Part One: The Pursuit of a Dream
What follows is a condensed and edited conversation with Candice Hudson.
The first horse that you bought, Tripper, was a special animal. Tell us about him and what he taught you.
Tripper was a very special horse. He was a very sensitive horse. He taught me more than I can probably ever say.
I was told when I purchased him that he had not been backed. My Coach, Doug Heatherington, and I learned later, however, that Tripper had been sent away by the previous owner to get trained and had been mistreated while away. They had tried to back him but failed. The hired trainer had determined that the horse was not rideable. We learned later that Tripper had suffered some type of trauma.
For example, about two weeks after we had finally backed him, we decided to ride him with a crop. As soon as Tripper saw that I had the crop in my hand he put his ears flat, panicked and took off and ran around the arena. I hit the ground hard. He already had known what a crop was and was terrified of it.
So, I had to deal with this horse that was terrified of life. But I couldn’t afford anything else, so you have to work with what you have. This meant that I had to truly learn how to develop a horse. I also learned that if you can be patient and take your time, good things can follow. It took way longer to train my horse than you would expect. It was a very long process and a very hard one. I had to learn how to change and ride differently with him. He was really going through a process of growing up. But then, at the end of the long road, I had this amazing horse who I was able to show metre-thirty with. Now he is capable of taking a twelve-year old student rider.
Through this process, I learned what horses are capable of, and what we are capable of, if you just take the time.
Through this process, I learned what horses are capable of, and what we are capable of, if you just take the time. It’s about taking the time and doing the right things with that time. It’s about giving the horse what it needs. You have to assess where you’re weak and where your horse is weak. Then quietly work on those things. It is as though you are teaching the horse as your student.
At the beginning of the process I fell off Tripper an average of once a week. I got extremely good at falling. I could, after a couple of months, always land on my feet. It was like I was doing gymnastics! What was really interesting was that the first time I fell off he just kept running. It took us about ten minutes to get him to calm down. The second time I fell off of him, he just stood there. You could see in his eyes that he was ready for what he thought was going to happen. I walked up to him and he flinched and shut his eyes, thinking he was going to get hurt. I reached up and put my hand on his forehead. Then he opened his eyes. That was the moment for him and me. That moment was the start of trust between us. He started to warm up to me after that.
That was the moment for him and me. That moment was the start of trust between us. He started to warm up to me after that.
You could just see the change in his eyes. He instantly went from being in a state of fear to being relaxed and looking at me. You could see the change in his behaviour afterwards. He would still panic. I still fell off of him once a week for the next year. But Tripper was no longer scared of me. I’d hit the dirt, but everything was okay. Tripper would just look at me as if to ask whether I was okay. He got to the point that he stopped fearing the crop even though I always rode with one. Although he was still afraid of other things, like the fear of jumps, he wasn’t afraid of me anymore.
I remember calling my boyfriend one time on the drive home from riding Tripper, crying. I told him I didn’t remember riding being this hard. I hadn’t ridden for six years at that point. This was supposed to be the way I got back into riding. I thought at the time that the universe must really be testing me to see if I really wanted to go back to riding, because this was hard. It is hard on your ego when you hit the dirt all the time.
He is a little horse and quick. My coach at the time said to me that he had coached for thirty years and had never seen someone fall off that much. He knew the horse was unpredictable, but it was still remarkable that someone would fall off this often. I’ve yet to see it myself.
What I’ve learned from all of this is how much a horse can grow. Tripper changed from being nervous doing a pole on the ground to become a horse I could confidently compete at a metre thirty and even do open water with. This showed me what they are capable of with patience and persistence.
However difficult Candice found her journey back into riding, she did in the end find her place in the horse world. She is a sterling example of determined and compassionate horsemanship. Next time we will conclude our conversation with her to discover more about her lessons learned.