The Perfect Horse

By Terry Golson

I’m auditing the United State Dressage Federation’s L Judges Program. It’s an exacting course that leads to certification for those who want to be the arbiters of dressage tests in this country. A couple of weekends ago a few dozen of us watched and critiqued eight hours of video clips and three hours of live horse and rider pairs. The top scores went to what were called quality horses, those with the physical attributes that allow them to seemingly float across the ring. These horses are perfect for upper level dressage, but there wasn’t one that I would trade for this.



Tonka is absolutely correct; on the dressage scale of 0 to 10 he consistently scores 7s, but he’ll never be able to move like a 17.2 hh warmblood and get 9s. That’s okay. I was thinking about perfection yesterday when I was out with these two:


I’ve written about them before, when they first met. The next time Fairy and Amy came to Hayden’s farm, I got on and we rode in the ring. Then we were ready for the trails! I rode Hayden to make sure that he understood polite behavior (stay a horse’s length from Fairy’s tail and walk at a steady pace) and then it was time for Susan, Hayden’s person, to get on.

Fairy is alert but sane, and friendly but not a pushover. She likes being in the lead and as long as Hayden doesn’t try to pass her, she’s as easy-going as can be. Hayden takes comfort in Fairy’s steady presence, and even when two loose dogs came gallumping and barking up to the horses, Hayden remained calm.

Neither Hayden nor Fairy float around a ring, but they both can put in willing and correct dressage tests. And they can walk through the woods, putting smiles on their owner’s faces. I’d score them both 10s.

Do you have a perfect horse? Tell me about them in the comments!

7 thoughts on “The Perfect Horse

  • Tracy

    What is perfect, indeed.

    Over the years, I’ve owned many horses. Most were purchased to retrain as pleasure horses after careers on the race track. Some were personal pets– “pets” in the true sense, meaning they served no recreational purpose except to be themselves. These include a 9hh pony I rescued when he was under a year old from an auction lot, dehydrated and in such pain from a totally split hoof that he shook, desperately balancing on his three remaining tiny foal legs. Once healed, his personality bloomed. He was a complete character and together with his handicapped little rider, showed me so much about partnership and the true friendship these animals are capable of. Never was there a more beloved pony. Another was the lame ex-NYC carriage horse that despite his chronic discomfort, displayed gratitude for his life and all the care he received, and demonstrated it with patience, willingness and such earnestness, trust and compliance that I learned a lot about what ‘grace’ looks like just by being around him. My personal riding horse for many years was a thoroughbred blessed with both beauty and athleticism. Together, we were able to accomplish quite a few milestones in eventing, and much more important, experience a real mind-meld communication that enabled me to experience that incredible feeling of floating, flying and harmony with another being that only a few partnerships bring.

    There were dozens more. Some that were so beautiful walking off the trailer that they took my breath away. These elegant beauties filled my soul just by watching them move in their beauty. (Honestly, is there anything more glorious than watching a beautiful, healthy and spirited horse trot at liberty around a huge pasture, snorting at the breeze, mane and tail flying, and seeming to float just above the ground?) Others were so anxious and damaged that they tried my last nerve and taught me all about patience, empathy, pure responsibility, and quiet dedication. To see them relaxed, content, acting silly and happy under saddle was the only report card I needed.

    Every one of them was a gift. And every success criteria was a little bit different. Terry, you’re one of the first trainers I’ve ever known who “gets” this.

  • Laura Allemand

    I think it’s the other way around. Every horse has a perfect person! They just have to be found. Thankfully, most people out there that don’t need the “perfect” horse to be happy. Only to have true love and a great relationship with the horse they have. My horse certainly isn’t perfect. Just like Tonka, my guy isn’t the perfect build for my chosen horse sport (gymkhana), but he tries, and I have lots of fun. And out on the trails, he is alert, but sane. And in our quiet times at home, he lets me know how much he appreciates all I do for him. That is all I can ask!

    • Terry Golson Post author

      Wonderful perspective. Gymkhana! The only experience that I have with games were easy ones done on slow horses at summer camp. It looks like such fun.

      • Tracy

        Terry, you haven’t lived until you’ve played broom polo sitting astride…backwards. Not true gymkhana,but still a blast.

  • HeatherE

    Oh, I think all my ponies are perfect! Teddy who worries and wants so hard to get things right that now he comes to the mounting block and lifts his right front hoof. (I accidentally clicked the hoof lift and now I have a three legged pony to try to get used to idea of bearing weight on his back! I’m trying to figure how to correct it without stressing him.)
    And there’s Duchess who has come along way and tries even when she’s scared. (And I try to keep from scaring her.)
    And last and smallest-Bug who is perfectly horrible and smart and funny. She’s taught herself to wait for *her* supper and not go gobble everyone else’s!
    So yeah, perfect ponies with me trying to live up to them.

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