I spent all weekend thinking about this, texted both Emma and Michelle, and annoyed the hubby to no end. Friday was not good. The lesson started off bad and got worse until finally I called it quits much to the relief of all three of us. In fact, by the end I felt like I owed H’Appy an apology for the preceding 45 minutes of agony and that is never a good way to feel.
I probably shouldn’t have even had the lesson. It was 45F and had rained all day which meant that the horses were kept inside. The rain stopped right before the lesson and I could tell even in the cross ties that H’Appy was feeling good in a very “I have no intentions of behaving” sort of way. He flung his head in the aisle, tried to eat the cross ties and was a bear to hold still long enough to bridle. The exact opposite of the horse I had on Tuesday. I commented to Trainer that this was going to be interesting and laughed. She looked very skeptical about the whole thing.
And the lesson proceeded to be exactly as I thought it would. He was up. He was nervous over nothing in particular except the fact that he was finally outside again and was feeling excess energy. I could almost feel the energy radiating off of him. He pranced, he jigged, he tried to canter instead of trot, he called out for his friends (who completely ignored him per usual) and when things didn’t go his way he threw down a temper tantrum that would have made my 5 year old son proud. You know what though? I wasn’t scared and I wasn’t caving. I rode out his head shaking and when that didn’t work he curled his chin to his chest and I lost all neck in front of me. I rode that out as well. When he refused to bend, I asked again. Was I completely in control of all 4 feet at all times? Heck, no, but I also never felt in danger or careening out of control. He has very, very good brakes and we were fine.
All this behavior was a combination of excess energy and a deep desire on his part to avoid all work at all times. It was predictable in a way. Trotting in a nicely balanced rhythm is hard. Shaking your head and evading the bit is not. Calmly transitioning is hard. Hurling yourself upward and scooting off is not. And when that all fails, pull out the head dragging on the ground maneuver and western pleasure shuffle. When I ask for a trot, try flailing. When I collect with a half halt, screech to a full halt.
All basic green, rusty, lazy, ex lesson horse behaviors.
And I was fine with it. Not happy, ecstatic this is the best ride ever, fine with it. But honestly, I accepted his challenge and was game to work with him to find what would help and oddly excited for my future with him as I know there is an amazing, fun horse locked inside six months of lameness induced time off and a sour attitude about returning to the life of an ammy horse.
Except Trainer did not agree and was very decidedly not on board with working through this. She put us on a 20 m circle of death which worked about as good as you would think. He wasn’t capable of giving me a balanced rhythmic 20 m circle and certainly not 100 of them. Maybe he should have been, but he wasn’t. Not with me in the irons on that day. With every passing circuit all three of us grew more and more frustrated yet nothing else was offered up in its place. Had I been riding alone I would have used the entire arena, let him canter to burn excess energy, practiced a ton of transitions and probably used ground poles to keep his busy bee brain active.
When it was obvious to all of use that this lesson was not going anywhere useful, we had a talk. She recommended looking into depo to calm him down or selling him, neither of which I’m going to do. I talked at length with her regarding pro rides and boot camps and how much they could benefit a horse like him who isn’t intrinsically mean, just lazy and would rather be a little wicked than work. She doesn’t offer either of those things.
As she pulled away I had a bit of a sinking feeling. I love Trainer. I love all she has to offer regarding rider position, effective use of the aides and horse management. I love all she has given me and taught me. I love how supportive she is, how she knows when to push me versus give me room and how she helped me cross over from endurance to whatever it is I am playing at now. I hope to ride with her again in the future, but for now both of us agree that this is not going to work.
I have reached out to a local trainer who came highly recommended by several people I know. I actually did a xc school there with H’Appy the second week I had him and drooled over the facility. It even has a covered arena so I can ride in the rain! I had initially set up an evaluation ride for this Sunday but it felt funny and I realized that it was the exact same time as the saddle fitting, so I had to reschedule. We are planning on the weekend of Thanksgiving to do an initial meet, ride and discussion to see what her plan would be. I’m hopeful this will work out, but am being guarded. Certain teaching styles do not sit well with me, so I’m having an open mind going in but not putting all my eggs in this basket. There are other trainers out there that could work as well if this one doesn’t work out.
I did some internet stalking to see what she has out there. I mean, it would be fantastic to ride with a 4* eventer but I’m doing single 2′ fences at the trot with the big guy. I don’t need to be the remedial student of the bunch that they think is a waste of time. I was super happy to see that she put out a very excited post about a student of hers tackling their first amoeba level event and laying down good rounds. It gives me hope.
A lot of changes to come for Team H’Appy Pants!