Gem was a pretty straight forward ride. Okay…those of you who have met her can stop laughing now. Seriously. I’ll wait.
Done? Good. Lets move on.
Honestly though, while she was a twisty, turny pretzel and was OPINIONATED about literally everything she could formulate an opinion about, the actual act of riding her didn’t take up a whole lot of my grey matter. A huge part of this was due to the fact that I had been riding her for almost a decade and knew exactly how she would respond to any stimulus, or lack of one, but most of it was due to the fact that Gem had one response: get tense, hollow and speed up. Put leg on? Speed up. Take it off? Speed up. Ask for bend? How about we speed up instead. Point to a jump? Lets go faster! You get the point. I had to focus a lot on what my body was doing and how I was asking for things, but it wasn’t what I would call a puzzling ride. A frustrating one, mostly, but not mentally challenging.
Maybe it will make more sense as I start talking about the Big Orange Butthead.
I find H’Appy to be the polar opposite of Gem in nearly every way. Which was sorta the point of getting him. Where she was physically challenging to stay with, he is a pretty easy and comfortable couch to sit on. But where she was a bit of a mental coast, he requires me to call in to service tiny neurons that have been hibernating for a long, long time.
My rides of late have been a lot of mental checking in with myself and trying to figure out the pieces to his puzzle and not only in a “is he lame again or just being lazy?” scenario. It took me a long while to figure out the best plan of attack, and then actually convince myself to do it, during his early ride temper tantrums. I need to sit silently, calmly and ignore the bejeesus out of him while expecting him to do what I am asking. When I do that and ignore all his evasions and keep on carrying on like he is behaving under me, he very quickly settles down and does what I ask of him. Not letting myself get bated into a tug of war game I can’t win is hard, but worth the self restraint.
As I ride him and he starts to shift his reactions under me, I am always having to think “Okay, he is now doing this so what can I do?” He gets both easily distracted and easily bored, so I can’t just power around the arena at the trot for an hour and call it a good ride. Transitions are a must. Changing geometry, different patterns, new shapes are a must.
I’m not really articulating my point very well here and it is frustrating me as I try to write this. With Gem I got on and I rode. Not always pretty and not always well, but I rode and I checked out on my life and it was easy in that regard. With H’Appy I end the rides feeling a bit mentally tired from always checking in with my position, my aides and then coming up with solutions to keep him engaged and working. With him this shifts throughout the ride multiple times as his energy levels and dedication to the effort waxes and wanes which keeps me always thinking, planning and changing it as it progresses.
Sure, having a trainer would help relieve me of some of this, but I am really enjoying this new to me part of riding I never had before. When Gem was new to me I was a lot less educated than I am now and I just fuddled through it. With H’Appy I’m really trying to approach him more systematically and make new mistakes rather than repeating old ones. It means I’m a bit more fatigued at the end of the ride and having to do more research on exercises to work through, but it also means that my comfort level with him is expanding and I am learning a lot about both of us.
I feel deep down in my gut that H’Appy could turn out to be an amazing horse for me. Just enough difficulty to keep me learning, growing and not getting complacent, but easy enough to regain my confidence and feel able to explore new adventures. I also have a nagging and very depressing sensation that he will not be sound enough for long enough to ever reach that potential, but I am trying to drown that voice out. Time will tell how all this plays out, but for now I ‘m enjoying the mental workout he gives me even when our rides last all of 25 minutes.