Monday, February 8, 2016

Learning Lessons: Part Three

I've had Courage around 2.5 years now.

It has been a bit of a rocky road. I mean, I got him the end of July in 2013. He went to a show and did ground poles that fall, but that was it.

Then 2014, we did one show. And it was... ummmmm yeah I'll go with horrible. And then we didn't even bother to try again.

2015 saw a lot of show miles and our oh-so-memorable championship of ground poles.

I'll be real with you: there are parts of me that are not proud of winning the ground poles. We all know Courage can jump like this:
And dressage like this:
And it's so, so easy to get down on myself for only having Courage as far along as I do. I always blame myself. I feel like if he just had a better rider, he'd be running Novice eventing by now or show jumping respectably or really, anything other than almost-first-level dressage and sketchy-ass ground poles.

It's not that I think he wants or needs to be farther along--obviously, he's a horse and he doesn't even know that "farther along" exists, much less that it's something he should want. It's that as a high-achieving adult ammy horse person, I feel inadequate. I feel like we scrape by doing the bare minimum and that most of our hold ups are my confidence issues and not him at all.

And yeah, that's hard. Those things are real. The amount of courage (ha!) that it took for me to get around an XC course, even at poles on the ground, was staggering. I can talk all day about the tactful ride that Courage requires, but the truth is, I don't want to kick him in the belly either because I don't want to get hurt. Not now. Not on this horse.
this still doesn't look fun
 But then Alyssa ran across some old videos the other day and sent them to me. After our one really horrible show in 2014, I sent Courage to an xc schooling with Lindsey in the tack. I thought I was the problem. I thought I was screwing up my horse, and I knew Lindsey didn't have the emotional baggage with him that I did.

I've told the story a hundred times--Courage was so naughty that the trainer (pro who's gone advanced on multiple horses) had Lindsey get off and he got on. And then 15 minutes of the "group lesson" was the pro getting Courage to go through ground poles. And even after that, we ended up just getting off and lunging Courage because he Could.Not. that day and that was it.

But no matter how many times I've told the story, nothing quite compared with seeing the thing again. Here's part one:

Part Two, Three, and Four if you're deeply interested.

It was so therapeutic to watch those videos for me. I'd forgotten what it looked like. I mean, if you go through the videos, you can watch the trainer try several different approaches. He gets after C for leaping and pissing off, but that makes it worse. Then he tries pushing him forward when he runs off, and that makes it worse. He tries changing the topic with lots of little circles, and that sort of helps but sort of results in C trying to shut down.

And he ends by walking through the poles because that is all Courage could handle at that time.

It wasn't a rider problem. It wasn't a training problem.

It's just that Courage needs things explained to him at his speed. If you try to force things any other way, it gets ugly. You can watch him pop the trainer out of the tack, time after time. Courage isn't bucking or rearing (really) or doing anything "horrible", but he's putting the rider wherever he wants him because he CANNOT take the pressure.
not how ground poles are supposed to be negotiated
It wasn't pretty. Looking back, I feel kinda bad for the guy riding. Sorry dude. Not your fault. At the time, I thought Courage would just get over it. I thought if we kept trying, if we did SOMETHING, that it would get better.

I felt the pressure of all those magical "3 months from track to BN" success stories. I wanted Courage to be brilliant and high achieving. I wanted everyone to see how special he was, the same way I did.

So yeah. In 2015, my horse and I were the champions of ground poles. In 2014, even a pro couldn't get him through ground poles without completely losing his shit. Maybe ground poles don't matter to you and you're going to make mean, snitty comments to me about how I'm less of a rider (I will delete those comments and leave my snide replies. You have been warned.)
best ribbon
But maybe I don't care. Maybe I'm enjoying my horse at my speed and maybe the fact that he NAILED his leg yields last week was good enough for me.

Scratch that. Not maybe. It is.

Courage and I have made incredible progress together. Our first dressage test together looked like this:

I don't have recent video of a test, but last time I got riding video, it looked more like this:

Just because our progress doesn't look like your progress or a professional's progress or whatever, it's enough for me. Courage and I aren't going advanced or grand prix and we don't want to. I want him to be a fun horse for me to ride and chase my goals on, whether those goals are a bronze medal, a fun jump course, or going to a goofy trail competition (or all of those).

So yeah. My horse is sensitive, complicated, and (barely) proficient at ground poles. He's also a boatload of fun, a challenge every day, and damn good looking in all the outfits I put on him.
so attractive
2016 will be our third/fourth year showing together and I have absolutely no idea how it's going to go. We probably won't be the champions of anything. We probably won't blow anyone's mind. I'm hoping we make a respectable showing at first level. I'm doubtful that we can also make a run at the crossrails derbies.

But whatever happens, this is the face I see every day and that makes it all worthwhile.


  1. Those videos are impressive.

    Every horse and rider pair goes at their own pace. Some horses love to work and are really amenable. Others are super talented but jerks to ride (ahemVerdades?). Others have so many basic problems, like no rhythm, that they're really hard to make progress on. As long as you're doing what works for you and your horse, that's the most important thing.

  2. Obviously the most important characteristic is he looks damn good when you dress him up! ;)

    In all seriousness, major props to you for your ground poles. I admire your tact and willingness to take your time with him when he flips you the bird.

  3. Girlfriend, all that matters is that YOU are enjoying riding YOUR HORSE - at whatever pace that is! He's a special snowflake, and you've learned and grown a lot over the past 2 years as you figured him out. You should be proud.

  4. Dayum. Opinions is putting it lightly. You keep on doing you... obviously it's working, given the progress he's made.

    PS Pearl was nowhere near as difficult as C, but I always felt super validated every time she popped other, much better riders out of the tack. I think like 1/3 of the equestrian team has a "falling off Pearl after a jump" story.

  5. The question I always ask myself is if this were it today, last ride with this particular horse, would I be happy with what we have accomplished? Have I done my best by this horse? Mostly, when I look back on various horses, I feel like with the knowledge I have now, I could have done much better by them, but the only way I gained that knowledge was by working through things with them.

  6. That video looks so, so familiar. I know that pain. Fi used to pull that so regularly that I got used to it and thought that was how jumping went. I did the same thing as you, blamed myself right up until her fifth pro ride went 'I dunno'. You're on the right track with C and making great progress with him. All that matters is that you love seeing that face when you show up.

  7. Even if you haven't made leaps and bounds in the questions you're tackling, you have made soooo much progress in the way Courage answers those questions. Some horse's just take a lot longer to play the mental game, even when they are physically capable. It seems like you've done right by Courage, and that's what matters. One way or another, YOU are learning so much from this horse.

  8. It reminds me of what a barrel racer friend of mine discovered at a clinic. You ride the horse you have today. Today they may handle 2nd level work, tomorrow it's back to square one and he 'just came off the track'.

    Training takes time. Everyone's mileage varies. Some horses can handle pressure, others can't. Some horses pick things up quickly and naturally- others struggle for weeks and even months before the light bulb moment when it all makes sense to them. Maybe crossrails will make more sense to Courage because he can see them. Ground poles might be lurking, hidden in the grass and waiting to attack or cripple him.... You never know.

    You have both come a long way. Not just Courage in what he's learned, but you as well for what you have learned how to teach him. Yay You for that!

  9. JUST Groundpole Champion? Pssht. My 18 year old still can't handle cantering poles. So there. Obv. we're better. Geeze. Get with the shitty program here. Your success is just too much. :)

  10. "Just because our progress doesn't look like your progress or a professional's progress or whatever, it's enough for me."

  11. It's easy to get caught up in "going bigger" and "moving up" ... but the reality is that no two riders and no two horses are the same. IMHO the only way to find TRUE success and happiness is to embrace who were all (weakness and faults and all) and to relish in the moments when we improve. <3

  12. Um, you'll be champions of looking bad ass, if nothing else. And I am pretty sure that there will be more than that.

  13. those videos really are a stark reminder. you're doing good work with him and you're enjoying the process. nothing else matters :)

  14. Bobby may (sometimes) have less opinions about ground poles than C, but gosh, you guys will forever have us beat on looking the best in outfits.

  15. LOL to track to BN in 3 months. Those horse all eventually cave. You are doing right by him and taking your time. I can attest, I feel the EXACT same way. Hell, we haven't even done one dressage show yet coming up on 2 years together. Its all about what they can handle and he looks spectacular in comparison so try not to beat yourself up

  16. The only thing that matters is you enjoying your horse. So do whatever you want.

  17. I love seeing the first dressage and recent videos together, I literally played both in tandem and it shows how impressive his frame is now. If you still enjoy the challenge of riding him, then its still a good match. Power to ya, he'd have scared me off a long time ago... Also jealous of you having ground pole and cross rail derbies. I have possibly enough confidence for those.

  18. The comparison in those videos is epic. He's come so far, and you know that you did it the right way for him. So rock on with your groundpole championship!

  19. Wait, is that George Morris on Courage? (Was his name originally Papa?)

    He has certainly come a long way, and you should be proud of what you have accomplished!! I know I wish that this horse journey was a linear experience, but it isn't, and that is part of the fun.

  20. One thing that I have noticed from your videos (and media in general) is how much BETTER Courage is getting at using his body right. You can see huge changes in his back, and even in the moments where he's less-pretty he uses his back so much better than before. And that is super cool to me.

    1. This makes me very excited! It's slow, but it's happening.

  21. Girl- you guys have come so far! I remember a not so long ago series of posts about potentially selling him- and look where you're at now. Be very proud :)

  22. Oh boy do I feel you. Alex is like a rollercoaster. He's smart and sensitive which is code for really friggin difficult. I've learned you just have to do you and anyone who wants to comment is welcome to (try) to take a spin in my irons to see if they can do better. I got your back and feel free to vent to me literally ANY time :)

  23. Progress not perfection! I think it looks like you guys are doing great. One small step after another will eventually graduate to a milestone.Keep it up. And keep giving yourself pep talks. It works!

  24. This isn't anyone elses story but yours. It doesn't matter where you are or if you're moving up or not, if you're riding trails or jumping 4 feet. Be happy where you are in the now. Who knows what tomorrow will bring. Love your horse and love every ride (even the ones that make you want to kill them).

  25. Honestly it is INCREDIBLE to compare those two videos. He has so much swing and his body just got completely reshaped. You've done a great job with him Aimee

  26. I have thoughts like that all the time.. if I was a better rider, or more consistent I'm sure Hero would be much farther along than he is now. But like you said, the horses all learn at their own pace and they don't have a agenda anyways!


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