The topic of horsemanship has been on my mind a lot lately. Due to recent events like Marilyn Little’s showing at LRK3DE and now the Oliver Townend incident at Badminton, I wanted to address this from my point of view.
From a very young age, I was taught that the care of the horse is the most important aspect in being at equestrian. It doesn’t matter what shows you go to, how high you jump, or how many ribbons you win, if you not taking care of your horse. Now most equestrians know that the care you give you horses directly relates to the success you have in the ring. Once you get to a certain level, you will not succeed if your horse doesn’t have the best care. But, at many “A” circuit shows the rider is not the person caring for their horse. Most upper level riders have grooms working for them. Let me clarify, I have no issue with having a groom! I was my trainer/boss’s groom at every horse show we went to. He simply would not have been able to have every horse ready for every class if he did not have help. Now, I have witnessed the other side of this scenario as well. The 16 year old girl who is simply too busy getting coffee, riding her minibike from ring to ring, and shopping at the vendors, to have her one jumper ready and to the ring in time for their one class of the day. That is not horsemanship. You are out too late partying to get up to feed in the morning? That is not horsemanship.
I know that people come from different situations. Having a groom for the 12 year old pony kid who needs help getting to the ring, totally acceptable in my book. I just wish that more parents and trainers would hold their kids and students accountable. It is such a privilege to be able to ride and show, I feel like it is not appreciated until you have put in the work. If we instill these values in young equestrians maybe it will follow they as they grow and move up the levels.
I has so much respect for riders like Mavis Spencer who put in the work as grooms and have become so successful after stepping out on their own. Riders who grew up riding the difficult thoroughbreds or the crazy hot horses that were “too much” for clients. Those are the people who should be making headlines in our sport. Unfortunately the ones we hear about at the (millionaire’s daughter) ivy league students who show all season at WEF.
Now, lets talk about the Marilyn Little situation. I know the people make mistakes, I fully understand that not every situation that we as the public see is exactly how it looks. I know that trainers do things that aren’t always 100% correct in order to have their horses perform at the highest levels. However, there have been multiple times Marilyn Little’s horses have had bloody mouths. There is photo evidence of these occurrences, and her lack of taking responsibility in these situations is what gets to me. If you make a mistake and it happens to be broadcast through the community, I would hope that it would make you reevaluate and perhaps even change what you are doing. If you care about the animal at all I would hope that you realize that making your horse bleed from the mouth is no great horsemanship. If you don’t care, maybe loosing sponsors would open you eyes?
Marilyn’s response looked like this:
“I tried my very best to be transparent in every possible way in Kentucky and followed our sport’s protocol in the best interest of my horse. My horse was checked multiple times by FEI officials before the start of cross country, again at the finish, and at the second horse inspection on Sunday morning, and at all times was passed fit to continue.”
Oliver Townend faced a similar situation after badminton last week. His excessive use of the whip did not go unnoticed. He answered with the following.
“Having watched my Badminton cross-country rounds for the first time when I got home last night, I’m so disappointed and upset about the way I rode. It didn’t look good and I don’t want to look like that.
“I fully accept the warning I received from the ground jury. My competitive instincts got the better of me and I will work hard to improve in this area.
“I try really hard to give my horses the best ride possible — I try to be as fit as possible, to be as light as I can be, to sit as still as I can, to get them on the best strides and take-off points to minimise the energy they have to waste. I care enormously about their wellbeing and their welfare.
“I feel I have let my amazing team down. I am aware of my position in the sport and of my responsibility to be a suitable role model to younger people, and I apologise to them.
“I love my horses — I live for them. I am extremely proud of all four horses — Ballaghmor Class and Cooley SRS, and the two who went so brilliantly at Kentucky, Cooley Master Class and MHS King Joules — and of every horse on my yard.”
See the difference? I sure do. To me, Oliver showed remorse and true horsemanship while Little seems to be looking out for herself.
Let me know your thoughts!