Saturday, February 13, 2010

Having fun with your horse and building confidence...

I'm blessed with a horse that puts up with just about anything I throw at him. Unfortunately, I sometimes shove him to they wayside because he needs to go school dressage or "its not worth it to ride him if I can't get something accomplished" and often, I feel that way, but when Robin asked me today "Whos your favorite horse to ride on the trails?" I wasn't sure if she was talking to Carissa or myself, so I said "mine?" which they both interpreted as "I prefer to ride my own horse on the trails."

Well, thats not true, but then I thought about it, and 99% of the time, if I'm doing something- I'd prefer to be sitting on my own horse. Now, there are sometimes when he is not appropriate, but sometimes I don't give him enough credit. When we did the Harvest Party/trail ride/poker race, I didn't really want to ride, but didn't have much choice. Of course, I had a large group with me to keep an eye on, and I had decided to ride Arizona.
Ari playing leader... his favorite position, until things get scary!

Then Amanda started having issues with her horse, Tex, so the option was to send her back or trade horses. I was regretting my decision to bring Ari, but then thought about it- Amanda is a lovely, solid rider and Ari is pretty steady on the trails, especially in a large group, walking only- and then I had not a qualm in the world about putting her up on him. She had a great time on him for the rest of the ride while I fought with Tex.

Amanda, obviously feeling quite uncomfortable on Ari... not.  
Me and Tex, far left, while Amanda leads the crew on Ari in the middle

In November, Julie and I decided to do a Musical Freestyle Pas de Deux at the Stones River Pony Club dressage show. At this point in our lives, we decided we needed a little "Independent Woman" kick and called it "Better Off" and put together a stellar soundtrack (thanks, Vince!) Never happy with normalcy, we donned blond pigtails, spray painted stars all over our kids, put ribbon in their tails, wrapped them in multi colored polos and laughed our heads off while we performed. Neither of our horses so much as flinched at the close quarters with each other, the spray paint and stencils, the PA system... 

Ari and Gilbie getting worked up before their big show...


And since we were the last riders, to make SURE we made our point, we did a dressage victory gallop:

I can open and shut any gate on the farm with him, he's moved cows, will load in any trailer I point him at or turnout with any horse I throw him out with. When he stayed overnight at Amy's for the Poplar Place trip, he hadn't been turned out in four days- he was having a tantrum while she turned her horses out, so she offered to let him go out with one of her perchie crosses, Abe. They ran around like they were best friends and then settled down to eat within five minutes. 

Two or three years ago, we had a games day at the farm. Kelly Wallace (then Schaffer) and I were the only eventer-type folks there. One of our games was musical fence posts. Because of our horses superior gait control, we were the last two in the game. When the music stopped, we were side-by-side across the pasture from the last post. We both performed perfect turns-on-the haunches and were instantly galloping headlong towards the last post. We got there at the same time, laughing hysterically at our horses' handiness.  

When Niki was still at the barn, we would gallop down the trails without a second thought, over hill and dale, and call it "conditioning." Now, I call it crazy.

He gets dressed up for Halloween every year:

Ari as the one-eyed, one-horned flying purple people eater
Ari the pirate (he actually still had two eyes in this picture)

Oh, did I mention he only has one eye?

I actually had the photographer from a dressage show I took him to last summer ask if I wanted his eye photoshopped back in when I ordered pics taken from his bad side. 

Here's some stills from our last jump lesson, just to round out his abilities:

Anyway, the point of this whole tirade is because I've heard this from several different people lately, and I feel like I should address it:

"I'm totally brave on other horses, just not my own."

I think people are ashamed of this fact. Guess what? YOU'RE NOT ALONE. 

There are things I will do on the craziest horse on the farm that I will not do on my horse. Why? Because I KNOW what he is capable of. I have ridden him (or not ridden him) through the WORST things I have ever ridden (or not ridden.) I KNOW that he is more than capable of plastering me across the nearest tree/fence/jump/rock and will not hesitate to do so. He is fit, he is smart and he is QUICK.

But you know what? Sometimes we just have to let GO of what makes us afraid of our own horse and deal with it. We worry because we don't want to mess them up, because we don't want to ruin what we have by pushing to hard, by ruining the peace of the comfort zone we're standing in.

As Ari began to lose the vision in his left eye, I had some INSANE falls off of him. I was on my guard all the time with him. I was scared. But guess what- I'd made a commitment to him and now he was mine to deal with.

You can see how covered with mud I am- I fell off TWICE at this show! 

I leased Lyra while we dealt with his health issues and she gave me some much needed confidence back. I would tell Amy about Arizona in our lessons, and when Lyra sold and I was debating what to do next, horse wise, I told her I was thinking about getting Arizona going again. Her response, knowing what she knew, was "I don't think thats a good idea- its hard to get past a history with a horse." 

I mulled over that for a little while, but then I had to make a very big decision- I had to LET GO of the past and focus on the future if this was going to work. I had to take my brain, which telling me every time I cantered up to a jump on him "we might crash, we might crash, we might crash" and just totally shut it down. And I made the decision to do that. To give up the fear and embrace the now.

I came off of him in one of our first jumping lessons with Amy. It was stupid- I was worried about the filler on a jump and jumped ahead of him and he stopped. I fell off. I got back on. At that point- I said "I'm not falling off of this horse anymore. This is stupid." He had a runout at another lesson, not far after- I then told myself "We're not running out anymore. If he's going to stop, he's going to stop in FRONT of the jump, with me on his back. Period." 

No, its not that easy, in case you're wondering- I figured out why I was falling off/running out, talked to Amy about what to do to fix it, did/do exercises to help me and study, study, study how to make things better. And they are getting better. The next step is "no more stops," but that has some other pieces to go along with it. 

And while I haven't had any run outs or falls since I "decided" not to have them anymore- am I going to get down on myself if one happens? I'll feel bad, but you can't dwell on it. Dwelling has NO place on horseback. You have to live in the moment, not hold a grudge, don't take it personally. If you ride with me, you'll hear me say that over and over- especially if you ride a mare. 

My good friend Megan told me something at my first away event with Lyra- she is a big follower of Jane Savoie- and she talked about positive visualization. If something scares you, just picture it going well, over and over. Your dressage test, a certain XC fence, your stadium round or even just walking through a certain gate on the farm, past the pond, through the creek- whatever it is, you can't think about what will go wrong- you have to picture it going right. It really does work. 

There was a fence on the course at KY Classique that I was really worried about with Brandy. It was a silly fence to worry about, but it was the first big solid fence on course, headed away from the barn. I could see it from where we grazed and I let it gnaw at me until I KNEW we were going to stop. When Amy and I walked the course, I looked at it and pictured the most perfect, bouncy gallop up to it, and then "1-2-1-2, BOING!" and galloping off. The next time I was out grazing, I stared at it and though "1-2-1-2, BOING!" and guess how it rode? Yep- "1-2-1-2, BOING!" and on to the next. The rest of the course was like clock work.

Luckily, Stacy caught it on camera- not the best picture, but it gives me warm fuzzies every time I look at it because I remember the feeling of "that ride."

So, anyway, the reason I posted this today is because this is what I did with Ari today:

Yes, I took him on a bareback trail ride. I had actually brought him up to do a dressage school, but ran out of time before I was planning to ride with Robin, so decided to take him out instead.While he doesn't LOVE trail riding, he actually was striding out pretty well for him and had his ears up the whole time.

Sure, he tried to turn himself inside out one time, but I just sat there and rode it. It wasn't a big deal and it didn't effect him five second later (he has a thing about birds, apparently...)

Did we accomplish anything that will help us in the dressage ring? Nah. 

Did I enjoy spending some time with my best buddy today? Yep.


  1. Long Slow Distance (i.e. bareback trail ride) is good for them physically and mentally! So it WILL help in the dressage ring. :)

  2. Hi Lauren,,, wonderful story.... love Dad