Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Difficult Ones

pictured: not a game
I had a dressage lesson on Saturday. Courage brought his A game and was SUPER for his w/t/c both directions lesson. I was so pleased. All our goals and plans felt achievable. I left the barn with that happy glow of knowing I was right where I needed to be for both my horse and I.

And then there's Monday. I came out late because I wanted to hack around a little and grab some pretty sunset pictures so I could play with a new photo editor on my phone.

Or like.

Not.

the good moments are getting better
We could just not do any of those things and instead have a terrible horrible no good very bad day. (Really a rotten time to forget both martingale and spurs).

Yeah.

There were moments of brilliance on the lunge line, but mostly moments of idiocy. By the end of the session, Courage had completely soaked through an entire, thick saddle pad.

And I'm not even kidding.

He can be difficult sometimes. I don't know why it's asshole hour every hour.

I wanted to be mad at him. Hell, I was mad at him.

But he's just so damn beautiful. I look at him and I know I want this to work so freaking bad.

So tell me. I know there are others of you out there who have difficult horses and have worked through all kinds of hard things. What keeps you going when things are tough? 


44 comments:

  1. Fiction is a crazy horse. He'll have moments where everything just clicks into place, and then seconds later it all just goes to crap. I guess I get through it with infinite patience and the fact that I would never be able to find another horse like him in a price range that I could afford haha. I really lucked out!

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  2. Ugh! Stupid Feedly just ate two comments. Anyway, I think I'm just too hard headed to give up on Indy. I know that she can do it, so I just keep trying. Don't get me wrong, there are definitely days that I strongly consider giving her away, but the moment usually doesn't last long. Hang in there. As long as he's not behaving in a dangerous manner, it should all be worth it in the end. I find alcohol helps on a bad day. Kidding. Kind of.

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  3. For me, when the going gets tough with Dino it comes down to the love I have for him. First and foremost he is my friend, he is my partner, and I'm in this for him. While I enjoy competing and learning and growing, Dino's mental & physical well-being are my top priority, and I do whatever is right for HIM, sometimes at the expense of my own goals. He's a difficult little shit sometimes, but he's my little shit. And when he's good, he's SO GOOD, so that also keeps me going and keeps me trying. But at the end of the day, I f'ing LOVE this pony, and I'll do whatever it takes to keep him happy.

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  4. The thing that keeps me going is ulcer meds for both myself and for the horse (mostly myself). Also wine.
    I find the difficult ones fun and challenging and exciting. They can be real assholes, but I'm always having fun problem solving and figuring out why exactly they are assholes and what I can do to fix it. I think if it wasn't fun though, I wouldn't want to keep doing it.

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    1. I think this is a fantastic answer. Do you find enjoyment in a challenge. That is just a personality thing. Though we all have our, 'I want to give up days'. Does a problem, challenge, setback motivate you to solve it? Or does it discourage you and unmotivated you? Completely non horse related example but explains the differing personalities. Our boat is being a pita we have tried to launch it twice and both have been disasters. My husband gets very upset and has no desire to even look at the boat for weeks. I'm like oooo a puzzle and go home and try to figure it out. We are both faced with the same situation but because of our personalities we handle it completely differently. Phew that was wordy. Long story short do you find pleasure in the struggle?

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    2. Well said! I think you are right.

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  5. I went to a clinic once and there were 2 things that I always come back to..."does your horse want a divorce?" and "do you hold his hand or grasp it and drag him with you?"...
    If your horse is usually trying to please you and you are not doing anything he is not capable of doing, then keep at it. Does he pin his ears or look for kisses?
    Enjoy those great moments/steps, if today it's 10 strides, aim for 11 tomorrow, soon it will be 20...

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  6. my experience is fairly limited - there's only one horse i've walked away from (a project horse that i didn't even own). i fell off almost every ride and became so defensive i couldn't even ride the packers smoothly any more. walking away made all the sense in the world - the horse owed me nothing, nor did i owe the horse anything. but barring the danger of bodily harm, or serious depression/burn out, the lines become more blurry. it's all about goals - what do you want out of it? if it's those moments of brilliance that keep getting better, keep working at it!

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  7. 1. I get bored easily, and have finally realized and accepted that difficult thoroughbreds are "my type." 2. A difficult horse who cannot perform but is just difficult every day is probably not worth it, barring any veterinary concerns that might need addressing. A difficult horse who can perform, can perform amazingly, and clearly has talent, even if talent and performance are not on exhibition daily, is worth it to me.

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  8. "It's water on a stone, people. Horses take patience, infinite patience. Wait for the horse." --- George Morris

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    1. Sigh, a good quote like that would be GM.

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  9. I don't have any great advice except make sure you take the time if figure out a way to make it enjoyable... I kept beating my head against a wall - with various situations including my boarding location, injuries, training set backs... And I quit something that I love more than anything because I was fried to death. 6 months later I miss it more than anything. It was still the right choice for me to stop and I'm glad I did before it was bad enough I never wanted to go to a barn ever again...

    Can you get some more help with courage? Do the various trainers you work with have any thoughts?

    Best of luck. I know where you are and it's not the most fun

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  10. I view our struggles as opportunities for me to grow. I'm not ashamed to admit I know so very little about riding (even though I've got 30 years of it!) and horsekeeping. Like recently, Dassah did NOT want to go left. I urged and encouraged and begged for left bend. Nope - she just braced right against me. So I thought about it. Sat back on my heels and thought about what was going on. Then got back on and worked on me (shoulders, hips, heels, seat, etc). Still no left bend. FINALLY, lightbulb moment came - when was the last time her teeth had been floated? Called the dentist, had him come out, and boy did I get a talking to about how bad her teeth were! I hoped on right after the visit (no tranqs used) and I immediately had left bend. Rode a couple days later and left bend was still there. Rode a hunter pace and still had left bend!

    I guess I'm trying to say that I do enjoy the challenge because it doesn't do anything but make me a better horsewoman. But again, I've had my girl since birth and have that emotional (albeit one-sided) attachment, so I'm committed to the cause.

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  11. I guess I'm different, because I don't enjoy working with ass holes or difficult horses or however you want to say it. I just don't. I would rather have something agreeable and fun, and that will probably never change for me.

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    1. I'm in this camp too. Granted Pong and I had a couple un-fun years recently with injuries/soundness issues, but he's still a good time regardless, even if I'm preggo and just brushing him like a giant my little pony these days, haha!

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    2. Also me. It's a certain kind of person to work through issues with horses, and that's just not my cup of tea or level of training. I feel we have all have limited riding years, how do you want to spend them?

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    3. Me too... selling my difficult pony... I don't mind a horse that isn't perfect, but the things I want are: 1) a horse that is happy to see me every day and 2) I can hop on and have fun with even when things are not perfect.

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    4. I'm in this camp too. I don't mind green, but I don't like fighting. My mare has a few traits that play on my weaknesses, but overall she tries to please and doesn't hold grudges. If she was the grumpy, spooky butt she is in spring and stormy weather all the time, I'd sell her to someone who could handle it better.

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  12. pft I wish I knew. I guess you just have that connection or you don't. There are horses that piss me off and I'm like "no way I'm going to keep up with this," and then there are horses where you can see the end result and you know it's worth it.

    Like yesterday the farrier came out and wiz was good for a minute, then flipped his shit (because, you know, it started raining and that's a good reason), and it took us TWO HOURS to shoe him and he tried to kill us several times. Of course by the end he was sitting there sleeping (because, you know, rain went away). And this all right after we had that awesome halter only session and I was in love with him.

    IDK. Is my answer.

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  13. p.s. he really does look super super fancy in that lunge photo...

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  14. Poetically, I think I don't want to let go of the spark that jumps from one soul to another even when things get rough. More prosaically, I think I'm just too stubborn to quit on 90% of horses.
    As for my most moody, weird, and difficult horse - not dangerous, but just odd, much like C-rage - I keep on trying with him because I know that inside him there is a heart as big as the world. Sometimes when he lets his guard down it shines out at me like a trapped supernova. If only I can unlock him from his track-induced fear (he really didn't have the awesomest racing trainer).
    Plus, you know, one day we were free jumping in the 15m round pen and he popped over 4' 3" like it was nothing.

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  15. Hawk said it about Fiction and I'll say it about Murray: he is a crazy horse. More and more we have worked through the crazy, irrational things and taught him that being reasonable is way better. And for the most part, it has stuck. But right now he's going through an EPIC saddling challenge phase that I literally do not understand, and multiple people have said to me that they would never go through all that just to ride him. My dressage trainer calls him both a shitbag and the luckiest horse in the world on a regular basis.

    But when he's good, he's really good. He's athletic, talented, balanced, and easy to ride (almost always). I know he has great things locked in there, and we will get them out with patience. So that's why I keep doing it. Because I can see all the good, beauty, and talent in there, and it hasn't yet hit my threshold of irritability. He might not be super flashy or a ten jumper, but he WANTS to do the things I want to do, and we have a lot of fun doing them. And, totally honestly, I would be bored with an easier horse. Some sass, spunk, and working out the puzzle keep me interested too. Sure, I'd probably progress faster with something more straightforward, but I'm having more fun doing it this way.

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  16. I feel horses like this keep you going because when they're good they're just so. Damn. Good. Brilliant, even and you feel like you're on cloud nine. But then when they're bad its horrible and you want to die. My mare was like this, and pretty much any horse I've met that has a ton of talent is like this too (it's like they know they're talented so they're divas). I think the breaking point for me was that while my mare was safe, it was clear we were getting to a point where she just didn't want to do her job any more. Being an asshole but still loving the job/wanting to work with you is one thing. Being an asshole just all around is totally another. I think you just have to know when the scales start tipping one way or the other...

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  17. For me personally, the decision to keep going is about commitment to the horse’s quality of life. I just fundamentally believe horses are not on the lookout for ways to piss us off, or be difficult all the time. That's a sign something isn't right and we need to do whatever it takes to find out what that – vet exams, time off, new discipline, new trainer, new equipment, and at the last resort, a new home. We owe that to them, because in buying them we committed to their physical and mental well-being. It’s not fair to keep going when for a good, long time it’s not been working for the animal. We have to put ourselves completely aside. Years ago I had a gorgeous WB mare that I evented for a couple of years that she decided she was done with dressage and XC. DONE. I tried all of the above things. She would lather up before I'd even get her in the ring to ride her. Seemingly overnight she became too much horse for me. In hindsight I think she’s the one horse I actually messed up/ruined over time by being too green of a rider FOR HER at the time and continuing to push both of us to try to make it work. The one thing she did seem to enjoy still though despite me frustrating her to death daily was Show Jumping. I didn't want to do jumpers exclusively, plus she was way too technical of a ride in the SJ ring for me anyways above 3ft. I think most would call her more of a man's horse - and for the pro SJ dude I eventually sold her to, she went GREAT. It was win-win-win for all involved. I also fundamentally believe a really good horse takes years of work if you’re starting from scratch. But (injuries and unforeseen life stuff aside) those years should be primarily built upon positive, relatively linear forward progression assuming you're in a good training program, good living situation and the horse being physically and mentally suited for the things you're asking of them. It all just comes back to the commitment to the animal’s physical and mental well-being. I just think you’ll know, I really do. Either way, don’t second guess yourself!

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  18. Gina is a fruitcake and I think about selling her/shooting her approximately twice a week. This has been happening for four years.

    I keep going with her because she has more 'good' moments than 'bad' ones. Sometimes she is frustrating, but I feel like she makes me a better horse person. That's why I continue to put up with her: she teaches me. That, and I always have Moe to fall back on if Gina REALLY drives me insane.

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  19. Lots of good thoughts/comments. I think it's an individual thing for each of us. For me it's if I'm having fun and I feel like I can ride and make progress and have a reasonable connection to my critter. I've had that with two horses and now I wouldn't settle for anything less. Life's too short, you know?

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  20. Walking away. Srsly. It took me a long time to learn this. Encore finally made it sink in. He has an incredible work ethic, so he's a trier, but he'd get frustrated, I'd get frustrated, if it was hot, I'd get irrationally frustrated....and so on.

    I do read a lot, even if I don't have time to type much & I happened upon a couple of articles that were critical reminders for me.

    When things get emotional, get off, turn it out, walk away.

    We get a lot of messages about "working through" things & there are definitely many instances where we should. But there is a line, just like everything else, past which, there is nothing to be gained. When I get there, when I notice myself getting angry, now I just say, hey, just give me a responsive halt. Then it's over.

    As was very wisely said by a trainer I highly respect: "Emotion has no place in horse training." I certainly have not mastered that, LOL, but Encore has brought me a great deal closer & taught me a lot about patience, the value of big chunks of time off, & the big picture.

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    1. As always wise words. Best lesson ever learned with Steady is that, 'Rome wasn't built in a day'. Totally changed my approach with horse training. Take away all time lines. Big stress reducer.

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  21. I'm in Lauren's camp on this one. I want something agreeable and fun. I don't want a challenge. Life is challenging enough. I personally am too reactive and get too emotional to be on a rollercoaster ride with my horse. It would not be a healthy situation for me or for the horse.

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  22. The few times that things actually go right!

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  23. Because I hate the process of selling horses. And sometimes that is all. ;)

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  24. Horses require a lot of patience, and a lot of thinking. I enjoy trying to figure out, "What can I do to allow the horse to enjoy his job?" If I'm not enjoying it, I doubt the horse is. For my first beast, that meant only one 20 minute dressage work a week. And he did progress, because he knew he had to work then, but that I wouldn't ask him for so much all the rest of the time.And eventually, his flat work was as good as his dressage work was 3 months earlier, and never did it really feel like work.

    I hope you and Courage find what works best for you/him, because he seems like such a neat horse, and you've had a lot of success already with him.

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  25. When I evalutae my relationship w/ my horse, there are a few things I look for:

    #1 - the horse is happy to see me every day
    #2 - I'm happy to see the horse every day
    and
    #3 - I can have fun even if things are not perfect.

    If I'm not having fun and the horse isn't having fun - it's time to part ways for a better situation. Some personalities just don't mesh and that is fine.

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  26. Red provides an interesting case in point. When I got him, he had a number of interesting behaviors - some of which he did when he was frustrated (including biting, striking and sometimes kicking when you were handling his hind feet), and some of which appeared whenever he was stressed or worried he would be punished for the wrong answer - the big upwards brace and bolting. The frustration behaviors came under control pretty quickly - leading work to establish my personal space on the ground, and very consistent handling on a daily basis and some clicker work for specific things like hoof handling.

    The go-to brace and bolting (they're really the same thing - a bolt is a very big mental/physical brace) took a lot longer to work through. Punishment was the last thing Red needed - his behavior arose out of stress and the fear of being punished for doing things wrong. The fact that some of C's behaviors have appeared when you've upped the ante on his work makes me think that he's resorting to a previously learned behavior due to some uncertainly.

    The trick I've found that makes the difference is focussing only on what you do want and working to get that rather than being distracted by what you don't want.

    I did get the help of a very excellent trainer - a student of Mark Rashid's, Heather Burke - who worked with Red and with Red and me for 90 days to get most of the bracing resolved. It took that long because every time we started a new task with him - even if it was doing trot work instead of walk work - the huge brace came right back. Heather described it like peeling the onion.

    Red is a fabulous horse, and was worth every bit of the work we put into him.

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  27. There wasn't any other option.

    I mean, there were other options. Lots of them. But they weren't options for *me.* I was committed to the horse and committed to getting us out the other side (and committed to finding the team and situation that would make it happen). It was the only thing that made any sense to me at all.

    I'm thinking especially of Tucker, since he's the one I own, but this applies to other tricky horses I've worked with as well. It *doesn't* apply to a couple of tricky horses that I chose not to continue with, for various reasons, in which case I saw other options and took 'em.

    Mileage may vary. I'm prone, in general, to seeing possibilities, and in most of my life uncertainty is not itself a bad sign and I have to look harder and think deeper to figure out what I really want to do. With horses, though, for me, the visible pathway and the gut feeling and the rational truth do tend to align.

    I love me some jerkface animals. (I have a terrier, you know?) But not every kind of jerkface animal is *my* kind of jerkface animal. If I'm not basically enjoying the process and if I don't basically feel like the critter and I are on the same team -- which is not necessarily identical to being always on the same page, but same team is not optional -- then I see other options. Life is too damn short.

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  28. I'm a weenie, with little time, and a family to support. I don't have it in me to ride a difficult horse. I like puzzles and challenges but not really when I ride. That's suposw to be more fun then challenge, since work is the opposite. I'd love a packer that could tote me around 3' and ignore me climbing neck, bumping mouth etc at times. Those cost a lot so I have a horse who will likely end up that horse if I am careful and I spend the money on a trainer to do it right. I think really you have to sometimes get outside opinion of how you two mesh from a few professionals.

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  29. The absolute love of my girl Penny, keeps me going. Patience is the number one thing that will get you through this. Just be honest with yourself, are you patient enough? Do not get upset. Do not get frustrated. You have all the time in the world. Keep repeating this to yourself. My coach says you need patience - but boy what a horse will you have when you get through it. You have the same horse. Keep at it, don't give up, and don't let yourself get sucked in to thinking it has to happen on any sort of timeline. Reminding myself to be patient, and what a horse I will have after, is what keeps me going.

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  30. Knowing that when you do get a good ride or even just a good moment, you've earned it. Struggling through the bad just makes the successes more meaningful!

    Of course, if it is dangerous or makes you miserable, then perhaps it is time to step back. No good will come from forcing a situation that isn't a good fit. But if the good times outweigh the bad, and you are motivated to get those good moments, then go fight for it! You can do it!

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  31. What kept me going? The fact that my mare had shown me how wonderful she could be during some of our first rides together, so I knew she had it in her. I still came very close to selling her numerous times and at one point she *did* get listed and people came out to try her. During that time, I went out and checked other horses in my price bracket and realized that the horses in that price range actually *weren't* as nice as the horse I already had and I would basically be starting the entire process all over again of getting to know a horse and training it to be what I wanted. I had always worked with asshole dominant horses (and seriously, this is why I stay away from OTTBs for myself: they are *bred* to be assholes. A racehorse's success on the track is most often directly proportional to how much of a jerk that horse is) and had no tools for working with an emotional, submissive and sometimes hysterical horse. I thought I preferred alpha-type horses...until I got hired by a couple of riders at my barn at the time to work with their OTTBs. And you know what? I decided I much preferred my sweet touchy-feely creature. I will have had her for 4 years this summer and man it's been one hell of a journey with her. But at the end of the day, one of my favorite parts of my relationship with her now is that all of that hard work has paid off in dividends. She still has herd bound issues but she now sees me as part of her herd: I am a herdmate to her and if I am near, she settles down right away. That right there is what tells me that all of the time spent learning, watching her, spending time with her, reading about training techniques, studying herd dynamics, etc, has been 100% worth it. She made me streamline the way I communicate with horses and also with people. She has changed me completely and for the better.

    As for the other one, my feelings about her were up in the air for a long time after being seriously injured by her. Gracie is more of an alpha but I made the mistake of treating her as if she was 100% dominant. And she's not: she's an interesting mix of horse that likes to be bossy but that is also very easy to take down a notch. The line of trust with her lies in the happy medium within the two, which I sometimes find extremely challenging. You can't let her walk all over you in any way but take her down too much and she becomes sullen and resentful. I've had her for a year now and I'm still getting to know her. The thing that kept me continuing to try with her was a gut feeling, more than anything else, that this mare had the potential to be a really solid citizen. With her, I feel like I'm peeling an onion: removing the layers of green baby brain and insecurity to arrive at this super confident, brave, calm horse at the center. We're still working on it. ;)

    So all of that is to say that, it all depends on the horse and the person. Everyone is different. I don't like asshole horses for myself and I've gotten to the point where, while I thoroughly enjoy training and refining a horse, I refuse to do so with an individual that has dangerous, unpredictable explosions. Been there done that and it was not fun, even when I was getting paid for it.

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    1. And I will clarify that before owning Lily and Gracie, I owned a Paso stallion (hard to find a more dominant horse than that! But he was amazing) and pretty much exclusively rode OTTBs for most of my riding career from the time I was a kid well into my late 20's. I was always the one that tested out new horses at the barn, that tuned up lesson program horses, that worked with more advanced horses to make them safe for less experienced riders, and I've broken a fair share of babies to saddle. So yeah: lots and lots jerk horses in the mix there, including the one that reared and flipped over on me. I enjoyed the assholes as training projects but not as personal horses.

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