Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Learning Lessons: Part One

This is a weird post to write. Last week, I talked about how sensitive and complicated Courage is, and that is definitely 100% still true. And y'all probably remember our epic flailing lessons from last year (here's one).

I got on the schedule for a lesson at the end of last week. I picked out the most perfect outfit for pictures, recruited a photog, bathed my horse (hey, it was 43f! #heatwave), and saddled up. My last ride before the lesson was a bit flail-y, but I chalked that up to our first ride outside (dressage in big space NOT THE SAME as dressage in tiny indoor).

Game face on. Mental blank slate. Here. We. Go.
yeah that's what it looks like
We started out walking. It was not great. It was not even very good. Courage has been FANTASTIC at really swinging his back and taking an honest contact with the bit (as long as it's his favorite bit) within the first few minutes of every ride. We did not have that horse. We had a strange, distracted, lurch-y horse that didn't want to move his back AT ALL. Or go in a consistent rhythm. Or anything.

We went through the normal rigmarole of exercises--bend, changing bend, counter bend, moving off the leg, spirals, and nada. He got a little better, but wasn't really "improved" and definitely wasn't "connected". So we tried throwing in some transitions and trotting to see if that would help explain it.

It would not. Instead, Courage started running sideways. Corkscrewing his tail. NOT TURNING RIGHT. Alyssa (intepid photog) preemptively climbed the fence to avoid getting trampled (it's... happened before).

Our trainer was attempting to talk me through it and make some sense of the situation when I rode up to her, got off, and handed her the reins.

Courage and I have been through A LOT together. That's good and bad. The good part was that I 100% knew he was having a screaming tantrum and throwing all his toys out of his crib and that if I so much as BREATHED in a way that annoyed him, he was leaving the county.

And that's the good news.

The bad news is that he has to learn that even if he doesn't feel 100% and doesn't want to play, he has to express himself in tactful ways, trust we will listen to him, and not bolt into the sunset/fence/photographer.

And that, dear readers, takes an immensely tactful ride that while I may be capable of, I was struggling with emotionally because of all we've been through together. I wasn't upset that he didn't come to play. I understand what he's doing. I just really DO NOT ENJOY the full-on flail that was building and I knew that if I emotionally reacted and pulled on him or kicked at the wrong time, it was game over.

And those moments break down our trust instead of build it.
uninvolved parties
Since nothing makes a very cold day in a slick snow suit more fun than jumping on a squirrely horse, I'm sure I'm not world's best client (hm and now that I think of it, I should probably make her cookies or something).

This is what it looked like AFTER lucky trainer had spent a good long time walking and bending and talking Courage in to going left reasonably. Right is our hot button side. He doesn't do anything dramatic. He's not even being that naughty. He's just saying "CANT CANT WONT HATE STOP EFF YOU ALL".

And she is very tactfully, very patiently, very calmly riding through it. As she describes it, she has to constantly find just the right feel for him--she has to put her left leg on because he wants to blow through it, but she can't push him off the left leg, because then he will blow through it.

Gentle, simple, incremental steps. With the horse in mind.
this is what i want to ride
By the time she handed the reins back to me, Courage was going very well to the left and being reasonable to the right. As she pointed out, he would probably be fine to w/t/c to the left, but if we tried to canter right on that day, he would have peaced out and left. And as she also (kindly) pointed out, what she did wasn't any different than what I was doing--she just rides A LOT more horses than I do and isn't emotionally involved in the situation.
love this shot
And then I had to get back on and ride my own damn horse. Not gonna lie--I was super tentative and definitely rode in a more huntseat/defensive position, but I was VERY CAREFUL to float the reins just a little and not get grabby. This lesson wasn't about the latest/greatest/bestiest dressage. This lesson was about Courage and I learning to trust each other.

Now that he trusted we weren't going to hurt him, I needed to trust that he wasn't going to take advantage of me.
to the right even, omg
And trainer C was just as patient with me as she was in the saddle with C. It wasn't the best dressage work I've ever gotten out of C and it's not the best I've ever ridden, but it was hands down the best resolution of this situation we've ever had.

There was no leaping or flailing or breakdowns or tempers. There was no fear or anger or tears.

I'm so proud of Courage for getting to a place where he's willing to trust us when his first reaction is to be very agitated and defensive.

I'm really happy with myself for being proactive enough to make good choices.

Obviously, we're both thrilled with trainer C for getting us through this.
i'll take it
Courage and I have a long ways to go together, but what we accomplished in this lesson was something we could not have done last year.


  1. This makes me so happy for you. After all the BS you have been through with other horses that shall not be named, I'm impressed that you are able to keep pushing forward. A good trainer is worth their weight in gold (maybe more than that) and I'm glad that you were able to turn a crap day into something positive.

  2. Express himself in a tactful way. LOLZ wut is that, and can my horse learn it too?

    1. Jury is out. I'll keep you posted.

    2. Um, yeah, sign me up for the expressing yourself with tact clinic, too!

  3. Sometimes we have a plan and have to throw it out the window because that's not the horse we have. Good for you for recognizing that and fixing it!

  4. I'm so glad your trainer was able to work you both through that - a good trainer is so helpful!

  5. good choices and tactful riding / training FTW!!!!! :D

  6. Even when it's frustrating, sometimes handing the horse over to the trainer really helps so much. Kudos for doing what was best for the horse, and thus being able to fix the problem rather than make it worse. He looks pretty reasonable and happy in most of those pictures after the initial tail swishing.

  7. Well he sure look spiffy!! Progress is progress. Trainers are sometimes a wonderful tool. Sidetone have you always had those stirrups?

    1. I got them last summer. They are pretty much the best thing ever.

  8. Sweet. You bring your pissy creature here. We'll ride together. When we're both thoroughly OVER our respective horse's BULLSHIT. We'll trade. It'll be fun.

  9. Glad you have such a good trainer to work with.

    Question again...have you gone the ulcer route with him? If not, it might be worth trying some ulcer meds to see if it mellows his not so good days.

    I had an extremely talented OTTB that constantly needed acupuncture/chiropractic. (Didn't even know about ulcers back then...wish I did. I'm sure he had them, knowing what I know now.) Some days he was very, very good and other days not. He would get muscle sore and just not be able to cope.

    Courage's erratic behavior might be due to hard to diagnose physical issues. I know you've been diligent about his care.

  10. Good call on your part to step off and let someone else take over. Like she said- she's not so emotionally involved.

    I had similar issues with the pony going to the right also. It was what caused our first epic meltdown that was early on. The next time I seen him start to 'go there' I cracked him with the whip and told him he may be frustrated, but there's better ways to express himself. If he were a different horse- cracking him with the whip would have fried his mind on the spot. Knowing your horse and how they deal with things is half the battle.

  11. Good on you - upwards and onwards!

  12. Glad to see progress was made out of a rough situation! Hang in there!

  13. Good for you! Such a fine line between don't take advantage and let me see what to ask of you. Sounds like you have a great trainer

  14. I have been there and done the same thing before. Just handed the reins over. And then watch the trainer handle the issues (not easily either!!) so knew i made the right choice getting off the beast. I don't have the hot tbred part but rather the sulky will not bend or move forward QH. Neither are fun :) Kudos to you for getting every penny's worth out of your lesson ;) And kudos to your photographer. You might want to bake HER cookies too :)

  15. It is nice to have someone who can tactfully ride your horse when you need it!

  16. You write that his 'hot button' is to the right. Do you mount from the ground constantly? I've found that saddles might twist to the left from the stress of the rider's weight being exerted on the left side repeatedly. This twist to the left would make it mare comfortable for the horse to bend in the direction of the twist- tracking left. But, when tracking right, the horse's back is bending against the twisted tree.

    1. Definitely an interesting idea. Alas, I have never mounted this horse from the ground and I have my saddle checked pretty regularly.


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