And when you're in a slump
You're not in for much fun
Is not easily done.
--Dr. Seuss, "Oh, the Places You'll Go"
I'm a preschool teacher, remember?
Here we are in the land of "my horse is a jackass and I need to put on my big boy pants and fix it." I was JUST HERE a year ago, with a bitchy mare who I loved beyond all measure, and now I've got a bitchy gelding who I love a lot when he's not being a total shit.
So yesterday M and I decided it was high time that he went on "the loop": his normal hack around the paddocks, but where we'd turn left to go back to the barn, we instead went straight down a very steep, very rocky, very narrow path in the woods to a lovely meadow by the creek. Ride all the way around the meadow, then back up the steep horrid hill and back the way we came (rather than turning right to head back to the barn). Clear as mud, hey?
M was riding her young horse Spike, who is an asshole in his own way but is by far the most reliable trail horse on the farm except the kid's pony. Nothing Mo did would impress him at all, and thank god for that. On walk out days, we don't spend time in the ring. The point of Mondays is to bring the horses back into work after they've had the weekend off with a 20 minute walk. It's lovely, and I quite enjoy it when I get to ride Spike or Bo or Taz, all of whom are broke to the hill. Anyway, we both got on and then headed right out to walk, and Mo LITERALLY bucked OUT OF THE GATE. It took me about six strides to get him to cut that shit out. And then he continued to be a jerk for a good long while until M made me trot past her to give him something to do, and figuring he'd maybe be happier in front. He was, until it was time to go Down The Hill.
Here, lemme ask you: Have you ever been riding down a truly steep hill and had a horse buck? And then you kicked him and then he tried to spin to go back up the hill so you sent him to the moon? And then when he'd had enough of the hill, he reared? Because lemme tell you: you really should try it sometime. No, really. It will convince you that you can sit on whatever the hell happens, and give you an appreciation for the athleticism of the beast to whom you must stick.
We got to the bottom and he tried the rearing/spinning thing some more, so with M YELLING at me to make him trot, I pony club-kicked him and made him move his ass on a 20m circle until he stopped acting like such a terrorist.
And after that? Walked on a loose rein for almost the entire rest of the day. There was a minor temper tantrum when he had to go back up the hill, but I kicked him and then he had to stay in a walk all the way back to the top. After that, he was good to go. Chill and happy, and hopefully a little tired.
So here we are: horse won't do anything he doesn't feel like doing without having a temper fit. Fine. I'm an extremely stubborn person, I'm a good rider, and I have the best coach around. But am I having fun? No, not really. That's green horses, man. You've got to take the bitter with the sweet. I have no intention of selling Mo, or making M ride him for me, or in any way backing down. I can do this, he can do this, and when he's good, he's unstoppable.
But just for fun, let's revisit our old friend Doug Payne and his ideas about your horse's suitability for you:
Can you handle this horse's problem(s)?
Yeah. No worries here. He might unload me at some point, but whatever. Seriously, all I really need to do is kick him a lot and be the boss. When I get that done, I win.
Do you have a personal goal in mind?
Many. Right now, I want Mo to be consistent in the baby version of contact we're doing, hack out and leave the property without dramatics, and start being the good citizen I know he wants to be. Ultimately, I'd like to see us in the Level 5 jumpers and doing some third level dressage, either for fun or competition.
Are you mentally prepared to improve?
Totally. I'm re-reading That Winning Feeling now to confirm this.
Are you at the right barn?
I'll just quote myself from last year: "YES. Absolutely. I could not be happier. I wish I could stay forever." And MAYBE I WILL.
With your goal in mind and the environment ripe for improvement, is your horse truly able to reach that goal with you?
He's capable of the short and long-term goals. We can get this done together, especially with M's help.
Are you willing to make the best of the opportunity you have with your horse?
Totally. It would be hard to imagine myself working harder at this point in my life to become a better rider. I ride all day until I go to work and come home and ride more. Which is why I never have time to blog, ha.
Do you know when it's time to go to a professional trainer for lessons?
Again, from last year: "Girl please. I'd take a lesson every day if I could."
What do you need to improve before dealing with the horse's specific problems?
I just need to be more of a hard-ass than my horse is, really. He wants to see what he can get away with and my answer needs to always be "nothing."
Do you have the desire--and time--to dedicate to solving your horse's issues?
Yes to both, thank goodness.
Is fear limiting your potential?
Nah. Not at this stage of the game.
So here's what I'm gonna do to fix this:
1. I'm going to read books, like That Winning Feeling and Doug's book again. I can do this on days like today when the weather sucks or at night when it's too dark to ride. Reading helps me a lot, because for me right now, the improvements I need to make are mental. I have the skills necessary to accomplish just about whatever I want to do at this moment (I mean, don't put me in the Grand Prix ring in any discipline, but we're talking about getting a horse to trot a circle and canter a little and jump some 2'6" stuff in the ring).
2. I'm going to use one of Jane Savoie's tricks that I picked up last time I read her book, and pretend that I'm training Mo for Tracy instead of myself (congratulations, Tracy). Not because I think I'm a better rider than she is, but because I know that if he was her horse and he was acting like this, I would ride him with every ounce of skill I have at all times and not get sucked into his head games until he was the perfect gentleman Tracy deserves.
3. I'm going to channel Denny Emerson and think like a horse trainer instead of a grubby little competitor. I don't need Mo to win me lots of ribbons this year, but I do need him to get on the same page as me.
4. Leg on. Leg on. Leg on.
5. Down the hill every day until he stops complaining about it.
This is horse training. It's not all kisses and carrots.