November 4, 2023

It's Not You, It's Me (But It's Also You)

One of the things I was hoping to get out of having Encore around was perspective. See, I regularly rode nothing but Connor for 12 years, except Aeres. I don't have a lot of experience "dating" different horses. And Encore is a very different animal from Connor and Disco - from a different "side" of Lisa's bloodlines, with far different movement and temperament.

But I had no idea just how much perspective riding Encore would give me in the end.

Connor always went clear, but boy did he make it interesting. Fox River Valley Pony Club HT, 2014

A fellow Welsh Cob enthusiast who is currently competing two very different types of Cobs in Dressage told me recently that she's found it really beneficial to ride both. It helps you understand yourself as a rider, and when it might not be you. And that got me thinking.

Penny Oaks, HHP, 2015

I spent the better part of a decade internalizing Connor's every inability to learn something new, every time he didn't respond to my aids, every time I thought "why is this so hard", as a failure of mine and mine alone. He would take the world by storm with a better rider, if I just handed the reins to my trainer, if I just wasn't so bad at riding, if I just wasn't such a slow learner, if my body just wasn't so crooked.That was my internal monologue.

And to be fair to him, it was both largely my riding that built that horse, AND he was the horse I needed at the time. Safe enough to be safe, spicy enough to be fun but not scary, he helped me conquer some fear I had developed in college and taught me how to enjoy riding again. He gave me experiences I had only dreamed about as a kid - winning an event, running XC, getting a neck ribbon, learning collection.

Jump Start HT, KHP, 2014. BN feels massive on the back of a 14hh pony, for the record.

But Encore has shown me that Connor is also just naturally a difficult ride as a sporthorse. When I first got Connor, a clinician told me that it "just seems to take a long time for things to get from your aids to his brain to his feet", and that never changed over the years. And even though Encore is nowhere near as educated as Connor, things have come more easily for me on a horse with more of an engine, more reactivity to aids, and quicker feet. I can be a more subtle rider.

Hamilton County Dressage Show, 2016. Photo by Paul Wood Photography.

There was still one thing I couldn't figure out though: Why had Aeres, who is a very similar horse to Encore in terms of movement and bloodlines, but much more trained than either Encore or Connor, not given me this same realization that Encore has?

Aeres, November 2020

It took a wise friend on a similar therapy journey to mine to help me figure it out: "You were in a different place at the time. Emotional awareness matters so much," she said. And it hit me. 


Baby noodle's first show ever, June 2012

It wasn't in my vocabulary at the time to ask myself if I was happy or to stop to compare Aeres and Connor or to ask myself if maybe I wasn't always the problem. At the time, I threw myself 110% into horses, and specifically competing, as an escape from other things, even though I didn't realize that's what was happening until many years later. Self-flagellation and blaming everything on my bad riding were easy to reach for, while asking myself how I felt about something and giving legitimacy and validity to my own feelings was so difficult I didn't even know it was an option.


The good news - Connor doesn't need to be a sporthorse to make me happy. He makes me happy standing in his stall and nickering at me, and trail riding, and being the horse I can pop on bareback and drink a glass of wine on on a cold winter night. And I'm grateful for the personal growth and perspective it has taken to appreciate him for who he is, and to appreciate myself for what I am, and to know much more clearly what makes a good match for me under saddle at the stage of riding I'm at.

Thanks, Encore.


  1. Fascinating self-realizations and thank you for sharing. Carmen taught me that I can’t pretend I don’t feel things. It’s hard.

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  3. I'm in the fun position of having one of each type of cob again - it's going to be interesting to see what this version of myself prefers once they are riding age. I can definitely relate with Bridget - I went years thinking I needed to try harder/do better (which isn't bad in itself for me, really) but once I had Sophie the lightbulb went on that maybe it was a little harder than it needed to be (even though the B's and Connors of the world are obviously the best ponies ever :)

  4. This is such an interesting perspective. It's so easy as an amateur with one main riding horse to feel responsible for every failure and unreached goal. I've chosen a more athletic type for my next riding horse and I'm hoping that some of the things my current boy (who I love to absolute bits) finds difficult will come more easily to the new one!

  5. Horses have so much to teach us. And a lot of it is about ourselves, isn't it?
    Growing up, at least for me, we were always taught it's never the horse, we're always the problem. But honestly, it's not always 100% us either. Some things are hard for some horses, and that doesn't mean we're bad riders. I really appreciate how you're able to listen to your horses and figure out what they really want to do. And then you're able to get the most out of each other doing what you both enjoy. Not everyone can do that.

  6. It certainly is amazing what riding a different horse after a decade or more of predominantly swinging a leg over only one can show you. I had to be reminded last night in my lesson that it's not always the rider at fault. *Cheers* to appreciating both our horses and ourselves as we are.