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The Lesson That Went Awry

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.

Contemplating his life

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.

Eating and then throwing his brush. The big man had some major ADHD going on

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.

Waggy makes room to snuggle even when none exists. I tried telling her this spot was taken, but she wouldn’t listen

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.

With 4 days of lows 40s and rain in the forecast, I sent the Hubby to buy H’Appy a blanket. He chose hedgehogs. It actually looks really good on him with the navy, bright blue and orange. 

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.

Echo deciding if she wants to pounce on the bed from the second story loft. She decided it was not a good idea and instead cried pitifully for me to come get her never mind she knew where the stair were since she went up them to get there. I got outof my warm, cozy bed and got her. 

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.

Flat out snoozing before I got on him Sunday for the fitting

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!

26 thoughts on “The Lesson That Went Awry”

  1. First off, TRUST YOUR GUT. Most horses I know would NOT react kindly to an hour of 20 meter circles. And, it sounds to me that you were both set up for failure for this lesson. But, what I am reading here is that you are not frustrated with Mr. Doofus and blaming him for a bad lesson. 20 meter circles are hard. They are harder for a horse that isn’t in shape. Ranger struggles with them and he IS in shape, but is ridden by kids that don’t make him bend. We do circles throughout our lesson, but NOT an hour full of circles. There is no possible way you could have succeeded during this lesson and reading this post, I think you know that.

    There is a time in every trainer relationship where things just don’t work anymore. It may be the training, it may be the philosophy, it may be that individual goals just don’t line up. That’s ok. It is ok to move on. Take what you learned and try something new. Thank your trainer for everything she’s done for you in the past and say that you are going to try a different direction. And let’s be honest, even if you DO decide that you want to sell Mr. Doofus, you can’t sell him the way he is now. You need someone who can help get him to the point where he IS ready to sell and your current trainer isn’t that person. She doesn’t believe in him. So, try this new trainer (from what Michele says, she does training rides and was open to boot camp) and if she doesn’t work out, there are others at this facility too.

    Finally, don’t worry about being the “remedial” student. Trainers don’t care. My current trainer takes kids to A and AA shows, Pony Finals, her daughter to FL for the winter (and occasional some other clients), and teaches me and other lesson program clients. Plus other boarders that just lesson or do local shows. Everyone has his or her own goals. You would get a flat out NO if the trainer wasn’t interested. So, don’t sell yourself short. Your money is worth just as much as a more advanced student. So drop the remedial stuff, ok? Most trainers really don’t care. Famed Olympic figure skating coach Frank Carroll said that some of his favorite students to coach were actually adults. He always taught a few adults along side his elites. So, remember that. Pep talk over.

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    1. I’m excited to try her. The xc course she has is filled with wimpy level jumps and everyone I’ve talked to has nothing but great things to say about her. So we will see. I’m a brutally honest person and laid my issues out for her in full. I’m fully prepared to send him to her for a month of boot camp but want to see if she thinks maybe we can work through it together via lessons or not. I need a horse I can ride, not a pro so we will see.

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      1. A good pro will work with your horse so YOU can ride him. And give you the tools to work through stuff. And you have showed you can ride him. So maybe what might take you weeks or months can take her days or a couple of weeks. But you both need to be set up for success, not failure first. This is a good first step.

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  2. Sounds like you are making some positive changes for both you and H’Appy. This is probably a great trainer for you down the road, just not the best fit now. Do you think you could go watch a lesson or two with this other trainer before you ride with her? Before I found my trainer, I asked her if there was a time I could come watch a lesson around a similar level to me. It gave me a good idea of her teaching style, language use, and expectations without me also trying to actually ride at the same time.

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    1. Yeah. I’ve become friends with her over the last two years and love her. She enjoys instructing on well trained horses as she is the supreme position nazi and can work wonders for a persons equitation. Problem horses just aren’t her thing and I respect that

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  3. I like the idea above about watching a lesson with possible new trainer. Do you lunge before a ride? Pretty much all of our trainer’s students do this time of year as we dont have turnout (as you didnt because of the rain) and it lets them get some of that cranky energy out without having to focus. Let him do the 20m circles alone lol. We do serpentine type patterns, lots of transitions or direction changes when the horses arent mentally in the game. It seems to give them better focus while keeping them moving in ways that making spooking etc harder.

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    1. I have lunged. I didn’t this day due to the massive puddles flooding everything and not have time before she arrived. She asked me and I know she was trying to figure things out. It just wanting working that day.

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  4. I’m pretty shocked by your trainer’s reaction. Especially since she knows you and you have ridden with her before. It’s not as of she was taking on a new student. Horses have moments like this and we’re paying the instructor to help us work through them. It’s also concerning she won’t ride him for you.
    But, it is what it is.
    I love Emily’s idea of watching a few lessons for the possible new trainer. I also think, to be fair, H’Appy needs to show up to his first lesson. Like, he can’t be pulling this shit. Otherwise I would have your first lesson be a “This is what we struggle with and I fully intend you to take him into training so he gets the consistency and fitness he needs so we don’t have this happening every lesson.” Because otherwise you won’t really have a lesson where you can see what the trainer’s teaching style actually is.
    I’m excited for this new start for you and him!

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    1. Trainer is amazing at teaching and has a vast knowledge base but she openly
      Told me she doesn’t do problem horses and isn’t in a place where she wants to take him on. I respect that. If it isn’t your wheel house, I’d rather be told up front and not waste the money or time. I appreciate her being honest and sending me elsewhere

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  5. I’m in the “a change of approach sounds like a good idea” boat. I think you’re totally right, and I hope the new trainer works out a little bit better for your situation!

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  6. wow that was a frustrating lesson and it didn’t have to be. It was an opportunity to work on the tools to help H’Appy settle. (also, totally love the hedgehog blanket!). I am guilty of getting fixated on JUST DO THIS ONE THING, K? ride. Carmen does not respond well to that (<— massive understatement).

    It seems that you are at a point where you can collaborate with your trainer. It's totally fair to say 'if I was riding alone I would do X, can we try?'. If they say no and have a reason that is fine. When Irish was like that I would simply put him forward (trot and canter) and do a series of 20m circles up the ring. Got his silliness out quickly and easily.

    I hope that this new person works out. I do agree with watching a lesson if you can.

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  7. Good on ya for remaining positive and understanding of H’Appy. That’s pretty disappointing that the trainer had a different mindset about all of those antics. I would have preferred that the instructor help me work through the issues rather than just stick us on a 20m circle. It sounds like you’re on the right path for sure! I also agree with the others who recommend watching a lesson – I did that before choosing my new trainer/barn and it was really insightful and helpful.

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    1. Her point for the circle was that he was trying to determine the gait, pace and direction and we needed to control something so she settled on the circle. If he tried to caner or screech to a halt that was his problem, at least I was controlling where he was going. In theory it works. But not that day and not with me.

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  8. I think you are headed in a good, new direction. Recognizing your current instructor’s limitations is tough, but it sounds like you have a good plan moving forward to help both you and H’Appy! 🙂

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  9. First of all…I totally wanted that hedgehog blanket LOL Love it.

    I think you do need a new trainer, all the things you list, nothing says dangerous or even that difficult. Maybe the new set of eyes will give you some new tools to work with. Even though you might think you don’t need a 4* coach, you will at least be getting the experience and knowledge, and I think that is always worth it!

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    1. It is a cute blanket!

      I’m pretty much figuring that nay trainer will laugh at him, tell me he needs his butt kicked in a training month, and then we will be good to go again.

      Friday he was more of the same just less of it with more times of settling and less theatrics, so I know it is in there.

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  10. That’s wonderful to hear that he wasn’t intimidating you with his antics!! But, ugh what a bummer about the trainer! I hope this new person will be a better fit for y’all so you can keep moving forward with your journey together.

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  11. i’m a big believer in finding training solutions that make you feel good and help you feel like progress is happening. there’s no reason to feel like you have to be “loyal” to a single program, either. i love riding with a variety of trainers, and tend to use them for different purposes or situations. good luck finding someone who meshes better with where you are right now with H’Appy!

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