Along for the Ride – Post Vegas Crash

by Robyn Schiller

Robyn is the wife of horse (and people) trainer Warwick Schiller. She invites you to join her as she journeys through her life as trainer’s wife, mother, businesswoman and Internationally competitive rider.

There seems to be a bit of a trend going on.  I felt it after WEG as well. The post-event mental crash.

After Vegas, instead of feeling energized and inspired, I have been feeling out of sorts and non-committal.  As I write this, it’s a month after the event and I have not ridden once. This happened after WEG as well.

I’ve spent the month learning new things, reading books, taking a few online courses and trying to decide where my head is regarding the horses and competition and actually life in general.  A total detox, though, from actual riding.  

Where my head is.

I love competing – but I’m just not sure about the reining anymore.  The more I learn about horses, the less I want them to just be obedient.  Reining is the ultimate in obedience. The paragraph that explains what reining is says, “To rein a horse is not only to guide him BUT TO CONTROL HIS EVERY MOVEMENT.”  I don’t know how that sits with me anymore. 

I guess I care more about how they are feeling nowadays. I’ve concluded that I really don’t want to have to prepare a horse to be perfect, which is what we do in the reining, even though it’s never perfect in the show pen.  If they put a step wrong, we fix it. If they don’t spin fast enough we motivate them, if they don’t stop deep enough, we reinforce it. And watching that happen at a show now is hard. It’s hard because there are varying levels of how that all plays out in the warm-up pen and it’s never to the horse’s benefit, mostly it’s just heartbreaking for me to watch. 

I am blessed to have horses now that don’t need all of that.  We rarely work on maneuvers, we work more on their “gymnastics”.  Which is what I want. I guess I’ve figured out some things by just writing this. Maybe our “schtick” is to continue to live up to the meme…”Love the Animal First and the Sport Second.”  Showing others that this is doable and you can have success in other ways than winning a blue ribbon.  

I’ve been invited to submit a video for another large Invitational Freestyle event in mid-January.  Maybe this is a way for me to channel my creativity and love for my horses or to showcase what is possible with the connection I’ve built with them.  It’s flattering and tempting…and a very long trip across the rocky mountains in January. I’ll need a good song and routine that I can be inspired from and inspire others.  It gives me something to think about anyway.

I do appreciate the opportunity to get this out there, it has been cathartic just writing it down, so for that I am thankful. (I think that word is appropriate here).

Thanks for reading, humbled.


25 thoughts on “Along for the Ride – Post Vegas Crash

  1. Very interesting. I think a beautiful freestyle demo might be just what you and your pony need. Good luck!
    Can’t wait to see it!

  2. Robyn, I’m right there with you on this quest. I’m searching for a willing partner in my riding. I believe this is part of what WS has been talking about as he examines the different aspects of horsemanship.

    I don’t want a horse that is blind to our relationship as partners but rather a co-adventurer as we traverse a field, paddock or lesson plan. Let’s work with our horses to expand on the basic trust which we have been developing.

    I’m excited about the next stage of my “horsing around” and looking forward to whatever may come.

    Let’s ride!

  3. Wow. Love that a well known horseman ( women) is acknowledging that principal before purpose should really be part of our daily lives with our horses & in life in general. Hope the world follows !

  4. i showed. i don’t show anymore. no judgement for others just much happier not having to prove how perfect i am as a trainer/rider or how perfect my horse is. some of my best and favorite horses would never win a ribbon. do what you need. it’s not quitting; it’s evolving.

  5. Hi Robyn,

    Thank you for sharing your personal journey. I am pestered all of the time, what do you do with your horses…. I have tried some different things, but am trying to figure out, what suits us the best. That response – really tilts some folks sideways. I cannot explain it to them, if they have never considered whether or not their horse is happy. Growing up, my horse and I rode trails…. just trails that adjoined the place we had. We had amazing times. We were friends. We were very happy. I let him have a say and he allowed me to have a say. He saved my life once…. I would give all that I own to have him back. Since I cannot have him back – I am learning how to start over with the boys I have now. Very happy to have found you, Warwick and Bekah Tate. Hopefully, I will be able to forge deep and loving bonds with my boys and we will have adventures – riding around. If they seem to really enjoy anything in particular and it clicks with me – we might try more – but otherwise I feel blessed just to “be” around them. They are making me a better person. Hugs and happy trails to you!

  6. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this Robyn. I so feel a sport at the expense of the horse’s spiritual, emotional, mental and physical well being is not what it is about. Their relationship with us is about connection and learning together at a much deeper level. I know Warwick has written about biting horses and I will have to see how this plays out, but am “beginning” to feel my horse offers a nip if I am not PRESENT!!!! It brings me back to presence for sure. Interested in your thoughts Robyn.

  7. You are blessed with the ability to succinctly explain your thoughts and are brave enough to do it. I am sure many people have in their past and present relationships with their horses have felt the frustration and confusion of their own similar insights and have not known where to go from there. You are showing many the way of having a meaningful relationship with horses. Thankyou.

  8. I really feel ambivient about the reining program. I have watched the videos of soooo many horses who are as ‘into’ the competition as their riders–they just flow catlike from movement to movement, heads down and forward, and you KNOW that is one animal who is doing the best they know becasue they want to. But I also see those whose eyes are wide, heads caught between, and the tension and…yes…fear…it is just palatable. I don’t like seeing that. In fact, in so many horse sports, I’m seeing the Lust to Win in the rider, and the struggle to survive in the horse.

    In my pasture I have a grand mare. She’s huge…over 16 hands. She was a ‘college horse’ who was trained by a student in a college program out east (Michigan?), and then ridden as a reiner for 4-6 years. I did a pretty deep search online, but beyond what I can get from 2 former owners (one was a competitor) it is thin, but she campaigned HARD. However…I look at Capri’s back legs, particularly her pasterns, and I can see however long it was, it was like a LONG campaign for Capri. When I got her at 8 years, I paid big money for a mare I figured I’d never ride. Both back pasterns were HUGE…like a football stuffed in the hoof capsules. The guy who sold her to me said she was a former ‘schoolie’ who’d been teaching kids how to ride the past year. He also bragged about her reiner career, and showed me she would spin like a top…just like Bundy. I saw pinned ears, a ‘gathered’ stance and a very stressed face after he did it. She moved off badly after, probably because of those huge, swollen pasterns. But he touted her bloodlines telling me that he could sell her in a minute as a broodie just on those. Since every horsesale online and off has been stuffed full of ‘fired’ broodies for years, I knew I just needed to bring Capri home to be companion to the other mare he’d sold me to ride, even if she did cost 3 times as much.

    So I look at my ex-reining mare, and see how happy she is now, just occasionally footsore after a fresh barefoot trim. Turmeric Golden Paste has worked wonders, bringing the swelling down and relieving her pain. She walks and trots sound, and runs just enough to let me know she’s okay. I wish I could ride her…but I understand in her condition I’m too heavy, and anything over 50# would be. I am also happy that I’ve never been interested in competition sports in any way, as I now know it is just a meat grinder that chews the good horses down into just ‘former competition horses’, good for companions and kids pony rides. The Western Pleasure, Reining, Cutting etc, English Hunter, Thoroughbred Racing, Harness Racing, Dressage…BIG LICK…heck…you name it. It is just Riders loving the payoff first and horses second too many times.

  9. Well…crap. So I meant to say, I appreciate Robyn saying she’s lost her drive for competition, because it so well fits with the Schiller Method. I have no doubt that she loves her horses before she loves the sport!

  10. “I guess I care more about how they are feeling nowadays. I’ve concluded that I really don’t want to have to prepare a horse to be perfect, which is what we do in the reining, even though it’s never perfect in the show pen. ”

    this happens to many who find relationship paths in various animals or disciplines. When a famous dogman began clicker training, her desire to compete and win spiraled down as she explored how far she could extend the connection with her dogs. She got her mojo back and is as competitive as ever, tho now there is an additional factor of looking to see if her dog is enjoying itself. As I’ve gotten older, I want that connection and am less enthused about proving it or showing others how well I can do. I find a deep, quiet personal satisfaction in just toodling around with my animals.

  11. Thank you for sharing this. There is so much pressure to “show off” a horses skills which seems to often be the way many judge it’s worth, when in my opinion giving them “life skills” to enable them to negotiate a human world safely is the greatest gift you can share with them.

  12. Thank you for your thoughts and putting your feelings out there . I know for myself my goals have change alot about what I want with my horses just being gives and fulfills my passion just to be near them and care for them I guess just keeping it simple. Thanks again take care and bless you.

  13. I found this very interesting , as an older rider I have competed in many disciplines over the years and in the last few years have had quarter horses. I loved the Adrenalin rush of reining a bit like eventing but after watching so many top reining horses in the pen I started to feel quite sorry for them. To me most of them don’t look happy they look resigned to the fact that this is a job they have to do no matter what the cost to their mind and body. I have always had a deep love of horses since a child and even though my body is quite damaged now the feeling I get when I sit on a horse cannot be explained th someone who has not had that feeling .
    Perhaps we gain more wisdom and compassion as we get older but when I see some of the things that that are done to our beloved horses in the name of training and competition it makes me very sad.To see them going around the pen looking like soulless mechanical toys , They are such magnificent animals and most would burst their hearts for us if we asked and then when they can no longer perform at the level wanted so many are just tossed away like trash —- not all I know but so many are.
    Sit and watch your horse in the paddock and if it doesn’t bring joy to your heart you should not own one.

  14. Congratulations Robyn.
    The ego can get in the way often and you see through that.
    You and your fine steed will benefit.
    Enjoy easy rides where you and your horse can both relax.
    Time for more trail rides?

  15. I watched reining warm up at WEG in Tryon. Had never seen it before. My impression was that the horses were robotic. If they shifted to see what a noise was they were instantly corrected. At first I was amazed. But then I began to feel something very different and soon found myself filled with sadness, tears running down my face, and I couldn’t bear to watch another second. Outside the venue, I had to hug my friend tightly and sob. I’m still amazed by the intensity of my reaction. What I experienced was what the horses felt I guess, as I have no other explanation, and I don’t even know what to call it. Loss of autonomy? Enslavement? Subservience? Just doin’ a job?? We humans are such greedy self-focused creatures.

  16. Struggling with this as well…before I even got to the competition stage. My horse is talented and athletic and gets stressed out when I ramp up the reining maneuvers. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It’s ok, I think, to say ” I want my horse to be happy with what we’re doing “

  17. I changed my ways with horses a long time ago, I couldn’t bring myself to keep “using” them for my satisfaction, I wanted more, I also learned that “less is more” when it comes to horses and with that in mind, I now go out to the pasture get on one of the horses and go on a free ride, no saddle or bit, just a rope, more than anything for my own sence of safety in case I lose my balance. My horses roam free 24/7 they come to me and genuinely enjoy been by my side, not for food or treats like it used to be, they just like been with me. And that is priceless. When you take the expectations away, you can truly enjoy horses.

  18. I agree Robin! It should be fun to compete. But if you are in the horse training business it may be a necessity. I do wonder when watching reining what those horses have been through sometimes at such young ages. It takes very special horses and special riders to get to your level. I guess horses are like us in that they need variety, some peace, some breaks from too much pressure. We need to recognize those needs in our horses and ourselves. Thank you for sharing your feelings. It is good for us to know that you have some of the same thoughts we ordinary riders have. Such as, “why am I doing this” “ is my horse happy” “do we really need to prove something to others? Those of us who have the luxury of being able to show as a hobby must stop and think things through.

  19. Have you thought of picking up a different discipline just for the thrill and challenge of a new learning curve? I found that while trying something new we often are able to relieve ourselves (and horses) of the pressure of obtaining excellence. Jumping, driving, western dressage, working equitation, even mountain trail riding and swimming horseback in a river. If the reining no longer brings you happiness, it’s ok to let go. No need to hold on to things just because you are talented at them. Sometimes the variety of being a jack of all trades,brings more joy than being a master.

    PS. Brene would applaud your vulnerability!

  20. Sounds like you need a nice quiet ride out on the trail and breath deep. It’s such a bonding experience between horse and rider.

  21. Thank you for this honest & vulnerable evaluation, we need more of this mindset in the equine “industry”. I love the example you & your husband are & the videos are always a go to when problem solving is needed.

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