Along for the Ride: Baking a cake

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 nationally competitive rider. 

Give yourself some time to train your horse – it’s like baking a cake! (***Warning & Apology*** too many baking analogies used in this blog)

I admit it – I was never into the horse training part – I just wanted to go show! I would let Warwick get them ready for me and I’d hop on and go compete. It worked well for us for a long time. Warwick was the baker and I wanted that cake. I think Warwick wished that I would join him in the kitchen a little more and embrace the process, but I didn’t have the inclination or the time for that! I was working full time and I just wanted to go and compete and eat lots of cake!

It was only recently that I began to join him in the kitchen. I think it was a combination of hearing Warwick at clinics or in videos explaining things. I think it was all finally beginning to click for me. It didn’t hurt that I was working for him now and was being exposed to all the analogies, stories and successes. I was actually pretty motivated to get started! It was good timing too. I had a new horse that needed me to go backwards and through the entire process to fill in some holes – this was Sherlock.   Combined with the fact that Warwick was gone a lot, there was literally nobody else to do it, it was all on me.

It was frustrating at first because I thought I bought the cake and just needed to re-decorate it! I knew what Sherlock was capable of – he was an amazing reining horse. But, what kept him from his potential was the anxiety that he held onto. So, I had to go back and look in the bowl to see what ingredients I had and what he needed instead of just slapping some frosting on and calling it good!

I mention the cake analogy because Warwick likens the horse training process to baking a cake. So, let’s talk about it. What are the most basic ingredients you need to bake a cake? Google says: flour, sugar, butter, milk, eggs, baking powder, salt and vanilla (I had to go to Google because I just buy the cake mix in a box if I’m going to bake a cake – you see a trend here?).

So, say that you didn’t have any flour and you wanted to make a cake. What do you have in your house that looks like flour? I have some hair coloring powder that looks a bit like flour. What if you used that instead of flour in your cake? I think you might die if you ate that cake.

What about if you used salt instead of sugar? I mean, I know that cravings are usually for sugar or salt, but they are not interchangeable! I really don’t think the cake would satisfy either if you used salt in the place of sugar.

What if the eggs were rotten or the milk was off? Not a very edible concoction.

Obviously, most of us have at least some of the ingredients that we need to bake a cake already in our pantry, but if we decide to try baking a cake without the right amount of good ingredients, then we are going to end up with an inedible, possibly dangerous cake.

We see this with horses a lot. Maybe someone wants a smoother lead change or to go out on a trail ride and they have not perfected the steps leading up to it (their good ingredients). Maybe they have gone through the motions of the steps, but have done all of them mediocre. Maybe they have skipped a few steps they didn’t think were that important. That would be like saying “I just used one rotten egg and some hair color”. Or “I only had ¼ of the flour so I just used that”.

Sherlock had the major ingredients. But, I think the eggs might have been rotten and a little too much salt was put in his recipe! I had to go in and scoop that sH*$ out of his bowl and replace it with good ingredients. And, if you think about that, it takes some time to get all of those rotten eggs and salt crystals out of the batter! After the tediousness of that process, I had a cake worth eating and putting frosting on (see Post Script).

The same goes with training your horse. You need to build a pantry of good ingredients with your horse! You need to teach the basic skills that are needed in order to build upon them or to fix a problem. This takes time and you need to embrace the process and the time it takes. Just a quick tip – it takes a lot less time if you assemble good ingredients all along the way and you don’t have to go back and scoop stuff out! When you do, you will have the most amazing cake that you have ever seen.

Warwick has some other analogies that he uses about the horse training process. One is called Assembling Your Horse’s Toolbox on youtube. Here is the link:

Thanks for reading.

As a post script to this – I went with the Sherlock cake that I had re-mixed for the entire year of 2016 and we ended up 3rd in the World in one of our divisions (certainly not a bad result!) But there was still something sour about it. He is the horse that had Warwick looking for answers that he didn’t have yet. We are so grateful to this little horse. For that reason, we spent all of 2017 letting his cake batter sit in the refrigerator, removing bits at a time and adding in good stuff (funnily enough there was a lot of sugar cubes involved). Warwick has just started to see if the new recipe is ready to put in the oven again or if it needs more ingredients. We look forward to seeing what happens!

Working with Sherlock in 2015 before we had an arena, Holden supervising.  Yes, I am wearing appropriate footwear!