Forward. Forward. Forward.
I didn’t see Dandy much that week with having family in town but I thought about him often. Mostly those thoughts went along the lines of I’m terrified. I don’t want to go out to the barn to even see him. and I’m selling him. But before I did anything rash the boy said, “Set up a meeting with JLE and talk about this. She’s a professional. She’ll know better if this is something serious or just a smart young horse trying to get out of work.”
This made a lot of sense to me as while it’s not exactly a new problem of Dandy’s, it has majorly ramped up since moving. He never once pulled this stunt while I was at Madchen’s and only did it once under saddle at Sheridan. This was his usual MO at shows but never at home. So what was going on now? While his living situation has changed to being stalled part of the day versus 24/7 pasture, his food hasn’t. Same supplement, same grain. Different hay of course but that can’t be helped. Even his workload wasn’t really any different. Plus, I can’t deny that Dandy has a huge amount of untapped potential and I didn’t really want to give up on that, did I?
But before I could set up that meeting, I got a call for a temporary job for the entire week. This is a very good thing of course, as the money is going to be extremely helpful in paying off Dandy’s full training in August but it did put a damper on figuring this problem out. Instead of trying to set up a time to just talk, I was busy trying to figure out lessons versus trainer rides and when I could fit them in and how long it would take me to get from the office all the way to the barn during rush hour traffic. I figured we’d talk about my issues during my lesson and left it at that.
Except, I’m sort of a dweller. Eric says I worry too much and he’s probably right. I could not just leave this alone. I did manage to go out to the barn on Sunday because my mom wanted to see Dandy and while I lunged him, I stewed. At work on Monday in between answering phones and greeting people, I stewed. Making dinner. Playing with the dogs. Basically at any moment I was probably worrying over what I was going to do with Dandy. At that point, I was pretty positive that there was nothing for it but to sell him with a huge *rearer* disclaimer. Not ideal but if I wasn’t going to ride him why would I waste the money on board every month?
All of this worrying and stressing eventually resulted in an email to JLE where I spewed for a good long while about how frustrated and scared I was, how I didn’t think Dandy was the right horse for me, and how I just didn’t know what to do next. I just really wanted her opinion on all of it, even if she’d only known us for three months. It was a giant screaming cry for help.
I had my lesson on Wednesday of this week and right from the beginning things weren’t really working like I wanted them too. First, I got stuck in traffic as it was a million times worse than it had been the day before and was very late by the time I finally pulled in. Worse though was when I went to zip up my tall boots and they didn’t fit. What?! I know I’ve put on a few pounds but it shouldn’t keep my boots from zipping. Then I remembered that everyone who had come into the office that day kept coming on how humid it was. Now, I grew up in Minnesota and didn’t think it was humid at all in Washington but clearly my body did. At least I hoped that’s all it was because I don’t have money for new boots. Unfortunately because we had used the truck on our vacation I had taken my paddock boots out. Luckily, because we had used the truck on our vacation, I had my cowboy boots in it. Score, I thought and went to quickly change my boots.
It wasn’t until I clambered back on top of Dandy did I realize how not good those boots were going to be. They had no tread whatsoever. I knew I was probably going to get sores on my legs from not having them be high enough but I hadn’t thought about the fact that I wasn’t going to be able to even keep my feet still or in the stirrup. Upon getting home, I immediately put my paddock boots back in the truck.
So here I am trying to warm up when I can’t even keep my legs around him and he’s trotting around like a western pleasure pony because he’s tired from a training session the day before with JLE, its his dinner time and I have no crop or legs. It was going to be a long lesson.
JLE came into the ring and I finally got to have that chat I wanted. It was great that JLE didn’t dismiss my fears or concerns but was able to talk through them with me. It started like this:
“How long have you and Dandy been here?”
“Almost four months.”
“How many days has he actually been like this or been so bad that he really scared you?”
I actually had to think about that one. One on one of the very first days I rode him in the outdoor but even that one wasn’t so bad and he got lunged pretty hard afterwards. The one day horse trial I tried to take him to. Cross country schooling at Aspen. And the week before. That’s just four. You could maybe call it five if I counted the time he was a bit naughty on the trail (but we worked through that so I don’t). When you put it like that, it’s really not all that bad. It’s still not an acceptable answer for him, but it’s not the evil I was making it out to be.
We discussed it a bit further and JLE told me she definitely didn’t think Dandy needed to be a Pro horse and pointed out that when he was on his game he took care of me over everything I pointed him at. From the evidence it appears to be, at this moment, a training issue and she thinks we’ve caught it in enough time that we can fix it but it’s going to take some work from me as well. What we’ve been seeing lately is that whenever horses leave the ring he’s in, or he is forced to leave them (even if he just met them) Dandy decides he’s barn sour and done. Unfortunately I never had the skills to really correct this and so while it started small and not too bad, it’s now blown out of proportion.
For this lesson, JLE wanted to hound one thing into my brain: be black and white. No more hmming and hawing, no more grey area where I get Dandy to only do halfway what I want and say I’ll fix the rest on the next go around. I have to be firm.
It was evident what she meant right from the beginning. As we picked up a posting trot, JLE wanted more. “Send him on,” she told me. “Faster. Lengthen that stride. I don’t care about that connection right now.” It was hard work and I couldn’t get much forwardness out of him until I caved and got the whip. Even then, it was work.
“More. Lengthen that trot.”
I’d post faster, put my legs on, click and wave the whip again.
“Not in five steps. NOW.”
Legs on again and I smacked Dandy behind my leg when I still felt nothing. He lurched forward and I got left behind.
So we did it again. And again. I felt like that scene in Miracle where they have to do Herbies up and down the ice over and over again until they’re all exhausted and throwing up (Luckily I was not throwing up). That lesson wasn’t about how collected we were (though we did work on getting the connection after I could get the forward) or the transitions, it was about getting him forward and in front of my leg at all times.
More than that it was about having the ability to get him to go where I wanted. I’m so used to riding Dandy that when he bulges a bit out in the shoulder I don’t really even notice it anymore. Well now I have to. Now I can’t let him get away with not going all the way over to the wall or falling in on a circle. The first step towards controlling how many feet are on the ground is controlling where they are on the ground.
This is going to be a long process and I’m under no misconceptions about it being magically fixed. I do feel though that I have a path to follow now. On one hand I’m glad that Dandy pulled this stunt because JLE has not been around during the really bad times and I’ve always chickened out and gotten off before it got to that point. Now she’s seen it and can help me figure out a solution.