pressure.

She was doing pretty well, she even backed him, which was no small accomplishment. The defining moment came when they started to trot. Tomeo has a teeth-jarring trot and he’s a lot faster than she’s used to. She stopped and said she was too frightened to trot him again. This was the first time I had ever heard her say she was frightened of anything to do with horses.

She wouldn’t trot him again, but she did her other exercises. She walked through ground poles in her half seat and with someone leading him she balanced with arms out to the side and on top of her head.

I spoke with the trainer after the lesson who told me my daughter really was ready for this, but if she was truly frightened we could switch her back to her previous mount. Relieved, I shared this with my daughter and her answer surprised me. She said she wanted to try Tomeo again. When I pressed a bit on why she wanted to ride him again if she was frightened to trot him she said “Because I want to do better next time.”

I’m proud of her, but I’m wondering if maybe she isn’t a little too young to be testing herself against something that frightens her. I don’t want to discourage her, but I want her to enjoy and love horses, not feel that she needs to succeed at all costs. She’s a determined little thing and already showing signs of being a bit of a perfectionist. (I’d like to say she gets it from her father but, ahem, I’d be lying.)

What do you all think? I want her to feel confident, happy and without fear, but I’m not sure of the best path to get us there.



Anonymous said...

Mary, I feel your concern since my DD also rides. She is a much better rider than me so is able to ride more horses than I can. Most of the time when she has had to ride a different horse for her lesson, the horse was well matched to her riding skills. A couple of months ago DD's favorite lesson horse, which she has been riding for 3 summers now, pulled up lame at the beginning of the lesson. Our instructor suggested that she try riding a large but lovely gelding who is quite fast and usually reserved for the more experienced riders at our barn. They did a very quick switch so my DD really didn't have time to think about it. DD rode quite well and the horse behaved beautifully but you could tell that she was scared - especially when she started to trot. He was much faster and stronger than her regular lesson horse. I was very impressed by our riding instructor who kept a very watchful eye on my DD. She slowed down the pace of the lesson so that everything was well controlled. She also spent extra time with my DD so that she felt well supported (it was a group lesson). My DD probably could ride this lovely gelding again but when it comes right down to it, in some situations he might be too much horse for her. Our riding instructor has not asked my DD to continue riding this horse. She is a firm believer of matching horse and rider.

I guess it all boils down to how much you trust your riding instructor and how well you or the riding instructor know the new horse. Our instructor knew the replacement mount very well - she has owned him for many years, rides him on a regular basis so she is familiar with his quirks and love of speed. I would have some reservation about having a young child ride a horse that is new to the stable, such as what you have described.

Laura Crum said...

Mary--I don't want to undermine your instructor, but I totally would not put a not-quite-seven year old kid on a horse like that. No way. Of course, I am currently teaching my just-turned-eight little boy to ride, so I have pretty strong opinions on the subject. I have to admit, I probably wouldn't feel comfortable letting any riding instructor make such choices for my child. Always remember, its not just your kid's confidence and happiness that's on the line--its their very life, too. So, no, no way would I let anyone put my kid on a new horse at the barn--they don't really have any idea what that horse might do. That said, its very hard to work with an instructor and tell them how to do their job. I would also have a hard time discouraging my child if he wanted to take up a challenge. My son insisted on loping his pony before I thought he was ready--I let him do it and we had some wild moments, but he survived and is a better rider for it. Its a tricky one. Follow your instincts as best you can. Does it feel OK to you to let her ride that horse? If not, tell the instructor, in private, that you want the old lesson horse in the future and the instructor is to tell your child that she wants her to ride that horse. That way its not as if you are the one holding your child back. That's the best input I can come up with.

Mary Paine said...


Thank you both for your help. I think you're both right. I need to decide how much I trust the instructor, but the first priority is my daughter's safety. I'm going to trust my instincts. I'm just not comfortable with this horse. Maybe when she's older, but right now she's just too little.

I love your suggestion, Laura, about asking the instructor to just tell her she wants her to ride her previous lesson horse. Perfect!

Thanks so much,

mugwump said...

Hi Mary, I don't post much, but I do read your blogs. I too have very strong opinions on this. My daughter grew up on a very elderly, bomb proof dream horse, Annie. My version of a dream anyway. This horse was slow, fat, slow, gentle, afraid of nothing, and did I mention slow? Clare rode Annie from the time she was 4 until she was 10 or 11.
I was told often (by those more experienced than I)that my bold, confident daughter needed more horse. She felt that way too. But Annie was her horse, and that's the way I wanted it. Clare will be the first to tell you now, that the reason she was and is (at 17) so bold and confident was BECAUSE of Annie, not in spite of her.
She was safe, so I could relax and let her push herself much farther than I would have had she been on "more" horse. Just my thoughts.

Laura Crum said...

Mary, mugwump and I have the same approach--as usual. My son's horse, Henry, is lazy and my son has a hard time getting him to go faster than the long trot. As far as I'm concerned, this is ideal. Given a choice, Henry will always choose to stop--perfect. Henry also has a very smooth trot--this is important. Its a huge help to a little kid learning to ride (To hear more about Henry, read mugwump's current blog.) Anyway, just some thoughts.