The Heart of a Horse

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What’s Inside a Performance Horse is Most Significant

By Kim Roe


Not long ago I was scrolling through Facebook and found an article by Rachael Turner in Horse & Hound Magazine. The story was about a 13’3” hand pony eventing at the upper levels in Australia. The pony, Lakevale Toyman (Tommy), belongs to rider Jackie Wright, who purchased Tommy to be a companion for another horse. Wright soon discovered Tommy’s outstanding desire and ability to jump. Along with the article was a video of Tommy and Jackie devouring an upper-level cross-country course. Tommy’s expression moved me to tears. He was having a wonderful time – ears up, eyes wide open––he never falters. He’s a jumping machine. Tommy doesn’t know (or care) that he’s tiny and not what most people would consider appropriate for a three-day event horse.

Defining what makes a great performance horse physically isn’t too difficult. We look for long legs, sloping shoulders, strong backs, and straight legs. Humans have been perfecting bloodlines for certain jobs for centuries. But what’s inside the horse, his heart, can be much harder to know. I find myself intrigued by horses that don’t fit the mold. 

I own a chunky, 14’3” hand, foundation-bred quarter horse, Gunner, who seems to be surprisingly talented at dressage. Though I have no plans to compete him in dressage at the A level, I enjoy feeling him become a more supple, confident riding horse through his dressage work. His previous career as a barrel horse couldn’t be further from what I’m currently asking him to do, but his natural forwardness and immense “try” make him a really fun little dressage pony. Once a chronic shyer, the slow work and precision of dressage is good for his 16-year-old body and the patterns keep his smart, working-horse brain busy. He seems to enjoy the partnership that dressage demands.

Photo credit Diana Inch

I love working with a horse that wants to do the job I’m asking him to do, even if he wasn’t bred for that kind of work. I don’t have any fantasies of making Gunner into a Grand Prix horse, but we did go to a little schooling show and come home with a good score and a blue ribbon recently––a success in our own small way.

I hope you enjoy our issue this month with its emphasis on performance horses. I hope you all ride a horse that loves to do his job, whatever that might be.



Published July 2018 Issue

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