What do you do when you want to improve your skill set and ability?
What do you do when you want your horse to improve his skill set and ability?
What do you do when the one thing that sets your horse off the most is taking a lesson?
I don’t know.
Eeyore came from a lesson barn situation and not the best lesson barn situation either. I know he had been there about a year though how intensely he was used is unknown to me. I can take some wild stabs though at how those lessons went down from some things I witnessed while there.
Since being home with me I’ve noticed a strange pattern emerge and each time it reared it’s ugly head, sometimes very literally, I could easily blame it on extraneous matters but the saddle fitting debacle has brought it front and center and now I have to figure out what to do in order to move forward.
You all may think I’m crazy but the moment someone walks into the arena with us and it starts looking an awful lot like a lesson is about to go down Eeyore loses his ever loving mind. I’m talking jigging, bolting wildly and at random, curling his chin to his chest, snaking his head violently around and eventually rearing. His whole body becomes rigid and it’s like he is prepared for some intense battle when all I’m asking for is a walk in a large easy circle.
It gets worse and worse the longer it goes on too. There is no talking him off this ledge. It happened when he was first with me and TrJ came to my house. I blamed his questionable soundness and the saddle. It happened when the saddle fitters came to fit him the first time. I blamed the saddles. It happened when I trailered him to TrC. I blamed the 45 minute wait for her to decide to show up. It happened at this last saddle fitting appointment and there was nothing left to blame.
This isn’t reproducible at my home rides. Sure we aren’t perfect and he throws his opinions in from time to time and our bend isn’t great and my steering isn’t always on point but he always, always remains calm. Maybe a bit defiant but always calm, cool and level headed. He doesn’t rear. He doesn’t jig. He doesn’t snake his head around in angry protest. None of it.
I was so very proud of him Thursday too. He traveled well in 90F heat over 2 hours to unload at a brand new facility after hours with not another soul in sight. He unloaded, looked around and then got busy grazing. No screaming. No fuss. He wasn’t even nervous.
He stood still for her measurements to the point where she told me he was a most excellent boy. And he was! When we tacked him up, I walked him next to a picnic bench and mounted from there. As far as I know he has never seen a picnic bench before let alone be mounted by one and he never batted an eye. Just did what I asked.
And the shittiest part is that if she had not been there I could have taken him to the jump or derby or even xc field and had a blast. The fitter went to her van to make notes while I mounted and began walking him around the empty parking field. I had decided to just ride him there for the fitting as it was grass and fenced in. He was fine. A little distracted by the sprinklers that came on, but he marched forward with a relaxed and swinging back.
We walked in a circle getting warmed up after the trailer ride and he was fine. It didn’t even cross my mind he would be anything but A GOOD BOY given his amazing behavior at home and his outing at the hunter pace. I didn’t even think about his past performances because I had blamed those all on things I have since eliminated. But the moment the fitter came walking over and said “ok, please circle to the right for me” it was game over.
He became a rigid steel beam. He curled his chin to his chest. He refused to do anything but jig or bolt. By the final time she made an adjustment and I got back on he went straight up in the air all four off the floor and I called it a night. I never even got to canter in the saddle. He was a lathered mess. She was a bit shell shocked at his behavior and tried to make excuses: the ride over, the fact he was alone.
But in that moment I knew. It was none of that. It had never been any of the reasons I thought. Had she stayed at her van everything would have been fine. I could have done anything with him. But the moment he recognized a lesson type scenario he was gone.
I have been thinking about this a lot since then. I need to take lessons. I need to learn more skills and improve. I want to clinic. I want to go on adventures. I’m going to have to figure this out but it’s hard when lessons are the one thing he flips out about.
Some friends, who are probably tired of hearing me talk about this, have given me a lot of suggestions. Try a lesson using a head set and a trainer not in the arena. Try a lesson while the trainer is also mounted. Try a lesson where I’m given an exercise, perform it in full while trainer disappears, then go hang out and talk about how it went while the trainer gives treats and pets Eeyore letting him rest. Make the trainer a good safe spot.
The issue is finding a trainer willing/able to do any or all of those things. It’s useless to trailer him out to a lesson just to have him crumple in a heap and then spend the hour pleading with the trainer to believe me, he isn’t like this at home. You all have seen the videos. Lots of newbie rider errors but a calm and steady horse. I don’t have that horse with me when I lesson. And boot camp? Unless boot camp puts him in a lesson string it won’t help. Having a pro take time to ride him in an arena alone won’t do it. The only benefit would be him knowing the trainer better and maybe feeling more comfortable? I don’t know. That’s an expensive experiment I’d like to avoid if possible.
This is not something I know how to deal with. It’s new to me. I’m going to give it my all and I have two trainers that are highly recommended by friends that I am in touch with and will hopefully be able to figure out a scenario where things don’t suck. I’m hoping to get a lesson scheduled in the next week or two, but need to discuss how to go about having a successful lesson and not a stressed out brawl which gets nobody anywhere.
I don’t know though. This isn’t a snag I was prepared to hit.