In an attempt to not make the same mistakes I made with Gem, I decided to go full bore the other way with Eeyore, whose name will not die regardless of how hard I try to make Cruze stick so Eeyore it will remain. The biggest mistake I felt I made with Gem was always assuming the worst and getting exactly what I predicted. You know, the whole self fulfilling prophecy thing.
With her, I would find myself thinking “she is going to be spicy, tense and running through me” and voila! she was. Of course, a lot of that was going to occur regardless of my predictions because she was Gem after all, but still.
So when I brought Eeyore home (affectionately called Doofus around the house) I swung that pendulum the other direction and assumed he was the God of all horses at all the things. Which then led to me shoving him in the trailer and taking him cross country schooling at a new to me venue with a new to me group of people a week after bringing him home. Not really that smart because while the mount had changed, the rider surely hadn’t overnight.
And that mentality caused a lot of the issues I had with him early on. I assumed he would be just fine in a large, open pasture, so I rode him out there and he threw me on my butt. I assumed he would come out and get to work nicely and sedately all the time no matter that he just had 3 months off for painful feet. I assumed he would do all these things regardless of the fact that his entire life had been upended and changed and he didn’t know me from anyone and all because I had spend a lot of money on him and figured he should.
Now I am all for expectations and all that, but there is a level of training, trust and relationship building that needs to occur and I sorta blew by all that on my way to doing all the things. It didn’t work out so well.
In retrospect, while I agree that I shouldn’t picture the worst, had I assumed he could do the thing, but treated him like he couldn’t as I tried to find his level of training and the holes in place, well I believe life would have been much smoother earlier this summer. Of course, horses will be horses and Eeyore has his opinions about working hard and what his life should be like, so there will always be ups and downs, but my entire approach to him wasn’t helping matters at all.
That brings me to the present. Tuesday evening I had a terrible ride. I grabbed him from the pasture, tacked him up, threw him on the lunge line in the home arena and watched him be a perfectly sound, gentlemanly gelding. That ended when I mounted up and all of a sudden had a not so gentlemanly gelding who refused to bend, decided moving away from the gate was not possible and began to curl behind the bit, snake his head side to side and pop up a little.
Even in the moment I knew what I needed to do. I needed to kick him forward, keep him in front of my leg and ride him. The me of the moment also knew I didn’t have the lady balls to do that. As things got worse, I shut him down and just sat there slumped forward in the saddle debating on quitting, sliding off and making his sale ad. I was ready to be done.
As I sat there though, it dawned on me that if I quit now I’d be quitting forever. This wasn’t the most terrible behavior. Sure, it scared me as I wasn’t comfortable dealing with it but I could deal with it. I actually knew how to deal with it. And it was way easier than anything Gem had ever thrown at me. So I thought about it. I thought about my approach with him. How he hadn’t been ridden in that arena in nearly 3 1/2 months, hadn’t been ridden at all in a week and in 3 months prior to that and well…maybe this wasn’t being all that fair.
I took a deep breath and thought about what I could do that would be productive and in my wheel house. Transitions! If he couldn’t handle trotting more than a handful of steps without breaking to canter or acting out, then I wouldn’t ask him to. Instead I would ask him to trot, praise him, then bring him back to the walk and repeat.
At first he tried to break to canter. I told him out loud “Dude, I can literally trot all day. Go ask Gem about that. You won’t out trot me or out work me. Just do the thing and be done”
It took a while. A long while. But he eventually blew out a nice relaxing snort, took a deep breath and melted under me. For the next 15 minutes we trotted around doing various figures, going over trot poles and enjoying a moment of not fighting. I called it a night after that.
Last night I wanted to ride again. See what I would have to deal with. Would it be the same first 10 minutes of every ride fight? Could I handle it better? This time though I was armed with treats. I’m not a fan of feeding treats and in fact normally I don’t even have any on hand, but I happened to grab a small bucket when I bought some keratex and a second saddle pad because Homeboy sweats through his at the walk. I was especially hesitant to use treats with Eeyore with his already mouthy, slightly pushy behavior, but I read so many bloggers who stuff their horses full of treats and thought why not try it.
Of course this makes me a bad researcher. Too many variables changed between the rides. This time I rode after 1 day off instead of 8 days. The horses were out in the field by the arena instead of kept inside. I had food. Who knows which made the biggest impact. I really don’t care. The result though. Wow.
Homeboy has become an easy horse to handle on the ground which is a huge improvement from when I brought him home. Not as good as Gem, but nearly there and better than Pete. After I groomed him, I offered him a small treat being careful that I would get to keep my fingers. He looked surprised at the offering and took it politely. I began to tack him up and he stood perfectly still. Typically he bends around and stares at me while I work, not biting but putting the idea firmly in my head to watch out. This time he looked forward, rested a hind leg and let me get to it without supervising.
He got a treat.
We went to the arena. No screaming for his friends.
He got a treat.
I got on. He stood perfectly still at the mounting block. Typically I have to swing on and then immediately halt him. Not this time.
He walked off, blew out his relaxing breath within 2-3 minutes and then got busy trotting like a pro. He was soft, neither dropping nor lifting his head against my hands, went where I asked off my seat and legs, and even showed me how great he is at bending through the turns and around circles. Sure we weren’t perfect. I’m an imperfect rider, but he did what I asked without a fight.
He still tended to lose all ability to move nearing the gate and took more urging to get away from it, but he was being good about it. Not mean or threatening. Just letting me know he would prefer not to work, thank you very much.
In fact he was so good, that I cued for canter going right and he picked it up beautifully. After a few circuits, I brought him to the trot and then halted. I leaned forward to give him a treat under saddle. This took me quite some time to train Gem to, but he took it nicely and stood chewing in bliss. I let him chew, then asked him to trot and then canter left. After that I halted him, gave him another treat, walked around a bit and got off.
I can’t say the treats were the only thing that changed his behavior, I’m sure being worked two days prior and being able to see his friends helped too, but I am positively certain he was trained with treats as he knew exactly what to do and what was expected once the food came out.
It was, hands down, one of the best, most relaxing rides I believe I have ever had on any horse ever. The only thing that rivals it would be the 3rd loop of the 100 with Gem. Other than that this takes the cake. He was relaxed. He was malleable. He was…above all else…willing. It was nice to have a willing partner under me.
The biggest change in all this though was my attitude. I changed from assuming he was great because I wanted him to be to the mantra “Good horses aren’t born, they are made”. He wasn’t going to be a great horse just because I willed him to be. No. If I wanted him to do all the things nicely, calmly and happily then I needed to put in the time to get him there. To teach him. To show him. He is only 7 after all. Not a been there done that horse. I don’t think he left the barn I bought him from in the year he lived there.
Moving ahead with him my plan is to expect good behavior but treat him as if this was all new, walk him through it, praise a lot, treat often and see where we end up. If the horse I had under me last night comes out to play time and again, I see some great adventures in our future.