Hilary Moore Hebert: The “Artist” Horse

If you are a lifelong student of dressage, like me, you live by Socrates’ words: “True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing.” I cannot count the times I have said this to myself and students. Many of those times involved what I like to call the “Artist” Horse. If you have worked with an Artist Horse, you know what I mean. Like any true artist, they are brilliant when they are inspired, but they can be very particular at times and others … a massive pain in the #%&!*.

Here are 3 ways to recognize an Artist Horse:

1. He likes to show off … in moderation. At any show or clinic, he will pull out more energy then you knew he had in him and maybe even wink at the judge. (Think: Child beauty queen dancing on stage, fueled by 10 Pixie Stix and soda). And, like that child, will crash and burn the moment his energy has been spent. You just have to pray that it happens after your big class and means zero energy and not a tantrum. This can result in anything from feeling like you are trying to get piaffe from a donkey to Artist Horse calling for his stablemates for 5 minutes while you are riding in front of an Olympic-level judge. And if your trainer gets on to “show him who is boss” Artist Horse will gladly set her straight.

2. He is selective about equipment. Nothing was working in my saddle search for one Artist Horse. Custom saddle from X company, custom saddle from Y company, borrowed saddles, demo saddles. Nothing was perfect. He would feel OK, but maybe it was some underlying issue that was the problem. Just as I was about to give up on the saddle search and call the vet, I was handed someone’s used custom saddle that was very underflocked in the back. “Try it,” I was told. “We can always have them put more flocking in if you decide you like the way you feel in it.” So I did. It sat very low in the back on Artist Horse, but I was just going to get on for a little bit to see if we were even close. Wouldn’t you know, we picked up the trot and he floated. His back lifted up and suddenly, in motion, the saddle was level. I looked in the mirror, called for witnesses, and we all saw the same thing. What was a 3-inch downward slope in his back at rest had lifted in work and now his back was level in the trot and canter. This “ill-fitting” saddle was the perfect match for Artist Horse, but a touch too small for me. So what did I do? I bought the saddle and went on a diet to fit in it, because if anyone was going to adjust it certainly wasn’t going to be him.

3. He picks favorites. I had a student who owned an Artist Horse. Without fail, whenever he saw her coming in the field he would run in the other direction. She is the nicest woman and didn’t have a mean bone in her body, but he ran from her like she was taking him to his death. I would have to catch him for her, because when I went to the field he would come trotting right up to me. I told her it was because I did the feedings and he must have thought I was bringing dinner … I never told her that he trotted over for the woman who was half-leasing him … and my working student … and my barn workers. Actually, he just ran from his owner. No matter what she brought him (carrots, grain, sugar), he would always run around the field for at least 10 minutes before giving up. When Artist Horse decided he was tired, he allowed her to walk to him and put a halter on.

Do you have an Artist Horse? Post your own way to recognize an Artist Horse in the comments below as #4 and explain it as I did…


6 Responses to “Hilary Moore Hebert: The “Artist” Horse”

  1. #4 My Artist Horse never gives up and still is acting as a clown. When we end our performances he always has done something funny in the arena. I can’ t be angry about it because he finds himself very funny. When we are standing next to our trailer he always looks at me with that attitude of his as off he is saying: Wow I did great again didn’t I….. then he looks very pleased about himself!

  2. kim clelland says:

    I am a horse photographer. My artist horse knows when someone has a camera and when it is not pointed at him, he will do something to get attention until the person takes his photo.

  3. Katie says:

    #4 I’ve owned my “artist horse” for 14 years now – he has long since been retired, a now 20 year old lippitt morgan who is still as sassy as when we first met (i was 9 years old, he was 6 and very recently gelded. it was the year 1999) the first time i sat on my artist, there was about 2 feet of snow on the ground and he was trotting like a saddle horse. despite the dressage rider in me, is fell in love immediately (i was 9 years old – bound to happen) “Max” the artist was purchased for a mere $2500 and boy did i learn to ride from that day on. Max was not afraid to be an absolute PUNK despite my lack of experience and small statured self. I got dumped into a fence and stepped on, dragged down a field and bombed many a test, due to this horse’s edgy and unpredictable nature. Fortunately, my determination matched his and we became quickly inseperable. Max would follow me around the paddock, become depressed at horse shows where we had to travel until I arrived and sat with him in his stall, and eventually refused to respond to anyone else but me. Max was a talented horse .. no doubt. He had swagger, he had lovely gaits, naturally fell into place and a beautiful frame with a steady outside rein, and could collect himself nicely. Max was retired early due to an injury and has since become a pasture buddy due to exacerbated arthritis.. He is still an artist, though – no doubt about it. I still love him a bunch.. Now that he is 20 and I am 23, I feel as though we can have more adult conversations with each other, and look back on the past. appreciate the past, and I always make sure to thank him for making me a strong rider. Having worked professionally in the dressage world, and ridden many a beast, I know for certain that this is true: Horses with a talent for art are horses that make it to the top.

  4. Makon says:

    My Artist Horse watches herself out of the corner of her eye in the arena mirrors, even totally turned her head to check herself out during some beautiful trot work the other night!

  5. P.kay says:

    My Artist horse works soo wonderful al home but as soon as I want to attend a clinc he brings out the foal that’s inside him or the stallion it depends … I allways have to remind him hi is 12 and not a stallion anymore! So we work dressage at home but no competition ever I wouldn’t dare!!:)))

  6. Jane Webster says:

    I retired my artist horse whereupon he sulked, bullied the two younger competitive horses, my partner, our dogs and anything else unfortunate enough to come into his presence. thanks to brilliant blacksmith/ vet Artist horse has been sound if stiff for the last nine months so we loaded him up and took him to a lesson. he passaged from the trailer to the school and performed absolutely brilliantly with me sitting on his back doing nothing. Artist horse can suss out human intentions in a fraction of a second. pretentious twits get bucked off; those who treat him with due reverence he gives his utmost.

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