The honourable all-rounder

Are you and your horse all-rounders – and proud of it? Or do you confess, in an embarrassed sort of way, that you “just do a bit of everything”?

Riders are so eager to specialise that being an all-rounder has acquired a tinge of being second-best. I’ve even heard it used in a derogatory way, along the lines of the old saying: “Jack of all trades, master of none.”

While it’s great that young riders can develop a passion for a discipline, they and their parents should remember that pyramids are built on broad bases. If you don’t have a good grounding in all-round horsemanship and riding, you won’t make it as a dressage, showing or showjumping star.

I don’t mean that youngsters who show a natural talent shouldn’t be nurtured. This summer, I watched a friend’s ten-year-old with a natural eye for a stride produce a fabulous flowing showjumping round over a tricky course. She dreams of being a professional showjumper and maybe, one day, she’ll achieve that.

The thing is, she was at Pony Club camp. That week, she and her pony had flatwork lessons, enjoyed gymkhana practice – where she cheerfully admitted she was “rubbish” – and tackled a small cross-country course.

Another friend revels in new challenges. Her latest venture has been to try barrel racing on her ex-showjumper, and they ended up in the rosettes – just as they do when competing in dressage and showjumping.

Surely it isn’t a coincidence that horses and ponies who have varied lifestyles seem to be the happiest, or that many riders who are at the top of their game insist on their horses having time out from their specialities to go hacking, work over poles and so on.

And where do you see so many examples of horses with their ears pricked, enjoying every moment? You’ve guessed: eventing. There will always be riders who equate the dressage phase to swimming with sharks, or wince at the thought of the showjumping poles clattering down, but they still love the challenge of this ultimate test of all-round ability.

A horse who can do everything at riding club or Pony Club level is a joy and a treasure. A rider who can do the same has every right to be proud.

So don’t put yourself down or let anyone assume that an all-rounder is inferior to a specialist. Tell yourself – and everyone else – that one-trick ponies aren’t necessarily the best.