Thursday, October 23, 2014

In Search of Confidence: Building the Partnership

March or April 2014
One thing that I have found supremely frustrating this year is that Courage and I came out bold and happy this spring--we were jumping 2'-2'6" on a loose rein in a good balance.

Engage Flail Apparatus
And then the shit hit the fan and sort of just spiraled downhill. I've been working through this a bit lately just because it sure feels like we started taking lessons and that prompted the whole mess.

But I know that's not it. I even wrote an angsty post about it, but it annoyed me and I never published it.

Really, we were unlocking Courage's body and allowing him to use it in new ways. As a smart, athletic horse, he was exploring what that meant.

Baby steps
I mean, as great as our first picture is, Courage came straight off the track after 7 years of racing. He didn't know how to be a horse. He didn't know how to jump. He didn't trot on the bit and he had no freaking clue how to canter a 20 meter circle without losing his mind and flailing.

Early summer lesson
He tries hard and he loves being the best at things, but even a very talented horse has a learning curve. Despite his ideal conformation and excellent form, Courage had to learn to really power off that fantastic hind end of his so he could clear oxers and carry a balance forward.

Learning about bascule
He's easy to ride in the sense that he flails and dolphin leaps instead of rearing and bucking, but that doesn't mean he understands how to use that gorgeous body of his.

Truthfully, he's very difficult to ride because he is so sensitive, especially when he isn't sure. Our horrific XC experience at least led to time out of the saddle where Courage could figure out his own body.

And once he got it, Courage REALLY got it. The only limit was how much lunging I wanted to do and how high my standards were.

When I started riding over fences again, I had a horse who attacked the jumps but didn't necessarily have the flat work to be solid with a rider. 

The basics were in place, but it was more low jumps and steering so we could be on the same page. It didn't really matter that I had confidence issues, because Courage didn't need big jumps. He needed slow, steady repetition to figure out the rules of this great new game.

Scope much?
That's not to say he didn't jump big jumps--he got to address a few larger fences with a competent rider up. He wasn't (and still really isn't) ready to face down big grids, so we limited his exposure to big fences to simple questions that he understood with generous placing poles.

Mastering demons
Once Courage understood the questions, it was time for me to step up my game. No more crest releases and backseat event riding. Couage is a game and forward horse who uses the hell out of his neck and back and he damn well needs a release.

I'll be honest and say Courage is hands down the best jumper I've ever put time on. He's not just safe--he's talented and sensitive and scopey and if he needs me to ride better, then I owe it to him to step up my game.

Not gonna lie. This part was hard because it forced me to break my mental game down to it's minutest pieces and put it back together in a whole new way.

On the same page, finally
I can't just put leg on and take my brain off. I have to give Courage an educated ride and then he gives me his absolute best.

I have no doubt that Courage and I have lots of adventures and lessons to come. I"m hardly the world's greatest rider and he's still plenty green, but we're in a place where we can learn together and still have a good time.

Back to the calm

So did this summer's crap come from pushing too hard or would I have gotten through it sooner if we just pushed harder? I don't really know. I guess there is no way to know. I'm sue there are other ways to address the problems we had, but our way worked for us.

A big takeaway for me is that handling pressure is a trained response and in order for Courage to thrive, I need to be very in tune with how much pressure he's up to handling on any given day.

Note world's longest running attachment.

Truthfully, I just want to ride competently around 3'-3'3" courses on my fun, safe horse that I also trail ride and play on.

Instead of being frustrated by our set backs, I remind myself of just how far we've come this year. Yeah, the jumps aren't much bigger and we're a far cry from that 3' course, but Courage is stronger, braver, and more educated and I'm riding at a whole new level.

It just takes time. 


    You're right, you and Courage have come so far this year, and it just goes to show that sometimes you have to go through the rough stuff to get to the good. And you and Courage are very, very good :)

  2. Love, love, LOVE this journey you're on!

  3. I love this post too! You've come far together. I think it is wonderful and so refreshing to see someone who cares and considers their horse so much. Good job!

  4. Love love love this post and reading y'all's journey. It's so neat to read along as you and Courage learn as you go and figure each other out.

  5. You guys have come a super far way this year! There have to been challenges along to way to help recognize successes! Good for you guys!

  6. ... Can you come ride Brantley? Haha. I really like how you sit back and say, "Look what we've done." especially when you started to get angsty. That's EXACTLY what you need to do. Sometimes we forget where we started when things start to fall apart and seeing your confidence (including Courage's) build over the last year and these "confidence" posts is amazing. You've done a wonderful job. Just keep it up!

  7. Nice post. I'm so happy to see how far you and Courage have come since this summer.

  8. "handling pressure is a trained response" - yesssss this is so relevant. thanks for sharing your journey and congrats on your solid successes :)

  9. Everyhorse is different, and every horse teaches us something. You're right, you can't just turn your brain off on a sensitive horse - you have to give him a very tactful, sensitive ride. And you have to ride every step, not just when things start spiraling downward. You have to know when to push, when to tell him he's the best horse ever, and when to go back to something he really understands because he's overfaced. It takes time and tact, and a very thinking rider, but it makes for the best relationships.

    I think they say you need a year to truly build a relationship between horse and rider. Sounds like you're juuust about right on schedule! ;)

  10. Such a positive way of thinking! Can you give me some of that please?
    I've loved your progression, and following you the whole way. It so cool to see-and Im living through you atm. Even in your downfalls, you found a way to be positive and use it as a learning experience-case in point , that sexy lunging pic.
    Ii just love seeing you two bloom together, its one of my favs!

  11. You have always had a great appreciation of the fact that both of you are partners and that both of you are learning as individuals and learning as a team. As ammies, I feel like we really have no reason to rush. If our highest is going to be +/- 3' (versus, say 5'+) then who cares if it takes 1 year or 4 years to reach that level? We're gonna get there with plenty of years left to cruise there.

  12. I love taking things slow - pays off in the long haul!

  13. You two got this! And my opinion is that he most likely would have had the melt down set back no matter what you did. At least that has been my experience. Right off the track everything is new and it keeps their mind and body fully engaged. Once they start figuring things out a bit and things come at them they have to find their bodies and their place in the world. The track they had one job and they understood how to do it. You are doing the best you can by him and you will one day have the exact horse you want because you made him that way and did it right.

  14. I think you've done a great job!! It may not feel like a lot of progress, but it is! You've come such a long way! There is nothing wrong with taking it slow. It takes time to build strength and skill. It takes time to learn to cope with pressure. It takes time to build confidence. Taking your time with him is great! Keep up the great work! I'm glad you're having fun.

  15. Wonderful post. It pays off to take the time :)

  16. My favorite new thought about sensitive horses is "they try so hard, when they don't know the answers they can't handle it." I find it's true with my old guy, even in simple dressage. If he doesn't understand, we will have issues. It's made me have to work harder to be a better rider, the rider he needs me to be.

    Sounds like you're finding a similar conclusion. Those sensitive types are so worth it, when they're with you. Aren't they?


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