I recently had a new working student join Team Gallifrey and she brought along her adorable five year old OTTB. During our first lesson together, she told me all about the horse's training background, things she was struggling with, and areas where they are making progress. To me it was all typical youngster stuff and things I have seen with the several OTTBs that I have had a chance to work with. Then she says to me, "My last trainer told me not to expect anyone else to like her." I was disappointed that another trainer would say this and I told her honestly that I see a lot of potential with this youngster and I'm excited to have her in my barn. However, that little admission has stuck with me and really got my "trainer hackles" up. For days afterwards my mind was racing with questions.
As a trainer, is it our place to pass that judgement? I fully understand it is our place, no it is our job, to judge whether or not the horse is a good and suitable mount for our client. It is our job to then progress that horse according to the horse’s abilities and the owner’s wishes. Yes, we often have the unfortunate job of being the one to break it to owners that this just isn’t going to be the horse to take them to second level and beyond. Or this is not the safest, most trustworthy mount. But is it my place to tell my students that no other trainer is going to enjoy them?
After the initial surprise wore off, I had to wonder why. Why would another professional assess this horse and find her unsuitable? Perhaps some physical issues I have yet to discover, perhaps some drastic attitude issues I have yet to see. Maybe they just thought she wasn’t capable of Dressage. I’ve even had a few come through my barn where we decided Dressage just wasn’t their “dream job” and found them the perfect home.
Or finally, which I see so often, was she simply dismissed as a crazy OTTB? Am I the only one that remembers the amazing OTTB Keen xx who Hilda Gurney trained herself and earned fourth place, securing a bronze medal for the US Olympic team at the 1976 Summer games? I think sometimes I am so naive, believing that any horse can do Dressage. I really believe that it is the basis of all solid training and it keeps horses sounder, longer and makes better partners. This was drilled into us at Meredith Manor - that Dressage benefits every horse and while they might not be destined for Grand Prix, you take that horse as far as it will happily go and turn it into something better than it was.
This mindset has become my mantra when it comes to training. It might take four months or it
might take four years but whether my clients bring me a haflinger, an OTTB, a paint or even an unknown mutt from a rescue, I do my best to prove to my client that their horse is something special. Even if no one else sees it.
So when another trainer tells one of my students, “Why don’t you just ride a warmblood?” I shake my head. Perhaps the answer is because she has a horse she loves and is going to get so much more satisfaction out of taking her big beautiful paint down centerline knowing the hard work they both put into their training rather than giving up because “she wasn’t bred to dance”. I get the satisfaction of hearing “I never thought she could move like that!” And the horse gets the satisfaction of staying sound through patient and correct work.
Dressage and all its movements are our tools to help them float. It is not just the end result.