Black & White pt. 1

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.

(Part 2)

14 thoughts on “Black & White pt. 1

  1. Bummer. So sorry things aren’t going well. I know exactly what it feels like to ride scared and it ain’t fun. 🙁 Good for you for getting back on even if you didn’t want to. Sounds like you’ve found a fantastic coach to help you through this rough patch.

    1. Thank you. It’s hard to get back on after something like that happens but if I hadn’t, I don’t know if I ever would have. It’s going to be a long road but we’ll get there.

  2. First of all, I am so proud of you for getting back on!! This is totally essential!!

    I second (or third) that it sounds like you have an awesome trainer!!

    Full training sounds like a great idea!!

    I’m sorry that he’s being a jerk… Ugh wish they wouldn’t pull this crap!!

    1. It’s not fun, that’s for sure. But he’s going into boot camp and I’m pretty sure he’s going to come out of it a different horse.

  3. Ugh! I am so sorry you are having so much trouble with him. It’s no fun when you end up getting scared. Thankfully you have an awesome trainer. I’m sure she can sort him out. And if you decide he’s not the right horse for you, that’s okay.

    Keep the honest posts coming. It’s nice to be able to share good news but sometimes we just don’t have good news to share. Hang in there!

    1. Thanks. I actually like to write the bad posts because I get a chance to reflect and really figure out what’s going on with my emotions.

      It might turn out that Dandy isn’t going to be the right horse from me but after talking with my trainer we’ve got a plan and I have to at least see that out before I say enough. I can’t imagine how hard that will be though, if it happens.

  4. Young horses can be so hard as it is, and it’s awful that Dandy’s throwing a bad attitude into the mix. I hope you guys figure something out, and it sounds like JLE is really helping you through it.

    1. Thank you. It’s just one day at a time right now and major boot camp next month. Then we’ll re-evaluate and see where we are. JLE is great and I am very glad I’m able to work with her.

  5. Yikes! Sorry you are having a hard time with your boy. While I haven’t been reading your blog super long, I don’t seem to remember you having these kind of problems before you moved. Have you considered a change in his lifestyle or feed as part of the problem? My one horse in particular is reactive to certain changes in his feed and routine. It could also be some kind of medical problem brewing. We used to think my horse was purposefully being bad until we made some changes to his feed and found that he had kissing spines. He used to be incredibly spooky when ridden and would continue to work himself up until riding was no longer fun. I should also mention that he had major weight issues (chronically underweight) and filled out a lot as soon as we found the source of his issues. Hopefully your boot camp works out well for you, but thought I would give you a couple other ideas to keep in mind.

    1. I appreciate the thoughts! His living situation has definitely changed but kept as close to what he was as we were able to do (type of food/supplements and all that). I actually do think part of it is that for the first time in a year he’s actually at a healthy weight and he’s feeling good. I’m glad we’ve finally gotten there but I also feel like I have a different horse sometimes (even when he’s being good :)).

      I’m not ruling out pain or something else brewing under the surface but at this point, everything seems to scream that it’s a training issue. At the end of the month if we’re still having major issues though the plan is to get the vet out to do a work up.

Comments are closed.