Thursday, July 7, 2016

A Guide the Hot, Emotional Horse

As Austen alluded to last week, Courage (and his more-trained brain-twin, Pig) are not the easiest of creatures to deal with. They're hot. They're emotional. They have opinions about EVERYTHING.
this was about... nothing

Seriously it's exhausting. I don't know how they do it.

But for real--Courage and I are finally sort of developing a rapport that works for us both.
yeah love this shot
It starts with the little things--Courage is VERY narrow behind and tends to interfere. This means he gets ridden in leg protection (because thoroughbred), but in order to build his trust and our relationship, I have to pay attention to what works for him. He's very anti-hard-shelled boots. Period. HATE. Cannot move in those.

Even worse than hard-shelled is non-slip lining. He's not a bucker in general (kinda doesn't get how his back end works yet), but these will turn him into a local-quality rodeo bronc.
this one time i bought him fancy boots

I can skate by with DSBs some of the time. Polo wraps are better, and the most ideal solution is polos with fancy liners. They provide more protection (yay Aimee!) and they apparently make him not feel constricted (yay Courage brain!) and he's much happier when I accommodate him, so polos+liners it is.
every day
Being mindful of the little things helps sets us up for success with the big things.

Last year, three strides of right lead canter was pretty well our limit. Anything more prompted immediate, out-of-control bolting. There are a lot of "conventional" solutions for a bolting horse and each one of those is worse than the last for Courage. It's not about what makes sense or seems right from a training perspective.
that's a nope
It's about finding ways to communicate with him that build his trust and our relationship instead of tear it down. I have to be 100% intentional and unemotional about every aspect of life with Courage, because trust me when I say he has more than enough emotions for the both of us.

This was tough because it was such a process. Courage is not and never has been a forgiving horse (and he most definitely holds a grudge) and the more I unlock his potential and gain his trust, the more I realize his issues are deep seated and not all caused by me. So basically, I had to unemotionally accept his reactions without responding while he raged against years of strong bits, heavy hands, and pressure.
not the most fun i've ever had

Not only did I have to learn how to address his emotional reactions to pressure without escalating, I had to repeatedly do so even when it seemed to be failing because Courage had to learn he could 110% trust me to not violate his trust.

And of course, all of this takes an enormous amount of tact and feel and dressage-savvy.

So maybe this is the best time to point out that I'm currently showing at the highest level of dressage I have EVER achieved and I've never ridden past first level and frankly, I have no idea how to train a horse beyond this.
this woman is amazing
Which means I need a lot of lessons and pro help.

Oh and I did I mention that another HUGE key to success for us is using only Courage-approved trainers?

Most dressage horses seem to be a little bit thicker and more able to take pressure. They get tired eventually and they'll eventually give up if you have to fight with them. Here's some facts about Courage: he doesn't do pressure, he's never been tired in his life, and he'll bring the fight to you.
same bat time, any bat channel
So it's not that Courage is untrainable, just that he can only be trained by VERY specific trainers and one bad lesson can set us back MONTHS in terms of taking pressure and building trust.

Plain and simple--I won't ride with a trainer unless I have personally sat and watched them ride/teach another horse similar to Courage because it's not worth it to me to fry him again. This is complicated by the fact that very few people think it's worth the time to do dressage on a hot, emotional horse so even if a trainer CAN handle them, I might not get to see it. Oh AND because Courage and I have come so far together this year, he looks more like a horse that can handle pressure which tempts people to apply pressure.
MONTHS. this took months to fix.

And that is bad. Trust is fragile. Forgiveness is slow.

Slow is how we learn.

Austen was somewhat joking when she said that we needed to be independent riders, but not really. As the owner/rider of a hot, emotional horse who is attempting to learn dressage, I have to learn to make informed decisions about things I don't even understand every. single. day.

It's hard. It's unrelenting. And it is so, so rewarding.

Here's to the horses that keep the journey interesting.
proud moments <3


  1. Does any horse ever really learn FAST though? I mean, there's the facade of it, but eventually those hose break down physically or mentally (usually the latter) so in reality, slower is better. Don't be so hard on yourself/quick to defend the slowness. That how TBs roll and its just fine.

    Sidenote, B also hates things on his back legs period but tends to like the liners and polos. #twinning

  2. I have so much respect for you and your journey with Courage -- I don't know how you do it. But it's beautiful to watch the pieces come together!

  3. One of my fears is that I am going to do something that triggers Stinkers past issues. It took quite some time before I could do anything with him and I don't want to change that. I'm also very careful about who I ride with and I've also come to the conclusion that I have to be willing to say no if I do get in a not so great situation. I've learned a lot from your journey with Courage and Pig gives me hope for the future (granted my riding will have to step up).

  4. Pretty sure Courage and I are the same. Ya know, except he's a boy horse and I'm a girl human. BUT THE SAME.

  5. God bless you! Courage and I definitely would have killed one another by now. I get frustrated and emotional easily, so yeah - definitely would be a recipe for disaster! I need a very forgiving animal :)

  6. Great post and good to see the boy coming along.

  7. You are doing great with Courage

  8. So, I'm pretty convinced that I have Courage's twin. I'm not sure how he ended up with an Andalusian mare twin but it's happened.

    Seeing your journey is helping me with mine. Truly.

    1. I've been told time and time again that many TBs and many Spanish horses have similar brains, namely the sensitive and hot reactions.

    2. ahh that does make sense!

    3. I tell people he's the most mare-ish gelding I've ever met. ;-) interesting about the Spanish horses. That's something to file away for later.

    4. This does not bode well for my future with an appendix/Lusitano two year old does it ;)

    5. Lol. Maybe that little bit of QH brain will be good. Plus side, TBs and Lustianos both tend to actually be fairly people-oriented safe horses, if reactive and opinionated. They rarely try to purposefully hurt you, and tend to bond super well to their people. :)

    6. So far I would say that does describe Gray 100%. He is hotter than I am used to but so sweet and sensitive. :)

  9. <3 In my experience, it can get less touchy once you've worked out the boundaries of your working relationship. I can screw up without ruining my horse's brain for weeks now. That's a pretty awesome development. You're doing a good job of figuring him out, and honestly enjoying the process of it makes the whole thing worth it.

    1. I do think I have a little more with file room now than I did even six months ago, but it's fragile. Hopefully we keep becoming more solid citizen and less loose cannon.

  10. Your willingness to take the time he needs is so impressive

  11. Preach it sister. And while it's exhausting, it is an incredible learning experience. To keep my self emotionally separated from whatever flailing is going on, I now sing or hum to myself. And I do it when other people are riding near me - #whateverittakes

  12. My "sweet" (lol) lease mare is the same way- hot and opinionated. She responds very well to some trainers (Doug Payne, her owner), and completely shuts down with others. I have no doubt that she would jump the moon for me, but I also have no doubt that after she landed, she would proceed to take off with me.

    It's exhausting riding a difficult horse, but I have never felt more satisfied after a good ride on a hard horse.

  13. I am going it alone right now too! I hope to find a trainer that understands my "special boy", but for now I am doing the best I can with the knowledge I can gain from reading, and watching. Hope you find a trainer that clicks with you both, but for now be proud of what you can accomplish by yourself! :)

  14. You are my hero. No joke. Would love to have 1/10th of your ability, patience, and insight.

  15. he is lucky to have you for exactly the reasons you state: many people would not give him the time / space he craves to process and progress

  16. I love reading these posts because I have my own little hot head. She's not as explosive as Courage but she can be very resistant in her own subtle pony-mare way. I love reading about how you're figurine out how to work with Courage because it gives me idea of what to do with her.


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