1 Step Forward and 2 Steps Back
Lately this blog has not been the happiest of places and I apologize for that. Even though this is my space to write down thoughts and the truth of what is happening with Dandy I don’t like focusing on the negative. It happens but you’ve got to be able to find a way to learn from it and move past it. Something I’ve been forgetting how to do lately.
The XC schooling at Aspen Farms wasn’t a complete disaster like I made it out to be. Dandy didn’t refuse a single jump despite me flopping on his back and being unsure of myself. Yes, he took advantage of me but I didn’t give up and I didn’t fall off. When things got too sticky for me JLE jumped on and worked him through the temper tantrum. Her opinion was that he was going to be fun to take XC once he got his head in the game.
Despite all that I came back from the schooling discouraged and unsure of where to go next. Was this the right path for us? Was Dandy the right horse for me? I wasn’t so sure anymore.
We still had a dressage show on the schedule though and I was determined to get through it with minimal freak outs. Maybe it was because we had been at this facility before or maybe I went in with no expectations, maybe it was because I went in with a plan or maybe it was a combination of all of the above but Dandy surprised me. Yes he did have a spook at the judge’s hat but he came back. He wasn’t being an idiot and he wasn’t refusing to listen.
Suddenly I was on Cloud 9. So showing with Dandy WAS possible! I just had to figure out his idiosyncrasies and plan a routine for him. Now this didn’t mean that I was going to rush in and enter every horse trial in the area but at least I could make plans on how we were going to get through this. The first would be having my trainer take him BN at a one day horse trial the first weekend of August. I had no delusions this time that he wouldn’t be a total psycho when he saw all the other horses. He was going to need a pro ride for this.
Last week, JLE was getting ready to go to one of her USEF Developing Riders sessions with DOC so everyone was trying to squeeze in lessons before she left. I was no different. I managed to get one scheduled for Monday afternoon. It was hot, which I don’t do well with, but I was excited to do some jumping after our long focus on the dressage. But because everyone was trying to be fit in, lessons were running late. That was alright. I warmed up some and then spent some time talking with another trainer at the barn, M. M was riding one of her project horses: a pretty spooky mare. Dandy wasn’t helping things himself. He kept spooking at the far end of the arena. I schooled it and laughed at him. How many times had we been out here? Silly Dandy. M and I both decided to stop our horses out of the way while the girl currently lessoning was finishing a course. While we were sitting there and chatting, a car on the road made a huge noise. M’s horse flinched and jumped straight up in the air but went nowhere while Dandy full on spooked. I grabbed for his mane and the leather from his running while I regathered the reins. Eventually I got him back together and we returned to our spot. That was kind of the starting point.
As M and I got back to work, Dandy was being spooky. Now he definitely didn’t want to go back to that part of the ring. But I pushed through and rode closer and closer to the edge with each pass. Eventually the other horses left and as JLE finished one lesson and came over to where we were working, Dandy didn’t spook but he took off, this time with a little buck thrown in. I sat it and eventually got him back under control only to keep him from running up the barn, I had turned his head left. JLE wanted me to turn him right because he had spooked and done a left turn to get away from where he was. I turned his head fight and booted him into a circle. Dandy resisted.
One of the things I had been taught while doing natural horsemanship methods, is to teach your horse to stretch his neck. I’ve done this on the ground with carrot stretches but have also been told to get your horse to flex while on the back by taking hold of one rein, bring it back and waiting for the horse to give. Well, I’ve done those exercises with Dandy a lot, but no more. Dandy is EXTREMLY flexible in the neck. So flexible in fact that he can wield his whole head around and still threaten to lift up on his hind feet.
Which is exactly what he threatened to do.
Now JLE had me asking him to turn his head but use my legs to move him in the circle but trying to not let him get closer to the barn with that little circle. Dandy wasn’t happy but we did this for several minutes until he was listening again. Trying to be forceful, I pushed Dandy into a trot and made my way back to the scary side of the arena. This time, Dandy went full up and I wasn’t deft enough with the aids to keep him circling and I was afraid that he was going to throw himself on to a jump, or throw me. So while I tried, when he went up again, I was just enough off balance that I found myself in the dirt on my butt.
Dandy just stood there. I just sat there. We looked at each other and I started bawling. But I didn’t have time to sit there and cry. After determining that I wasn’t hurt, JLE made me get up and get after him. “Usually I don’t condone getting after a horse when the deed is done but he knows exactly what he did. You didn’t fall off by accident. You didn’t get popped out of the tack. It wasn’t a feel good buck. You were schooling him and he was being a shit head. Now he is trying to scare you so he can be done.”
After all of this I was still shacking and upset. “Do you want to get back on?” JLE asked me. No, I said to myself, no I really don’t want to. But I nodded and walked Dandy to the mounting block. It was the longest mount I’ve ever had. Every step felt like my boots were full of lead, my gloves were full of arena dust, and if I had been wearing mascara there would have been black rivers down my cheeks. Dandy stood peacefully at the block and allowed me to get on and to adjust everything.
We changed direction, probably because JLE was sensing how nervous I was, and she gave me a pep talk. “When you’re ready, pick up the trot.” So I picked up the trot but I could feel it was all wrong. There was no forward, there was no purpose. I was sitting stiff and my hands were clenched. Sure enough, Dandy took what I gave him and bolted, hard. I brought his head around to my knee and tried to kick him into a circle, shaking and begging to get off. Before I could, JLE made me walk him over to her, all the while telling my why I could not just get off when he was scaring me. I had to work through at least part of it. And if I still didn’t feel confident, get the lunge out and make him work.
So that’s what we did. JLE grabbed the side reins, a whip and the line and Dandy got a good hard session on what’s going to happen if he doesn’t behave and takes any excuse to act like that. Rearing cannot be his answer.
By the time JLE finished, Dandy was dripping sweat, his head between his knees. He definitely worked harder than he would have if he had not been such an ass and had been able to jump a few jumps and go back to his grazing but I didn’t feel very sorry for him. JLE called it a LTD session: a Lunge to Death session. JLE cancelled my lesson for the following day and worked him herself. I didn’t argue. I had no desire to get back on Dandy. At that moment, I didn’t even want to see him ever again. We talked briefly and decided that it would be best for him to go into full training starting in August. I needed a break and he needed work.
With strict instructions to lunge Dandy if I didn’t feel comfortable getting on, JLE unfortunately left for her own training sessions and I was left with my own doubt that quickly spiraled out of control.