Looking back at all of my past horses, one of my most challenging was Kempinski, an older Trakehner gelding that I bought as a schoolmaster. Though he had high level training, he was far from being push button. Lendon Gray says, “It’s the difficult horses that have the most to teach you”, and this was certainly true in my case.
Kempinski was flashy and talented, but also fractious and unpredictable. Learning to manage him was a greater challenge than learning the upper level movements! In addition to being hot blooded, I believe he had had a rough upbringing. He was incredibly tense at shows and if I got him too wound up in the warm up, it would backfire in the show arena. He would get so excited that he’d work himself into a nervous lather. With patience and sympathetic riding, he began to relax and let go of the tension. However, he was still incredibly hot! He often tried to anticipate what I was going to ask, which cost us many points in harmony and submission. He had dramatic reactions to anything he did not understand, and would leap and rear in frustration. I knew I had an upper level horse, but my family wondered if I had ended up with a dud!
Luckily I’m a confident rider so Kempinski’s antics didn’t intimidate me, but I wondered why after months of training his behavior was not changing. While talking with one of my mentors, he said to me, “Chloe, horses do not change. Your horse is always going to be who he is and have certain tendencies and personality quirks. You are the one who has to change.” Suddenly I realized he was right.
I looked at the situation from the horse’s psychological perspective. When Kempinski acted up, it was either because he didn’t understand what was being asked or because I was not being clear enough. He was the type of horse that disliked being ridden by a rider who lacked leadership. I could not be a passenger for one second. I make it my number one priority to keep him mentally engaged every moment of the ride. The second that I went into autopilot, he would take advantage. With this new mindset, our partnership really turned around. Since I learned that Kempinski wanted me to give him clear, constant leadership and communication he became infinitely more relaxed.
I think that people are way too attached to the unrealistic idea that horses can be changed by calming supplements or other gimmicks. The communication between horse and rider is a two way street, and I think we sometimes forget to listen to what our horses are trying to tell us. Horses are herd animals and they need leadership. My partnership with Kempinski improved when I realized that my horse was trying to tell me that he needed more leadership from me to help him feel confident. Kempinski was always going to be hot, and I became more intune to him. The solution really was as simple as that.