Whenever the fact that I ride a harness horse comes up in conversation, I almost always get asked about all the problems that come with that decision. I get asked about how I taught Leo to trot, and how I deal with the ‘canter problem’. People often ask me how I taught him to jump as though he is incapable of lifting his legs off he ground like every other breed. They also comment on how brave I am for jumping something that can only pace around at high speeds with its head in the air and couldn’t possibly be good for anything else. But we’ll save those topics for another day.
One thing I very rarely get asked about is the benefits of having a harness horse. So rarely in fact that the first time it happened it took me a couple minutes to come up with an answer. Society and the horse industry in general seems to like to focus on the problems and hardships of a situation. Rarely, if ever is attention is paid to the benefits which outweigh those so called issues.
I didn’t get Leo directly from his old trainer, Kelly Hoerdt. (I actually didn’t end up meeting Kelly and the team at Bedrock Training Centre until a number of years later.) I found Leo through an ad on a website, showed it to my dad and we gave the lady a call and went out that afternoon. Having started out in riding lessons at a local Arabian show barn, I was beyond surprised to find when I walked in the barn that it wasn't a horse pawing, throwing its head and impatiently moving from side to side that I had expected of this 5 year old green broke race horse. Instead it was the sweet, honest, quiet guy parked behind that horse, head down, eyes half mast, patiently waiting for whatever his owner at the time had planned.
Another thing that surprised me was his trailering skills. Many horses, even many well seasoned competitive horses, are awful at trailering. Loading or unloading or waiting in the trailer, they just suck at it. They fuss, or rear, or pull back, or paw and kick incessantly, or a fan favourite, plant their feet and refuse to budge. Not Leo. To this day he’s still wonderful to trailer. Once he’s had a look, he’ll step right in and wait for the rest of the crew to be ready to go.
In addition to his manners at home, and while travelling, Leo was also a champ at shows. I had be accustomed to horses that would throw a fuss if any other horses came too close to them in a warm up ring, or during a show class. Red ribbons on tails had been an accepted part of taking your horse out in public. It was something we had been taught to look for and avidly avoid. Thankfully, Leo didn’t need any of that. From being trained and worked in close proximity to other horses (and carts/sulkies) he was already used to having other horses and their drivers/riders in his space and was very comfortable working with them there. Once we got to know each other he was willing to trust my judgment about passing in between horses with only a few inches of clearance on either side because he had been taught and understood that he could trust his pilot. When another horse may have balked or spun away, Leo would just put his head down and march right on through.