Are You a Great Horseman?
Or a Mediocre Horseman on a Great Horse?
I know a few folks who consider themselves great horsemen, as in the kind who get capital letters: Great Horsemen. Some of them truly are great, and deserving of those capitals. Others -- well, not so much. They still have their followings, and they're pretty good at capitalizing their own titles, and they make a whole lot more money on the horse business than I ever have or will. Still, they are only great by virtue of riding great horses -- not making great horses.
I had an experience once with a basic training sergeant who considered himself a great leader. He prided himself on "culling out" the men and women he didn't feel reached his expectations. He graduated very small classes of great cops. The failure ratio of his class was through the roof. To my mind, that's not a great leader. If you can take average individuals, or those with certain struggles, and turn them into great cops, or great musicians, or great talents in any area -- well, that's great leadership. But to simply write off any who aren't great as they go into the game, and to only work with the naturally advantaged, is mediocre leadership.
That's what I've been seeing of a lot of horsemen who see themselves as capital G horsemen. Sure, part of horsemanship is selecting the best horse you can get, and matching that horse to its natural capabilities. But part of great horsemanship is taking an average horse, or a horse with some challenges, and turning it into a level-headed, reliable, competent horse with a lot of try. (We all know that a naturally talented horse with no try is a lousy horse, but an average horse with a whole lot of heart may have the makings of greatness.)
I had an epiphany in this area a few years back when I was dealing with a green horse that bucked like rough stock. I brainstormed with a trainer up in Nebraska about it. He raised and trained some beautifully bred horses, and seemed a good hand. I asked, "What method do you use with a bucking horse?" He said, "I don't keep 'em," in a tone that left no wiggle room. I was surprised; not all bucks are equal, and I don't mind a hop now and then. "What?" I asked. "No, I won't have 'em. They don't stay here. I won't ride a horse that bucks."
I've seen that pattern repeat itself plenty of times since then. A trainer will limit himself to a specific narrow type of horse -- a great horse, if you will. A horse that we all want to ride: one that doesn't misbehave, and is mentally tough, and one that is built to do well whatever job is given to him, for starters. The Great Horseman will take these Great Horses, refuse to take the tough ones, and will turn out a bunch of Great Horses. But does that make the trainer great?
I've seen some horsemen who've done wonderful things with some horses that have some serious issues. They take average horses and make them into something. They'll take the ones that the Great Horseman refuses, because the horse has been abused, or is high-strung, or wasn't started well, and they turn out a darned good horse most of the time, and a great horse some of the time.
Now those are Darned Good Horsemen, and they are deserving of their capital letters.