By Andrea Lewis
They say you learn the most from a difficult horse. In my opinion, this is so true.
In January of 2006, I purchased a one and one-half-year-old Oldenburg gelding named Beaumont as my future event horse, and our adventure began. He had to learn all the basics that a “going” horse usually knows – how to cross-tie, pick up feet, be brushed, fly spray, etc.
At three years old, I took Beaumont to school at Woody Green Training Stables, and to be ridden for the first time. After a while, we were able to enjoy long rides in the mountains and hotdogs over campfires, in between the spins and bolting that occurred when we came upon streams or cows. The final part of preparation, for show warm ups and being ready to begin event training, was attending calf roping night in an indoor ring with jingling spurs, ropes swinging, and horses chasing down cows. I worked with Beaumont on listening to my aids and to stand, despite what was going on or what just ran in front of him. I figured this was great training for our future eventing career. Eventually, the rides became less dramatic and more relaxing for both of us.
When Beau was four, we started on our eventing and dressage journey. Within a year, even though we had some great moments, it became very obvious we should narrow our focus to a dressage-only career. So, we entered our first USDF-recognized show and won the High Point Training Level awards with a 76%, earning a place on the Utah Dressage Society’s perpetual trophy.
As I continued to look for ways to help understand Beau’s unique personality and quirks, I found Janet and Cliff Tipton at Flying T Acres. They were willing to help create activities to improve my relationship with Beau, and worked on teaching me how to long-line him, which came in handy while working on teaching Beau to piaffe. I learned how to turn Beau’s spooking and skittish moments into opportunities to improve his confidence by rewarding him for every try, every step towards the scary object, or any indication of relaxing after being upset.
As an adult amateur, who works full time and does not have their horse in training, I increased the times I worked with my coaches, Gary and Jan Lawrence from Millbrook Farms, to two or three lessons per week. In order to keep Beau busy, and focused on his work, we quickly moved up the levels to Intermediate in our sixth show season, earning scores up to 68%. We also started working on our musical freestyle, debuting our first one at Intermediate. Last year, we took a step back to compete at Fourth Level, to pick up scores for our USDF Silver Freestyle Bar. I have to say, the process of creating and competing in a musical freestyle is a tremendously fun experience!
We are currently working to be ready to show Grand Prix. I know it may take a little longer than some to get there, since I am teaching my horse certain movements at the same time I am learning to ride them. However, I’m proud of the fact that Beau has only been taught by my aids. It is an amazing feeling to get fifteen one-tempis for the first time as a rider, on a horse that just got fifteen one-tempis for the first time as well. We are learning together.
At every show, my goal is the same: to have a relaxed, positive experience that we can learn and grow from. In the early years, I seemed to focus on what went wrong, like when a shade tent broke loose in the wind and tumbled down the side of the arena during my ride. Instead, I should have been happy that Beau and I actually stayed in the ring and were able to finish our test. I have learned to laugh at what happens and not let Beau’s, or my own, reactions throw us off. Through the years, this mindset has earned us numerous year-end reserve and championship awards.
I have learned more than I could have ever imagined, thanks to Beau and his quirky personality. As a successful FEI event rider, I thought I knew how to work with difficult horses and could certainly use my knowledge to bring along a young horse, but he has challenged me in a way that has made me grow as a rider. The biggest takeaway I’ve learned is that each horse is unique, and what you have done in the past may not work with the horse you have now. Always be open to continuous learning.