Pretty and effective – How you can be both in the saddle
Along with a few billion other people, last week I made new year’s resolutions. Like them, I made a few generic resolutions: exercising more, eating meat only a few days a week, limiting my time on social media, becoming more empathetic and a better listener. But I also made another one: to become a prettier rider.
There are those people just look beautiful on a horse: they have long legs that seem to fall without effort into place, gorgeous posture, lengthy arms. They look like they were meant to sit on one. Their position comes easily, swiftly, to them. I am not one of these people.
We live in a world—because admit it, eventing is its own little world, a world that we should all venture out of at some point—where efficacy rules. Getting the job done is at the front and center in our discipline because cross country has always been emphasized. I love that about this sport. I was a fairly brave kid with a fairly brave horse and kicked around preliminary; I got some very good ribbons. I was always this kind of rider—the rider who drove and pony-club kicked and even growled to get through the flags. And for the most part, my horses have always gone between the flags because of that.
But I looked at my old videos—from last year and previous years—and though I usually got the job done, I didn’t look enviable doing it. I achieved a fairly good angle in the shoulder-in, but I slouched; I found mostly good distances in the show jumping, but I was crooked and too fast with my upper body; I went between the red and white flags on cross country, but my reins were often too long and my leg unstable.
When I envision pretty, I envision the hunter kids on their round and shiny horses, loping around in perfect balance to meet fences at perfect distances and execute perfect flying changes. So many eventers think this kind of prettiness is incompatible with our rough-and-ready world of cross country. Here’s the thing: it isn’t.
Many eventers have always been okay with being effective without being pretty. Being pretty without being effective is worthless, as far as we’re concerned, because once you have a 20 on cross country you are out of the running. As our sport becomes more and more technical, however, prettiness is starting to matter more. Dressage difficulty is increasing; the show jumps are getting higher; cross country is becoming a test less of bravery and more of technicality. And being pretty on a horse—having the ideal balance, the refined position, that elusive feel—is conducive to being effective. When you watch Boyd sit, you see that he gets results from his horses, but you also think the whole picture is beautiful. When you watch Marilyn jump a fence, you see that the balance and the distance is perfectly judged, but you also think the whole picture is beautiful.
This new year’s resolution, on the surface, seems contrary to the prized idea of effective riding in our sport. But on closer examination, it should be a goal that makes me a more effective rider in the long run. I don’t necessarily hope that you will also make this your resolution, but I hope you will think about how pretty and effective increasingly play equal parts in our sport.