A Poor Workman Blames his Tools?

They say it’s only a poor workman that blames his tools. It should follow, then, that it’s a poor horseman that blames his saddle or his horse or his boots or his bit.

Of course, most of the time this is very true. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard, “But I can’t do it. The horse doesn’t want to.” This is often followed by whoever is teaching the lesson (often me, I’m afraid; this is my favourite trick) getting on the horse and getting the horse to do whatever it is he’s supposed to do with no apparent effort. The point is not that the instructor is so much better than you (if they weren’t a better rider, you wouldn’t be taking lessons from them). The point is that it’s not the horse who’s not responding; it’s you who’s not asking him the way he needs to be asked.

Excuses are just that – excuses. “I can’t ride properly because the saddle is too big.” “The horse is too wild.” “I’m wearing new boots.” “I’m too short.” “It’s windy.” “It’s Tuesday.” One will never improve when you are waiting for the right horse, the right arena, the right trainer, to lose weight, to gain weight, to get fit, to rest up, for your new boots to arrive, or King Arthur to return before you try your best.

The best riders can get on virtually any horse with virtually any equipment in virtually any circumstances and still look pretty pro; the best students can shut up, buckle down and get on with it as best as they can, even when conditions are not ideal, within reason. Of course, unsafe conditions should be fixed and avoided.

But coming at this idea from the other side, it’s true that one cannot ride perfectly when conditions are imperfect. Speaking as a petite rider who always seems to end up swimming about in 18″ saddles, I know how much it helps when your stuff fits and the footing is good and you’re not jumping straight into the setting sun (the Mutterer still moans at me about not telling him about that). One should be able to make the best out of very little; but there’s no denying that getting the most well-fitting and well-made equipment you can gives you the best possible shot at riding your best.

Arwen’s new saddle is what got me thinking about this. We all know how much I loved my old Solo, but looking at photos of me riding in the new saddle and just feeling the difference solidifies the idea that in my mind the new saddle was money well spent and a decision I won’t be regretting anytime soon. We did some crazy things in that old saddle (everything from jumping our first 1.10m to our first ribbon to our first cross-country lesson), but the new one makes craziness easier.

I have, somehow, taken a very big knock on my jumping confidence lately. Arwen and I used to practice around 90cm regularly without turning a hair; we used to hop around 1.10m fences, hard as that may seem to believe. Without anything really happening, our jumps just seemed to get smaller and smaller. Perhaps it was with me polishing our technique for shows, where we’re only doing about 70cm anyway. Perhaps it had to do with Magic and I having some hassles about jumping. Whatever it is, I started freezing up at the base of the jumps, which led to stopping; after that, I developed my fear/hatred/phobia of stopping, and froze up even worse.

This all happened so slowly that I didn’t realise it until a couple of weeks ago and have been chipping away at it ever since. First, I started by working super hard on my light/forward seat/two point position/whatever you want to call it when you get off the horse’s back. Mostly, I spend longer periods in light seat when I do hillwork, galloping or intervals with Arwen. (Interval training in light seat only = death to leg muscles). The new saddle, due to the perfect positioning of the knee blocks and its stability on Arwen’s back, makes this about two gazillion times easier.

Second, I put my big girl pants on and raised the jumps whether I liked it or not. Not too much – not enough to daunt the horses (i. e. Arwen); just 10cm or so. Where I’d normally warm up over 70cm I made myself warm up over 80cm; I put up a 1.00m oxer which looked hideously big, started jumping it at the end of sessions when I was feeling brave, and then made myself jump it (making a conscious effort to give Arwie a bit of a kick into it to make sure she’d jump) earlier on. Now, it’s suddenly not anywhere near as scary anymore. Part of this is undoubtedly the fact that I feel absolutely dead safe in my new saddle over jumps. I know this is because it helps me stay solid in my position, instead of sliding back and sideways like I did in the Solo. I also know that I should be able to jump anything in any saddle; but I’m not there yet, and the new one makes it a whole lot easier to learn. In fact I’m back up to 90cm or so in the very big saddle that I ride Reed in, so we’re making progress.

Suddenly, jumping is a thrill and a wonderful joy again. I can’t wait for cross-country on Wednesday!

What do you think, blogosphere? Do you believe that a good rider rides just as well in any tack? Or is it an important consideration for optimum performance?

Pretending to be pro in the Kent & Masters. Except for the hair, of course. (We're both guilty).
Pretending to be pro in the Kent & Masters. Except for the hair, of course. (We’re both guilty).

16 thoughts on “A Poor Workman Blames his Tools?

  1. I did the college team where at competitions you had to work with whatever horse and tack you were given. So is its possible. But oh my goodness it’s so nice when you don’t have to fought the tack and can just worry about your position and effective aids!! I’ve been going through this lately with the dressage saddle I have on loan. So expensive but i really think the money will be worth it!

    1. How I love a dressage saddle! Compared to most saddles it feels like a good seat just *happens* magically in a dressage saddle. I also like to use it on the green horses that I feel are likely to try to get rid of me – I don’t get bucked off so easily out of a dressage saddle!

  2. As a completely non-horsey person, except emotionally (love, love, love horses), I wouldn’t know a snaffle from a hoof pick (well, maybe I would), but I would think good equipment is very important.
    I mean, say I’m a carpenter and my equipment consists of blunt chisels, saws that need their blades setting and half my screws that have stripped threads, I wouldn’t be able to build too many award winning cabinets. But, if I’ve got good tools, it makes my work so much easier–and safer. LOL my son-in-law is fond of making big bits wooden furniture 🙂

    1. Nice analogy, Lyn! I have a best Friend Who is a carpenter. He’s busy trying to turn this blunt chisel of His into something useful. (There’s another analogy for you right there!) Your son-in-law has a noble hobby 😉

  3. I agree, there is no doubt better equipment – when used correctly – will benefit whatever it is you have chosen to do. But that does not negate the fact you will be better off starting your journey where you are wearing the shoes you have… How can you appreciate expensive trainers if you haven’t walked a mile in worn out old tennis shoes ?
    I see this all the time in my photographic world, people feeling the only way they can improve their photography is to buy the *latest gear* as recommended by *Some Bigtime Name*
    I must stop now, hahahahah, or this will be a sermon not a comment .

    1. Nice to see you here, Wolfworx!! And I totally, totally agree. I strongly believe that those who stay on the top generally started at the bottom!
      It’s all too common in the horse business as well, as I’m sure you’ll know. Especially if a horse problem arises. Usually, the tack or the farrier or the chiro are blamed, or the newest gadget is sought out to fix the problem, or the horse is sold on only for the cycle to start again with a new horse. Often, this is not a person with a horse problem – it’s a horse with a person problem!

        1. I’ll admit, I just helped my sister sell her problem horse, but those two were never going to get along and they’re both better off now. But if a person goes through horse after horse and each has a similar problem… well, then it’s not the horse that has the problem.

          1. Yip, I don’t see that as an issue, my daughter and her first had a huge personality clash, he was sold on to a life of luxury, and the replacement and her fit like hand in glove 🙂

  4. Great article ! Totally agree with ‘ The best riders can get on virtually any horse with virtually any equipment in virtually any circumstances and still look pretty pro; the best students can shut up, buckle down and get on with it as best as they can, even when conditions are not ideal, within reason.’ I believe investing in good tack is for the horse first n foremost – It has to fit him well. Professional equipment custom made to my body would be beneficial to a certain degree but it is not going to make me an Olympic rider. Dammit, if only.

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