Let’s Discuss: The Versatile Rider

I will freely admit, for years and years and years I basically rode one kind of horse. These horses tended to be a little heavier, such as draft crosses, Irish horses, or Haflingers. As such, they mostly shared a preference to be heavier on the forehand, require a bit more hand, and for some, be a bit slower to respond.

RIding the IDA team lesson horse G and reinforcing all sorts of bad habits

So when I started competing in Intercollegiate Dressage, I was wildly out of my comfort zone with the older Thoroughbreds that largely supported the Lower Training division. Treating them like the ride I was used to would absolutely backfire- these horses wanted nothing to do with a heavy hand, were more evenly-keeled than on the forehand, and their problems mostly centered around suppleness rather than sluggishness. I’m embarrassed to say that it took me an entire season before I figured out how to adapt, and once I started learning to sit quietly and focus on my position and leave the horse be, the ribbons started coming.

Fast forward several years to my time with Foster. Though I had learned my lessons from IDA, and was a much more sympathetic rider in general, I still easily fell into a rut of riding one horse. Foster was a bit tricky to ride, being occasionally heavy in the bridle, and crooked through his haunches, and I molded my riding to him like most riders do. So it was probably no surprise when I got on my friends OTTB who preferred a super light contact and a different way of posting and basically pissed him off.

Sitting on that same OTTB this February and having a legitimately good ride (and not pissing anyone off) was a huge win for me

Trying various sales horses has brought be back to the former days of learning how to adapt to more types of horses. Some are light in the bridle, others heavy, and all require different approaches to leg and seat and other unique touches that make the horse themselves. I won’t even begin to pretend that I am successful with all, but the exercise of sitting on various mounts and learning their ways has certainly made me a better rider. It is difficult though and sometimes I do forget that I don’t know the horse, and typically the horse calls me out quite quickly for my errors. And while no one likes making mistakes, it’s the process of messing up and learning the correction that I hope will improve my riding in the long run.

Do you consider yourself a versatile rider? What is the “feel” from a horse that you ride best? Do you have a type that you feel most comfortable on? What kind of horses do you struggle to ride most?

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22 thoughts on “Let’s Discuss: The Versatile Rider

  1. I would definitely say I’m a versatile rider purely because I don’t have a horse right now. My entire riding life is based on riding different horses all the time. You’re right, it makes you into a better rider and is great experience. I would say that I tend to prefer a horse that’s a bit more of a push ride and likes a bit more contact.

    • I think that’s probably the greatest silver lining about not having a horse- is then having the opportunity to ride lots of various horses and push ourselves as a rider to be more flexible!

  2. It should come as a surprise to exactly no one that I like a push ride that doesn’t push back. haha. Forward scares me sometimes if I don’t trust the horse and I feel like cantering is warp speed when in reality, it is slow. I literally refused to canter Copper in my lessons until I had a friend there to video me, which was a great idea. I felt like we were going out of control fast…video proved otherwise and I was able to tell my inner self to chill out since it was my mindset, not my horse’s speed. I’m not a very versatile rider, and I’m not sure that I will become one since I prefer my own horses and have a few to choose from. 😉

  3. I have a range that I’m comfortable with, but I wouldn’t call it a SUPER wide range. I like a forward thinking horse, but I also must have brakes. We can run like the wind and gallop every fence if I’m confident in our brakes. I definitely do not do well with super push rides- maybe I’m lazy or unmotivated, but I do NOT like having to kick-kick-chase my horse to the jumps. Especially as the jumps go up, I want to know my horse sees the jump and will pull me a little because they want to get to the other side.

  4. This is really interesting for me to consider. I often get a little frustrated riding friends’ horses that don’t go just the way mine does. So if they need a bit heavier hand or more supplies of the jaw I get a bit lost, and there are horses who I honestly cannot add enough leg to in order to get them through. The thing I hate most is when they don’t turn off your seat though – that’s my favorite thing about my pony.

    I’d really like to be more versatile and also correct, so I’m chipping away at being correct right now and hoping that gets me to versatile also!

    • It’s so difficult, particularly if you have your own horse and have the responsibility to train/work with him. That makes it hard to try and branch out and sit on other beasties all the time!

  5. i never owned my own horse before last fall, and my lease horse before that was the longest i had ever ridden just one horse consistently, so just by definition i had to get used to riding many different types. and last summer i reaffirmed that in bopping around from horse to horse while shopping. imo it’s valuable to feel like we can get on a variety of creatures and basically do the thing (not saying expertly or anything, just basic proficiency). but my favorite type of ride is definitely the more sensitive tb who has its own engine.

    • I think that’s really great, and from what I’ve read you definitely have sat on all types! I think it would be interesting now that you have one main man to see what you think about this question 6-12 months down the line. But maybe I’m the only one that falls into that struggle so easily, ha!

  6. I absolutely get stuck riding one way which is why having all these horses to ride in lessons definitely is helping me get out of my rut, though I still long for that one horse that I can get down to work with.

  7. I’m not a versatile rider at all! Having my horse at home doesn’t afford me many chances to ride other horses, but I sure wish I could do more of that.

    • It’s definitely an interesting trade off of having your own horse- that if you are like me you feel a sense of responsibility to work with that horse and therefore not go off and ride a ton of other horses instead.

  8. I feel as though I’m more suited to TB’s who like a quiet ride, but having predominately just Oscar for the ten years has definitely forced me to be a bit more assertive. I’d probably send a quieter horse to sleep and there’d be nothing I could do about it!

  9. I’ve ridden pretty much just my horse since I’ve had him the past 3 years; however, he has at least 6 different personalities so I actually have to adjust my riding style depending on the day. He’s so super athletic and light that when I climbed on a TB one time that tends to pull, it was like riding a dump truck and I hated it. I wish I were more versatile, but I just don’t really have the opportunity to ride different horses. The little time I do get to ride, I want to ride my own!

  10. I’ve learned to be pretty versatile. I personally prefer a lighter contact and a solid go button. Interestingly, the horse I’m leasing is SUPER heavy in the contact and more of an emotional ride than a straight forward one. It has been a huge learning curve but I really enjoy how much it has opened up my riding.

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