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A More Mental Ride

Not this type of mental…though he has plenty of that too

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.

Don’t listen to her lies. I’m easy like a Sunday morning.

Maybe it will make more sense as I start talking about the Big Orange Butthead.


So apparently I call him Butthead a bit too much. Last night Wyatt was hanging out with H’Appy along the fence after dinner and I hear him say “Hey, Butthead, how are you tonight?” Oops.

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.

Blurry jump photo because I’m proud that we are jumping again

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.

20 thoughts on “A More Mental Ride”

  1. May is a total mental game because she can be so different from day to day. I definitely get stumped every now and then… I got stumped SO BAD mid year last year that I threw a pro up into the stirrups and was like “WHAT AM I FEELING? AM I CAUSING ALL THIS?”

    (I was and I wasn’t…. and now my toolbox is bigger)

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  2. Welcome to owning Appaloosas. They’re very mental and emotional. Eveyone that I’ve ever owned and ridden (8-ish, now?)has been like this. They have to know you’re dedicated to the process. They expect you to work as hard as they do. They don’t want your emotional baggae from work/family/life because they always demand they’re the center of your attention when you’re with them. When he decides you’re there too (so frustrating bc they can be stubborn jerks and as riders we have no control over this), he will go to the moon and back for you.

    As for soundness, you know he’s got some balance issues. If he didn’t he wouldn’t keep ripping shoes off. But you’re fixing those things. New saddle fit will help him use his body correctly. As your training progresses, so will his balance. You’ll find soundness.

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    1. You need to move here so I can ride with you and pick your brain!!! You are always so helpful to me.

      He is very stubborn and everything is on his terms which is different than my Gem and her opinions. It’s frustrating yet amazing when he finally caves.

      He adores this saddle and I’m scheduling another massage session for him. I’ve been doing it post ride and noticing he is tight in his chest so maybe that will help too. His feet are my biggest concern. Farrier says they are improving so that’s a good sign

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      1. Trust me, I wish we already there. 8 degrees this AM and another 2 inches of that awful, nasty snow stuff! yuck!
        Don’t let the stubborn get you down. You’re already making strides with that! The fact that you’re not letting him bate you into distractions and evasions. Fighting with him will be useless, bc he will just keep escalating. No one says “hold my beer” like an appy. You’re getting there, and you’ll have another amazing, dedicated partner.

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  3. I get what you’re trying to put down! I’m so glad that you and H’Appy are really getting on together ❤ I am the type of person that gets easily distracted and bored, so I crave a mental ride on a horse. It's one of the reasons I love mares so much. They are such mental rides (except perhaps Gem haha but I've never met her), and I love all that thinking and problem solving when I'm riding lol. And I think you two will get there! He's got a wonderful person in you, so as he starts getting less sore and his muscles develop he can be better balanced, and therefore more sound 🙂

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  4. Soundness is always a fear, it will be a fear with every horse you own. I know its hard but like with other things just try to push that voice down, down, down and worry about it when you get there.

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  5. eeeeeee i love the jumping media!!! you guys really look like you’re gelling!! and i feel ya on the intense mental aspects of riding. in a way tho, that’s kinda why i love this sport so much. that’s why it ends up being such a complete escape for me: when i’m 100% wholly dialed in to my horse and my ride, nothing else matters. nothing else even exists. bad day at work? to do list a mile long? stress about literally anything? it all just fades away while i plug into that ride, something i really savor about my saddle time 😉 glad you’re likewise enjoying that ride with H’Appy!!

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  6. Riding is hard! Especially doing it well. It sounds like you’re doing a really wonderful job though – I love your thoughtful approach even if it is mentally taxing in comparison to the past. It’s great to hear how things are continuing to click into place with your partnership. =)

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    1. I hate making the same mistakes. New ones, sure. But I’d like to avoid some major issue with Gem that were my doing. It means a lot more thought and planing but I think we will both be happier in the long run

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  7. I was totally one of those that laughed and laughed and laughed at the first sentence. But I think you articulated it well, and a lot of us can commiserate. It’s hard when you have a smart horse (ask me how I know). You constantly have to challenge them and find that line of training and drilling. And a whole lot of asking yourself, “What am *I* doing that’s causing this reaction?” I think you and H will really be an unbeatable pair once you get to know each other (in non-lameness ways) better!

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  8. Look at you go! Jumping all the things. ok, not ALL the things, you are sensible, lol. I’m glad it’s going so well! H’Appy kinda reminds me of June in that they’re always thinking and processing…

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