This week, the breeding world lost a truly great stallion. Jazz has influenced breeding for decades now and sired a long list of successful offspring. He had a bit of a reputation for being difficult, but what genius doesn’t? He was spooky, but the way his feet touched the ground made me forget to breathe. He was very sensitive, but the expression in his eyes was that of horse that loved what he was doing. He was a true pleasure to watch and most can only dream of what he was like to be partnered with, but a select few knew him personally.
Tineke Bartels was able to unearth Jazz’s true greatness. She loved him and he loved her and this was so evident watching them together. I remember watching a video of the warm-up arena at the World Equestrian Games in Jerez. This video is permanently tattooed in my mind. Jazz appeared to simply hang from Tineke’s seat. They seemed to be melted into one another, relaxed, yet activated... soft, but strong... loose, but somehow also gathered. I could go on and on, but the point is that it I knew what Jazz was “known for”, but none of that was evident. He didn’t look spooky or over sensitive or tense, he looked like a dream and this was because his rider was fully focused on maximizing his strengths in order to minimize his weaknesses. This is what a great rider does and the wonderful thing about this is that it every rider can learn to do this and every horse will benefit from it.
One warm morning in September, I found myself sitting at the outdoor next to Tineke while she waited for her first lesson of the morning. We were talking about one of the young horses at the farm, when Jazz came up. It was surreal sitting there talking to her about him. You could tell that she enjoyed recalling her time with him. She talked about him as a young horse and as a mature horse, about his collection and his extension, his training and his competition. Something that never came up was his weakness. In regards to his sensitivity, she spoke of how responsive he was. In regards to his spookiness, she described him as curious and alert. No one else on earth was more aware of his weaknesses, but his strengths were what she was focused on and in turn, this became his focus as well.
I am not inferring that simply ignoring your horses weakness will make him magically supple or uphill or brave, but when your horses weaknesses become your main focus, their strengths are left on the back burner.
Robin Sharma says that “What you focus on grows, what you think about expands.” and this is true in life and in the arena.
When a lesson is focus on straightness, the rider who excitedly squeals when asked if they felt that moment of straightness finds it far more often than the rider who announces how quickly they lost it. Constantly searching for things that may make your spooky horse spook will only confirm to him that confidence cannot be achieved here. Attempting to out pull your horse will never result in lightness. These responses are all based around your horses weakness. Most riders are aware of when things are going wrong, but when these things take over your focus, it is very easy to be stuck riding in damage control mode, instead of riding towards the great moments.
The next time you find yourself in a “bad ride”, ask yourself a few questions...
- Am I riding my best right now?
- Can I do anything more to help my horse feel better?
- Are my reactions confirming the negative aspects of this ride or minimizing them?
These answers are about YOU, so leave your horse out of it.
Good riding does not require a certain horse. Everyone can ride great on every horse.
When riding with and listening in on Tineke’s training sessions, I rarely heard her mention what the horse is doing wrong. In contrast, she is always reminding the rider of what they can be doing more or less of to help the horse work in the best possible way. She doesn’t only teach this way, but she rides this way as well and this was evident in the confidence and focus that Jazz and many other horses displayed.
I hope this motivates you to search for the positive elements of each ride and place those front and center. Focus on these elements and look to yourself to determine what you need to do to further develop these elements. This mindset will help you to become aware of what you did to create that positive moment and then you can praise and repeat!