During my travels and work, I’ve met, ridden and trained hundreds of horses around the world. In this blog series I will go through some of the most impactful experiences I’ve had and lessons I’ve learned from the horses I’ve had the pleasure of working with. We’re almost at the end of this blog post series. In this second to last blog, I’ll tell you all about a wonderfully sweet gelding called Zantos. He was my dressage horse in the Netherlands for a large part of my teenage years, and he’s the reason I ended up following my dreams of trail riding around the world.
As I mentioned in my previous post, about a thoroughbred mare in South Africa, Zantos was the first horse I seriously tried to change up my training methods with. I still mainly rode and trained him for dressage, but also did quite a lot of trail riding, bridleless and bitless riding, groundwork, and even cross country. It’s not normal to do groundwork with dressage horses in Europe, even not when you’re backing them for the first time. Some of the best dressage riders in the world have never done groundwork, and some of the best dressage horses don’t even know how to back up in hand. In my opinion, a terrible practice, but it is what it is, and it is what I’ve been taught. I did always have the desire to hang out with my horses on the ground more. With my pony, whom I’ll tell you about in the next and final blog in this series, I often just hung out in the field or stable, or ran and played around with her. However, I never actually knew that groundwork was a thing until Instagram, where, after all those years, I finally saw videos of people in different disciplines and parts of the world doing groundwork with their horses. I was delighted, learnt all I could, and started to do lots of groundwork with Zantos. He was very bum-high, as he was actually bred for show-jumping, and he would often lean onto the bit while riding. Lots of trainers wanted me to ride him in harsher bits so I could “pull him up”, but I didn’t want to and decided to go the other way. I started riding Zantos in a neck rope, and occasionally in a bitless bridle, and he did wonderfully! It actually really helped our dressage training, and he became lighter and stronger every month.
Zantos was not perfectly built for dressage, as I said before. He did truly enjoy it though, even if he struggled with the more uphill exercises every now and then. Zantos was a very relaxed horse, and didn’t have that extremely high energy level that is bred into dressage horses nowadays. I loved that about him, he was patient, willing, and relaxed enough for me to try lots of different things with him. The first time I rode him bareback, he was slightly surprised when I hopped on, but despite that, just went about his business as usual. I am eternally grateful to have had the pleasure of riding him for so long. We often went trail riding, on the farm roads, through the forest, and in the fields, and he was always wonderful. He had a lot more energy on trail rides than he did in the dressage arena, and it was obvious he enjoyed it much more. When we finally maxed out in the dressage levels, due to my very mediocre talent, and Zantos’ age and build, I decided to try showjumping and cross country with him. I am honestly the biggest pussy when it comes to showjumping, but I do alright with cross country, and Zantos loved it! For years, I’d been obsessed with training my way up the dressage levels, and I truly believed that should be the only goal for me. I never considered other disciplines, and definitely never thought that trail riding was something I could take seriously. Zantos showed me his love for all things outdoorsy, and over time, I realised that trail riding is the thing that truly makes me happy, and that the ultimate goal for horse and rider is of course happiness.
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