California Riding Magazine • November, 2013

Ask Charles Wilhelm
What is a super horse?

Question: I have heard so much discussion and so many positive comments about the "super horse" but I am not really sure what a super horse is. Can you give me more information?

Answer: A super horse is simply a horse that is versatile; it is a horse that can perform well in many areas. A super horse works well in the arena, goes safely out on the trail, can be shown in Western Pleasure or ranch classes, and can perform in a variety of other activities. A super horse is compliant and handles stress and unusual circumstances like a horse show, a parade or bicycle riders, well.
For example, a super horse can walk safely and quietly in a parade. Many people take their horses in parades but the horses are prancing around, rearing, on the muscle and continuously pulling on the rider's hands. The horse that does this is not accepting of this type of environment. A super horse is not affected by the crowds, flapping banners, and noise level of a parade. This same horse can go the next day and work cows. The horse may not be a great cow horse but it can be around and move cattle. The horse is sound enough mentally and emotionally to take on the stress of sorting or taking a cow down the fence.

The same horse can go into a Hunter/Jumper class or do Cowboy Dressage. A super horse can do these things because it is obedient to the riding aids. The horse will stop softly, turn and back when we ask. If you only hope your horse will stop or turn when you ask, you do not have a super horse.

I have been working with horses here at the ranch to make them all-around performers, something more than just Ranch Versatility. These horses are safe out on the trail and can do trail obstacles. They go through creeks and rivers, pick their way over rocks and go up and down extremely steep trails. This type of riding also requires the rider to have proper equitation skills. The idea of a super horse is not only to show that the horse is versatile but to show case the horse's positive skills. All horses have areas that need to be worked on. Even the best trained horse has some area that can be improved upon. Even super horses need their skills exercised to keep them sharp.

Not every horse can be a super horse, just like not every horse can be an award winning reining cow horse. However, all horses can play at it and have fun at it. All horses and riders can improve their performance. I look at the "super horse" as a goal and achieving that goal is a progression. You buy a horse, you develop a relationship with the horse, you learn to ride more with your seat and legs, and improve your equitation skills. All this develops a more trusting relationship with your horse. You may take lessons or participate in some clinics, you train your horse or you work with a trainer. You take your horse out on the trail or in some competitions and have varied experiences and continue to develop a closer relationship with the horse and build trust. You keep strengthening that relationship by doing different things with the horse. If all you do is work the horse in the arena, that is the limit of your relationship. If you go outside the arena, you are developing your skills and those of the horse.

The first time you do something new, like working with cows, you and the horse may be concerned or even frightened. You work through it and the horse gets comfortable with cows and your relationship gets stronger. Working through it or learning any new activity with the horse may take working with a trainer or in a clinic. Safety is always the first concern and you need to approach new activities with safety in mind for you and your horse. Think of having the ultimate super horse as a goal. It may take a lifetime of riding and working with your horse but it is a direction. All riders should have goals for their horses. Any person that has a horse should have a goal. You can look at it as what you want to accomplish in three months, six months, in a year or three years. The relationship with your horse is for a life time. My horse Tennison Bey is 25 now and I bought him when he was two. We have a lot of memories and we have had a lot of experiences. Our relationship has grown as we have worked out problems and learned together. He has been and is, a great horse.

The concept of a super horse is just an opportunity to expand your knowledge, your horsemanship skills, your equitation and your experiences. We want the horses here at the ranch to be balanced, relaxed, accepting of a soft rein and other cues. We want the horse soft in the body and with a nice expression in the eye. To ride a horse like this is a true pleasure, and that is always our goal when we ride. We have our horses for the enjoyment of the relationship and the experiences. The wider the variety of experiences you can have with your horse, the more fun it is going to be.

Charles Wilhelm