Neu Perspectives

Rider-Horse Dynamics

Kelli Neubert riding a horse illustrating the rider horse dynamic

Matching up horses and riders isn’t rocket science. It’s actually an inexact science.

I love riding a good horse. Who wouldn’t? But, let’s be honest, “good” is a subjective term. For me, I’d have to say a good horse is a combination of talent, trainability, disposition, conformation and brains. However, that may change from horseman to horseman, rider to rider. I’m learning that to really set up a successful dynamic, a horse and rider have to complement each other. A great horse for one person may not be a fun ride at all for another.

I’ve been getting a gelding of ours back in shape to compete in a few non-pro NRCHA bridle classes this season. It has been years since I’ve had the opportunity to do so, and the last horse I owned and showed gave me tons of experience, knowledge and even a few wins. We were a relatively successful pair and the process was fun. He wasn’t a superstar, but he was a good project and a great partner.

The gelding I am preparing to show these days is much more cowy, more talented, better trained and extremely sensitive. A recipe for success, correct? No, not particularly.

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I got along better with my previous horse. In fact, most of the time when I ride this new gelding, I feel like he magnifies all of the shortcomings that I have as a rider. Sure, he’s going to make me a better rider for it. I learn something on him every day, and I’m sure I’ll become a better showman because of him. But he exposes all of my imperfections. I overdo, he overdoes. I react, he reacts. There’s not much room for pilot error. But I’m learning that just because a horse has universally superior qualities, it doesn’t mean he’s a universally better fit.

Similarities are sometimes good things in the rider-horse relationship. Large people tend to like large horses. I know of many people of short stature who prefer short horses because they are easier to saddle, mount and dismount. People who like to ride horses that buck tend to mount up on broncs. And if you are a bold rider, you’ll probably appreciate a bold horse.

Strangely enough, however, this is not a universal rule. People who are timid often should avoid horses of the same mindset. Out of control riders with out of control horses are rarely appreciated. Are you green in the saddle? A green horse might not be the best fit. On the flip side, a seasoned rider doesn’t always need a seasoned horse. The whole thing is tricky to keep up with, really.

That being said, I’m all about embracing a challenge. But, when you tackle a project horseback, I think you’re much better off setting yourself up for success than failure. I’m not saying don’t start a colt, just because you haven’t. I just think that we need to find the right animals for our specific needs and goals, and engage the proper help. Find out what strengths and weaknesses in your animal work best for you. A good fit creates good experiences—and great memories.

I’ll embrace the challenge and feel blessed to be able to ride and show a good horse. I’ll continue the struggle to be the rider he deserves. From here on out, I’ll do my best to pair myself up with horses of all personalities and traits (minus the broncs), to make myself a stronger, more well-rounded rider.

And, hey, if nothing else, just remember:

For people who like to go fast, there are fast horses.

For people who like to go slow, there are slow horses.

And for those who don’t like to ride? There are plenty of horses that don’t like to be ridden!

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