Six Keys to a Successful Relationship with Your Horse

Kate Chadderton is an Australian native who operates a competition and training business in Maryland. She recently began offering weekly tips and advice, and we're pleased that she's graciously allowed us to share them here on EN. Keep an eye out for a new tip each week from Kate!

Kate Chadderton and Buckharo. Photo by Jenni Autry. Kate Chadderton and Buckharo. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Before you get too excited and think I’m about to share my eHarmony dating experiences with you, I should explain I’m referring specifically to the union of horse and rider!

There are many factors which, when combined, lead to success in our sport, but I would probably put one’s relationship in the top three, along with soundness and training.

Everyone is familiar with the wonderful stories you hear each year of someone riding their Pony Club horse around Rolex or some other four-star. We’ve all seen International Velvet and Sylvester.

How is it that these seemingly normal horse/rider combinations achieve extraordinary things? Because they believe in each other. As in every successful relationship, both parties play their own roles. I like to relate things in human terms:

1. They communicate. Sometimes that means your boyfriend/girlfriend tells you that you’re a genius; other times they tell you you’ve made a mistake. Either way, there’s honesty. You and your horse must be certain that you’re honest with each other — don’t tell him it’s a vertical if it’s really the widest oxer you’ve seen in your life.

2. They try for each other. Your boyfriend/girlfriend will go to lengths to help you achieve your goal, whether that means stopping at Safeway on the way home to pick up the pasta you forgot when you’re making your favourite recipe, or driving 200 kilometers to pick up the dress you have to have for your friend’s wedding. I like to relate this to your horse finding a fifth leg when you miss at the biggest oxer on course.

3. You know each other’s likes and dislikes. You know he/she likes blue. He/she knows you don’t like cilantro in your fish tacos. Your horse likes peppermints? Buy him some. He likes being scratched behind his ears? Scratch him behind his ears. You want him to do half pass? He should do half pass.

4. You’re athletically attuned. You stay fit for each other so you can enjoy the same physical activities. This one may sound a bit weird, but I’m a firm believer in making an effort, any effort, to keep yourself in a position where you reactions and balance can compliment the horse. Remember, it is a sport! This doesn’t mean you have to be a jockey; just that you strive to be a little better.

5. People in successful relationships share the same goal. There’s more than one way to skin a cat. He/she wants to win the lottery to buy a house; you prefer saving instead. But the point is you both want a house. Likewise, I want to jump calmly and carefully through today’s show jump course, Civil Liberty wants to leap and buck his way, carefully, through. We both share the desire to clear the fences; we just have a different method!

6. Genuine affection. Your boyfriend/girlfriend will hold your hand walking down the street, and you’ll tell him/her that they’re the best looking person in the room. I always think that if you smile when you see your horse, you’re on the right track.

As with any relationship, I do have ups and downs with my horses. Sometimes we disagree (no, Cole, you can’t jump eight days in a row), and sometimes we REALLY disagree (NO BUCKY, I already told Cole you can’t jump eight days in a row!), but because we check all the boxes above, they keep coming back to work for me every day.

A strong relationship can conquer or achieve almost anything, and I think the proof is in the pudding: The three Advanced horses I ride are just OTTBs, and small ones at that, but we just happen to really like each other and agree on enough topics, so it works!