Because I'm not (always) the problem.
It's not "if I ride better" or "if I don't piss him off" or any number of easily fixable things with Courage and it rarely has been. If I put a pro on the mare, she quit all the shenanigans and minded her manners.
But not Courage.
When Courage flails, it's not because he wants me off now or even usually because I did something wrong. He flails to protect himself.
Almost 100% of the time, it's because he's in a situation that overwhelms him and he doesn't understand and his only defense mechanism is to leave, so he has a huge physical reaction. If you've been around Courage, you've seen it. It's actually quite dramatic.
And when he has these huge physical fear-based reactions, I have to 100% keep myself from reacting to him. He's not doing it to be naughty. He's doing it to survive.
And that's hard to deal with.
It's taken a long time to suss out with him because it LOOKS like naughty behavior and people like to treat it that way. But it's not and if you punish him, you scare him and that makes it even worse.
The other approach people like to use is overloading--just hit the the trigger over and over and over until it's not a trigger any more. But like. That works if you're a rational human being with a moderate trigger that isn't life threatening and you can sit there and say "totes cool, not actually going to die here", but not so well on a non-rational prey animal with years and years of baggage and trust issues.
Don't get me wrong here--I really and truly do not believe Courage was ever abused. I don't. I think he has had lots of good handling, which is why I think I can reverse this at all. Had anyone ever laid a hand on this horse, I don't think he could come back.
He's just deeply intelligent and highly sensitive and when he doesn't understand, he's afraid.
|and has great outfits, but who's counting?|
So at the show, I had a horse that trusted himself and trusted me enough to be successful at the walk and trot.
But canter is hard for him--it's a gait he's spent a lot of time in for his previous life and that means I have years of muscle memory to retrain. So when we got to canter, it was a bridge too far and he left to protect himself. The fact that he did come back to me in the walk and trot tells me that he's still mentally with me, when he can be.
I'm a highly analytical person, so I can sit here and explain to you my plan of action--build more trust and more strength and more muscle memory at home and prep him better. Overloading for the sake of overloading breaks down his trust rather than builds it, so I need to be sensitive to his mind each day and only work within parameters he's comfortable with until he's ready to move forward again. I can tell you that a running martingale would shut down his expressions sooner rather than just limiting their scope, but he also has a lot of history with them and not only does he know how to brace on them, but they also tell him to run.
But see, in addition to being a highly analytical person, I'm also deeply emotionally invested in this situation. It takes two to tango if you will, and Courage is the one I'm tangoing with. Rationally, I can tell you that if show success was my motivator, this isn't the horse for me. But I like this horse and I'm willing to work with him.
And really--despite all the high drama theatrics, Courage honestly doesn't scare me. It's more and "aw shit here we go again" sort of thing. That's the nice thing about him only having one move; I know I can ride it and I know we'll survive. It's not my favorite thing ever, but I'm far more worried about running up on another horse and scaring it than I am about anything that might happen to me in the saddle.
I really think the part that's the hardest to deal with is accepting other people's reactions without internalizing them.
See, in order to get Courage past this, I have to 1) not punish when he appears to misbehave 2) not bring up the issue on days he can't handle it and 3) accept and encourage even when he tries and fails. If you've read this post, you're nodding along with me. A trust and balance issue, not a behavior issue.
But if you haven't read this post and you see my horse go leaping and bolting across an arena, then see me drop the reins, pat him, and not readdress the problem, you probably think I'm a shitty incompetent adult ammy rider with sparkles in my eyes and one of those maddeningly stupid imaginary "majikal" connections with ponykins that ruins horse after horse.
You respond to me in kind--you lecture me on how to handle my horse, you make an example of your horse, or you even give well-intentioned, sound, and logical training advice THAT TRUST ME I HAVE TRIED, and the net result is that everyone I talk to thinks they know better than I do how to train my particular horse, who again, is anything but easy.
And just as I can analyze and understand Courage, I can also analyze and understand the motivations of well-intentioned help. I get it, I really do. I'm sure I've been that person. I know they don't mean to sound like they're attacking me (usually), but that's how it comes across. It takes a really strong person to take that sort of criticism every day from every corner, know that no matter how it's delivered, it's still wrong, believe in my own methods, and continue to treat my horse in a way that encourages his trust instead tears it down.
If there's one thing I'm learning from this horse, it's strength of character.
It's not always fun. It's never easy. It's definitely getting worse before it gets better. I don't know if there's a light at the end of the tunnel, but I know we need each other right now.