Experience Is Crucial

A dialog from 20 years ago springs to my mind with unsurprising frequency. It was at the press conference following the individual dressage competition at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. As I recall it, gold-medalist Reiner Klimke was asked if his mount Ahlerich was the best horse he’d ever had.

Klimke: “No.”

Journalist: “Oh! Who was your best horse’”

Klimke: “Dux.”

Journalist: “Then, why didn’t you win a gold with Dux, if he was your best horse’”

Klinke: “Because he was the first horse.”

Dux was far from Klimke’s first horse. But he was Klimke’s first Olympic dressage horse, winning team gold in 1964 and then team gold and individual bronze in ’68.

Klimke went on to team gold and individual bronze in ’76 on Mehmed. He and Ahlerich won team gold and individual bronze at the 1980 alternate Olympics; team and individual gold in ’84; and a team gold in ’88.

The vision I have of Ahlerich and Klimke remains my standard of equestrian harmony, so this dialog always reminds me of the importance of experience and timing. We never know when our “best” horse will come along. He may be there at the beginning, when we don’t know much, or at the end, when we know a lot but no longer have the athleticism to take advantage of it. Or he may be there when our ability can take full advantage of his special qualities.

Of course, “the best” may mean different things to each of us. We may really need our best horse when we’re just starting, to inspire us. Or we may need him later, as a perfect packer when our friends have retired to pedestrian status. Or we may need our best horse at the moment we suffer a setback and have to regain confidence. Or we may need our best horse when we’re establishing our credentials as a teacher.

Watching that young prospect trotting around at the end of the longe line, we may see all our hopes and dreams wrapped up in one sleek chestnut, bay or gray package. Beautiful youngsters don’t always fulfill their promise, though. Their temperament may not match their movement or the personality of the rider. Or the trainer simply may not know as much as he needs to know.

Klimke was a unique equestrian since he was able to use his talent and experience to travel that lengthy road to the very top more than once. As hard as it is to imagine, however, there might have been even more medals if Ahlerich had preceded Dux.

No matter what you know now, or how much as you hope to know someday, timing still is as important in horses as it is in life. But the quality of your experience is a vital component in that timing.

-Margaret Freeman