My hopes to get a lesson on Gem this weekend didn’t work out: something about Trainer sending her own horse through his first 1* event got in the way. How dare she! 😉 Plan B was to get a sitter and take a date day on Gem and Pete on the trail. Dusty and I haven’t been on a Wyatt free date since our anniversary last October. That got squashed with thunderstorms in the forecast for all day Sunday.
Saturday afternoon was warm and sunny though, so I hopped on up in the hay field to see what I could accomplish. My aim was to work on canter transitions since that is my current worst skill.
I don’t have any pictures from the ride because my phone took a swim in the toilet that morning and was sitting in a bag of rice (useless by the way) until Sunday morning when I gave up and entered one of Dante’s circle’s of Hell…aka Verizon…to see what could be done which was nothing short of paying a crap ton of money and leaving with a new phone I didn’t want. Ugh.
It was warm enough that I rode in a tank top which generally never happens. My blood is like ice most of the time and I rarely go out in anything short of two layers when it is under 85, but it was super sunny and just felt really good. I dragged Gemmie over to the hay field and clambered aboard in the dressage saddle.
Right away things were crap. Gem either wanted to throw her head down to eat or throw it in the air and zoom around tense and distracted. All I wanted to do was walk. For about 5-7 minutes we fought each other. I cursed her name and eventually told her I should sell her to an endurance home and get a horse that can do the simple things I enjoy doing…like walking, trotting and cantering safely and pleasantly at home.
Then I did something I have never done…I got firm. Not angry. Not rough. Not mean. Not unfair. Just firm. When I said halt I meant halt now, not in 20 feet when she decided to. When I said walk, I meant walk. Not jig, not trot, not stop and eat. Walk. Bend. Turn. Simple things that a 19 year old horse, having been ridden consistently and fairly for the last 7 years, should be able to do without issue. She isn’t green. She isn’t young.
I realized, up there on her while having no fun at all in those first minutes of the ride, that I no longer have the same horse under me as I did 7 years ago. She isn’t a delicate little egg that will crack and lose the last 2 months of trust I built up if I do one single thing wrong. She can handle the amount of pressure asking her to freaking halt puts on her without losing it. She just doesn’t want to because she has never had to. And that is my fault. I didn’t make the necessary shift in our relationship when it was time, likely 2+ years ago, and have been letting her get away with behaviors she shouldn’t have.
When I became firm with her, informed her that I do mean what I ask, she responded by fighting a bit but then listening. She halted. She walked off. She relaxed. When I finally decided it was time to trot, she picked it up and went around my 20ish meter circle nicely. If she tried to speed up, my half halt and sitting tall told her to slow it back down and maintain her rhythm. All I had to do was be clear, firm and consistent.
The next 40 minutes were a blast!
She floated around the hay field nicely and while she would get distracted at times by traffic or some such, she kept her pace, kept being relaxed and kept being rideable. We did figure 8s, 20 meter circles and larger circles around the perimeter of the area I was working in. She lowered her head, blew out and was a joy.
Just when I was beginning to think about working on that canter, she began to turn her head and bite at my leg. I asked her to move on, but she was clearly trying to tell me something. I listen to my horse when able and she is very honest about her feelings, so abnormal behavior such as this is typically her telling me something is off.
I hopped down worried that the girth was pinching her and noted that she was slathered in white foamy sweat. If there is one thing that my Princess hates, it is to be sweaty and here she was lathered! I chuckled at her sad expression and disdain for sweat and called it a day. We had been working pretty hard for 45 minutes and were both hot and sweaty. She had been fantastic and I had learned a valuable lesson.
It is time to hold Gem more accountable for her actions under saddle and quit thinking of her the way I did when she was mentally breakable. Being fair, but firm really helped change the dynamic we had Saturday afternoon.