I think this is a questions we all ponder at times, and it sure is something that comes up in discussions with non-riders. We just sit there, and the horse does all the work. Right?
Equestrians tend to bristle at that, rightfully so. We know how much work and dedication it takes to make it look like we "just sit there." Out goal is to make it look like we just "sit there," to make it look effortless. So we could chose to take that statement as a compliment I suppose.
But I think the real answer to how much "just sitting" we do, depends largely on the horse. Pippi is a ride every stride type of mount. If you want her to stay on the rail and go straight, you have to ride that or she will fall-in and stop in the middle of the arena. If you are unsure, she will take over and do what she wants to do. She is just waiting for an opportunity to do so. She is never robotic, NEVER, and demands that you stay focused as well. Super sensitive, but also demanding that you send clear messages and follow through. She is connected to her rider, and demands a connection back.
I know another horse that is totally different. This horse does its job. Regardless of what the riders does. She hears the loudspeaker announce "Trot, Trot your horses" and she picks up the trot. Forward she goes. She knows to trot for ground-poles, and cross-rails and she does. The riders, beginners and children, are safe and secure and have to do very little to get a great result, and they would have to do a lot to really screw it up. I have seen little girls with little to no skills look awesome on this horse, and beam with their blue ribbons. She is a great horse to get a rider comfortable and gather self esteem, but not such a great horse to really learn on. She does it all automatically. No steering or anything really needed.
So how important is the rider vs. the horse? The answer is; It Depends! With some horses the rider is 90% of the ride, while with others the horse is. It depends on the training level of the horse mostly. Some horses like Pippi demands that you partner up, plus we are both learning new skills and so neither of us is automatic right now. Another horse may have a rider that is super green, but be so seasoned that the ribbons flow like water.
Sometimes it is hard, when you are working really hard, to know that you can't beat the team with the seasoned horse and the rider that is greener than you. But I do think you are allowed to take some extra pride in the fact that you are training your own horse, and so have more than just yourself to worry about. I do, and I will not be ashamed of that. I loved watching Pippi and Miranda because Miranda trained Pippi herself. My pride was doubled, and the joy was as well. When Pippi and I finally compete, hopefully in August, I will also be extra nervous. I don't have a push button horse, but I do have a real partner.
And by the way, here is pet-peeve of mine: if you are going to put on Facebook (or in a blog) that you placed in a class, please also say how many entries were in your class. The great thing about that kind of honesty is that when you place among few you look humble, and when you place in a big class you have earned the right to say so. Just my two cents.....