Overmounting and Peer Pressure

By Bonnie J. Hilton

Saddle and Bridle Magazine Equine Articles


Crane logo Too much horse is never the answer to success. Written for Saddle & Bridle magazine by Bonnie J. Hilton. and copyrighted by Saddle & Bridle.
End gaining is not the primary objective of all instruction and training. The means whereby are far more important to many of us, but they pale in comparison to the importance put on end gaining, of winning, in our culture at present.

I recently read an interview of Olympic skier Bode Miller and his comments are worth citing here. "Americans seem to have the belief that if you're not going to win a medal at the Olympics, why go? That's the most backward idea I can think of. Think of the effect on the young kids. It's a really bad message. Whether or not you're good at something, or whether or not you can meet someone else's version of success, has nothing to do with whether or not you should participate."

Winning is not just defined as coming out on top in competition, it also manifests itself in possession. Sadly, sometimes in our sport, owning something is often more important than learning the responsibility and demands of caring for the object. This is where horsemanship and ridership collide head on. Which should we be teaching first? Which should be of primary importance? Are hours of what is deemed beginner level instruction (foundational basics) even relevant in some highly focused formats?

For those individuals who are thinking about striking out with a new business in training and/or instruction, you may be wise to think about these two problems.

Peer pressure exists on all age levels and is not just a teenage phenomenon. I know several adults who have gone out and purchased equines that they will never be able to handle or ride on their own because they don't have the education or the physical ability to do so. This is not to say that they couldn't develop the skills, but at the time of the purchase, they did not have them. Unfortunately, one of these owners was hurt when they fell off their newly acquired status symbol, which is now in the experienced hands of a rider/trainer. The owner has not been up since the fall and has voiced their fear in confidence. What is sad, is that this person had a suitable equine prior to buying the "dream horse" and was a confident rider at that level. We have absolutely no right whatsoever to tell anyone that they can't go out and buy what they want. However, as an instructor, as a trainer, what do you do when a client doesn't follow your advice, purchases an equine that is much more than they can handle and expects you to make everything safe and secure for them? Often this may unfold without any thought to paying for your extra time and effort to do so and without putting in any time and effort of their own to develop the skills to be safe. I'm sorry, but I don't have any answers, except that as I have stated before, if they just want to own and not participate, that is fine, but make sure you have it all very clear and understood as to how the relationship will unfold.

One of my clients from years ago was a classic of both overmounting and peer pressure. I met her because of the tall, young, off track Thoroughbred gelding she had bought for all the wrong reasons. The least of which was that the price was right! She was barely five feet tall and was hiding her fear behind a good talk. I found that out within an hour of the evaluation. She was in horse mindset because all of her friends had horses, were showing and she was the designated groom most of the time, instead of being a participant. She had serious hip range of motion problems and was really mentally suited for a trained large pony or small horse. She had learned her basics in the past and could ride quite well when mounted on a suitable equine that did not make her anxious. The TB was sound, stunning and a track green handful with all the moves of a three-year-old with an attitude and no clue as to what was expected of him as a saddle horse. He had already sapped her confidence and she was now afraid of him in hand. Suffice to say that the TB was retrained over the course of two years, sold for a good price, and the client listened to reason and purchased a small, older, well trained equine who she was able to get her confidence back with, and actually start having a good time with, while in the saddle in any venue she chose.

Last night I received a phone call from one of my students who has moved to New Jersey. As she told me about her young daughter and the little horse they are going to lease, I was struck by the dichotomy that exists, the total difference between the mindset of this parent and child and others I am acquainted with. Although competition is part of my student's life, it takes a backseat to the horsemanship aspect, and the love of her equine. She will be leasing an equine well-suited for her daughter's continuing learning experience.

Mother and daughter have sat down and discussed specific responsibilities that have to be met, like homework, housework, etc., and the expected grooming and daily care of the new equine at the boarding facility. The daughter has already developed a passion for the equine, the experience that the mother wants to nurture. The mother told me that another boarder already made disparaging comments about the little horse because he is only serviceably sound and they don't understand why she is wasting her time and money with it, since her daughter won't be able to "do anything with it." My client calmly put them in their place.

The total opposite is the parent who I knew who was searching for the equine that their daughter could "win" with. An equine that could be leased for the "season" and be moved on to another owner at the end of the process. I have to give the instructor in this case a lot of credit in trying to deal with this parent and their vicarious focus. I know they tried to change the mindset, but unfortunately the daughter had bought into the fallacy as well. A horse was found but when the expected wins didn't happen, the horse moved on and the daughter was just another statistic from the "mill" and gave up riding. Should we just attribute this to part of the transient experience of ridership? The fact that the child went from a large pony, who they were confident with, to a large horse, should fill in the blanks of the story. Not every rider, child or adult, can make that transition with ease, either physically or mentally. I don't care how "made" the equine is.

Quality school and leased ponies and horses that bring our students up in the riding levels and can develop the skills needed to precede ownership, are priceless. Instruction should nurture the student and be unbiased. Overmounting and peer pressure will continue to be a problem in our business, but they don't need to take up residence in your facility.

Honesty in evaluation is also priceless and should precede preconceived ideas, even goals.

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