Richard Malmgren: "Every Horse has Its Own Journey"

Sun, 04/01/2018 - 07:33
Photo © Astrid Appels

Guest columnist of this week is Richard Malmgren. He was born and raised on a horse farm in southern Sweden in the mid 70s. He trained for five years with Lars Anderson, head trainer at Flyinge State stud, before moving to the U.S.A. to work at Hilltop Farm in 1996. He first worked there as a trainee while graduating from Delaware University with a Bachelor in Business Administration. Hilltop Farm then appointed him head of Sales and Marketing. In the autumn of 2007 Richard joined Hassler Dressage in Chesapeake City. In 2011 he married U.S. Grand Prix rider Jessica Jo Tate. Richard trains young horses through the levels and has a passion for equestrian photography.

"Every Horse has Its Own Journey"

Every horse has a purpose and every horse has a journey! Some become therapeutic horses, some become trail horses, some brood mares and then some become Grand Prix horses. 

There is no time table or definite path with horses.  Should a young horse do the 5-year-old tests just because it’s 5 years old? No! There are a lot of factors as to why it is not the best idea to have the 5-year-old test as a goal.  Maybe the horse was injured as a 4-year-old or maybe he is growing a lot as a coming 5-year-old and subsequently is very awkward in his body.  Therefore, he is not ready to be trained to do the movements that are required for the 5-year-old test.  

Every book written about dressage is written from the basis of having the perfect horse. They visualise an ideal grogression: from young horse classes for 4-6 year olds and the Developing PSG for 7-9 year olds through the Developing Grand Prox for 8-10 year olds. This path is entirely based on the perfect horse trained in perfect conditions with perfect health. We all know the perfect horse has not been born and never will be!  So dressage books are tutorials or guidelines written about the training of the perfect horse which none of us has.  We have to look at each and every individual horse, then come up with a program and a journey that fits that special, individual horse. 

Many successful horses have come up through the young and developing horse program such as Damon Hill, Totilas, Briar, Desperados, etc. but many super stars have not gone through the young horse or developing horse program, such as Satchmo, Cosmo, Verdades, Valegro just to name a few. Each has done well at the end of its own individual path towards the top of Grand Prix.

Every horse has its own journey.  The rider needs to either accept the horse the way he is and then work on his weaknesses to make them better by improving the weaknesses and and perfecting his strengths and turn them into highlights.  The best way to become successful is to work with time on your side. If you start cutting corners than there will be holes and short comings in the training.  That does not mean that we decide to only get ready to get ready, there has to be a set goals when working with horses.  These goals must be realistic and they must be feasible.  Sometimes, you have to think out side the box and maybe even decide to send the horse off to another trainer for a while to get an different opinion and see how they approach the hurdle that you are facing.  We have to realize that we are not miracle workers/trainers, sometimes we will run into issues that just are not going in the right direction. There is no shame in admitting you face a problem and do not have the solution at hand. Remember there is nothing wrong with asking for help.  In our sport, everyone needs to have colleagues with which we can bounce off ideas. 

There are many interesting horses with journeys that were not so straightforward.  Martin Schaudt’s horse Welltall is one with a path full of hurdles. The rider once said he was a horse in his barn that he could not sell, so he kept training him and Welltall ended up taking him to the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. Afterwards Weltall sold and the horse still faced demons, which needed much creativity, patience and confidence from a team of trainers, vets, osteopaths and horse whisperers so that the Hanoverian could continue to shine at top level. Micheal Barisone’s horse Safir was also one that had been bounced around to different trainers until Michael found a connection with it. They became successful.  Ingrid Klimke's Nector van net Carlshof was a horse that moved around and needed cross-training to establish a connection between rider and horse. Klimke accomplished this. A most recent example is Yvonne Losos de Muniz' Foco Loco W who was extremely talented but seemed stuck at a certain level. He was passed on to Borja Carrascosa who unlocked the next level in him and Foco almost sold then. Fortunately Yvonne realized she would not find a better match for herself and pulled him off the market. Yvonne is now achieving career highlight scores on him on the Wellington show circuit. 

Richard Malmgren long-lining
The morale of this article is that we need to look at each individual horse for what s/he is and not to give up too soon. It is up to us to develop ways to create a partnership with them, so that they want to perform and progress in their work, even if it means thinking outside the box; either with alternative training or by finding a new coach or rider who can unlock a hidden talent or turn a weakness into a strength.

Horses learn through consistency and repetition. We need to always remember that whatever we do with horses needs to be consistent and we should not deviate from that. I grew up not far from the beach in the south of Sweden where we use to take our horse down to and ride there to get them out and away from the dressage arena.  When we do a downward transition from canter to trot on the beach or in the 20 x 60 arena in front of the judge, we need to be consistent that means we need to have high standards and not settle for less.  It does not matter whether we are riding on the beach, in the field or in the arena, a horse does not really know the difference, all he knows is that we are making a transition from canter to trot. He needs to shift his weight onto the haunches and that requires collection, and if we do it every time the same way then it becomes the norm. The change in scenery only keeps his mind fresh and eager and the partnership between horse and rider exciting.

Cross training can be another key to success, but we still have to maintain high standards and stay consistent in whatever training you are doing. Take time but do not waste time. Set goals and make preparations, but do not be afraid to step outside the box and look at the horse from a different angle.  Sometimes, we need to remember not be to proud and ask for help when we need it.  And always remember that your horse has its own individual journey!

- by Richard Malmgren