Its amazing what happens when you take a little time to sit and think. I’ve been doing that a lot in the past few days, in light of the mixed schooling at Galway, and the mixed schooling at Meadows before that, and the mixed Ram Tap horse trials last year. Too many “mixed” experiences…this is my hobby that I do for fun. And in my opinion, Spirit (and all horses) deserve to have a life full of positive experiences.
A year ago, I would have called Spirit a willing, forward, brave mount. Today…I would not. She is an intelligent horse, who I think still does enjoy jumping, but over jumps that look inviting, preferably in a setting she’s familiar with.
A year ago I would have said that Spirit loves to learn, enjoys having a job, and likes to please her rider. Today, I would not. Spirit likes to learn when there’s treats involves. She likes having a job as long as it is easy for her to do – she does NOT like jobs such as carrying herself, keeping contact, being slow, or working on her hollow side. And I think that she likes to please her rider but not to the same extent she did before – now she sometimes just wants to please herself.
So what happened? And when?
For dressage, I would say its been noticeable in the last month. Before that, we would have the occasional extra challenging lesson, but by and large she was fine with it and open minded. We knew she didn’t especially *like* dressage, but its only been in the last month or so that she has gotten fussy, with her evasion techniques compiling exponentially. Then there’s the rearing problem. That’s been around for maybe 5 months or so (while I am riding her, that is – she’s been light up front in the crossties since before I met her). I feel like the rearing issue is well in hand, but perhaps I didn’t see it for the huge red flag it may have been. She didn’t want to go forward.
My friend has mentioned that Spirit has slowly but surely changed ever since we started doing “real” dressage work over a year ago. And she thinks the reason is because Spirit was being forced to actually use herself and work hard, not just be asked to do something she already liked to do anyway. I still need to reflect on that a bit more. Maybe I’m being too short-sighted when looking at our past.
For jumping, we had our first refusal about 9 months ago, and then had another one here and there. At the time it wasn’t especially concerning to my trainer (though I remember being shocked and concerned) – the consensus was that Spirit had “smartened up” about the job of the rider, and now needed me to better set her up for the jumps. She was expecting more out of me. Then they came more frequently, but only in cross country. For some of them I chalked it up to the jumps looking intimidating (fear), for some I believed it was rider error (in general I think that most horse problems are based on rider/handler error), but then for some refusals friends would mention that they thought Spirit was being bratty. No. Surely not. My lovely brave Spirit? Naughty? Never.
Based on our last schooling, there is simply no denying it anymore. For some of those jumps, she was naughty. There were some dirty stops that had nothing to do with rider error. Ouch. For some reason it is hard to say. I’m so much more comfortable pointing the finger at myself.
So now what?
First and foremost, Spirit needs to be happy. She can’t be expected to learn if she is not enjoying it. I need to figure out how to make the work feel more like a game and less like work. I’ve been ruminating on some ideas, but please give me suggestions if you have them.
Next, I need to ride other horses. My confidence is slipping, which isn’t going to do Spirit or myself any good. I need to reinforce what I know by hopefully being successful on horses that have more training that Spirit.
Lastly, I need to relax more when I ride. I need mentally be calm and serene and have a sense of humor even when she is being you-know-what. I need to let it roll off my back, take it as it comes, and just make the most out of it.
I do think that Spirit is a great horse with lots of potential. I hope I can get her to enjoy this sport a bit more, since I am absolutely hooked. I’ll try talking to her about it tonight when I go turn her out. Maybe she can pull a Mr. Ed and tell me what she thinks about all this! Hey, miracles happen.
On a lighter note, here’s a funny horse video. I’m going to watch it so it can cheer me up a little.