Thursday 25 October 2018

A Tale Of Two Schoolmasters

Training Cupid left a lovely comment on my previous lesson recap post, calling Audrey a schoolmaster. My gut reaction was "I've been far too kind describing Audrey, she's anything but!", but then I reconsidered, and started thinking about what a schoolmaster is, to me at least. (Forgive me, I commute for about 7 hours a week in an area with sketchy radio and cell reception, so I have a lot of time to ponder such things :)

Ohh, sounds good! ;)
Horse and Hound has a good article, leading with "A schoolmaster is a horse with the experience and the ability to help a rider learn and perfect certain skills". 

By that definition, the door is pretty wide open. All my horses have helped me perfect a skill or two, although in some cases they're skills I'd rather not have had to learn :) Remind me if I ever sell Bridget "Schoolmaster event pony. Will teach you everything about nutrition and fitness for competition (you can spend hours a week monitoring her diet and getting her fit just for Starter level!)."

Sorry B, it's true. We love you, but your strengths lie more in the "will happily shelter in place and easily survive extreme climates by eating lichen and snow" category.
In all seriousness, I imagine an older, been there done that, saintly type of horse, probably trained to a moderate competition level. Confidence boosting, forgiving, patient and kind.

EC has a wonderful example of just such a beast. He's not overly old, but he's quiet and steady, very patient, and happily goes about his job without much fuss, whatever your riding level.

Just a pretty pic of B's field last week. I feel weird sharing pictures of other people's horses, so you're stuck with mine.

He took one of my barn mates up to 1* eventing, and currently is the dressage ride of an absolutely inspirational (and very elderly) European gentleman. My coach EC has been competing him a level or two above Audrey for a couple of years now. He got decent scores at Intermediare this year!) She's transitioning from a lifetime of eventing to a more dressage focus and he's forgiving enough for her to train up the levels and possibly make a mistake or two, before bringing Audrey along as her "big" horse.

The best part is he's decidedly not fancy with some very untraditional dressage breeding. Oh, and he's done FEI vaulting, and is a surprisingly decent barrel racer.

So, I guess the bar's been set pretty high.

As far as this blog is concerned, Audrey is perfect in every single way, so we won't go down the path of how she may or may not differ from the Original Mr Perfect the next paddock over ;)

What I have been pondering, though, is that some of the things that make me hesitate to put her in the same category as ECs other horse are actually qualities that make an excellent upper level prospect, and ones I've really grown to like.

Talking about her, I often use descriptors like : powerful, reactive, opinionated, big moving, super intense, serious, needs a job.

She's not your friendly, cuddly backyard pony you ride a few times a week, and that's OK.

It's not my story to tell, but she arrived at the barn right around the same time Bridget and I did, and was the same age and green bean level as Bridget. And, I used to dread having to deal with her. I think we all did, lol. Helping with Audrey was not a task you volunteered for lightly. But, after watching her talent and work ethic under saddle, I remember saying to EC that I got why she liked her so much, and that my new life goal was to learn to ride a horse like Audrey (and after some further thought, to have the tools to train one as well.) Thus began my not so secret obsession with A :)
Spent 3 years working hard trying to make Bridget more like A under saddle. The good news is, we kind of succeeded. Despite their obvious differences in build and talent, they have a very similar feel, and while Audrey is very much 'extra' in all the ways Bridget isn't, I feel equally at home on each. The miracle of sticking with a consistent training program, who knew.

Audrey has changed hugely in the last 4 years. No one expected it, but she's become a pretty reliable lesson horse. I take dressage lessons, and another lady events her at Pre-Training. She's learning to be patient and forgiving. She's starting to have an "off" switch. Her ground manners are passable. I make mistakes all day long, and dramatics in response are very few and far between.

So, after some thought, I'm changing my mind.  She's a schoolmaster, at least to me. She's taught me much more than my traditional picture of a schoolmaster. It's been really neat being a small part of her journey from silly green thing to reliable PSG mare.  As a rider wanting to move up the levels, I think EC's other horse might have been a better bet for learning. Maybe I'd be out there riding and competing at higher levels by now, who knows. Probably I'd still just be me, plugging away.

But, when we consider that it's more important to me to have a solid training toolkit (and now having a Sophie pony to bring along) I think Audrey is invaluable, and a most excellent schoolmaster. It's partly how EC operates, anyway, but take for example this whole flying change thing - the smallest part of the lesson is learning to ride them. The main part is schooling and going through all the useful exercises to set them up - teaching, balancing, and improving them - tools I will hopefully be able to carry home to my two.

Final thought: In the tale of the two schoolmasters, I have no regrets. I love Audrey more for her quirky, dramatic self than I would appreciate boring old Mr Perfect next door :)

Sophie the golden pony was looking quite golden this day! Fingers crossed she can do this dressage thing too! Please, please, grow up to be a mini Audrey :)



  1. I love this perspective! Also, Sophie is looking so grown up :)

    1. She's funny, it's all about the camera angles again! Some pictures I'm like "WOW!", others I'm "Oh no, poor little fugly creature, what did I buy?!" :)

  2. Horses have so much to teach you. I consider Irish a school master. Not that he’s trained to a high level (his arthritis slowed that process) but he’s so good with everyone who gets on him. If you know nothing he will give you the easiest ride. If you more he will do exactly what you ask, even if you think that you didn’t ask for it. He’s never mean or dirty, but he’s not giving it away either.

    1. He sounds like the best sort, and definitely the type I've always associated with a schoolmaster.

  3. Love this post ;) agreed that the terms can mean a lot of different things when applied to different horses too. My impression of schoolmasters has had less to do with disposition or ease, and more to do with level of training. In my mind, a school master is a horse who, when you correctly apply the aids, will respond correctly. As opposed to a more green horse who may not be as reliably confirmed to the aids. Thus with a schoolmaster it is up to the rider to learn how to be accurate with the aids.

    1. I like your definition! Mr Perfect would meet that, no problem. A, well, she'll get there. It's a bit of a fun situation, because EC is still very much training her, and my lessons tend to be filled with exercises that reinforce whatever she's working on, just at a more basic level. The plan was originally for me to have the tools to take home and teach Bridget, so cool. I think this situation works well for all of us.

  4. I just throw the term around without having really thought about what it means. :p