Horse Training

Not for the Faint of Heart

Some rides leave me in la la land for the rest of the day, reliving the incredible parts, over and over again. And then there are some rides that leave me a little sour, very familiar ground I’m sure for all of us equestrians. In the beginning months, Sego vastly improved with each and every ride. It was not all rainbows (my second ride on her included front feet stomps for a good 20 minutes, refusing to move forward), but it seemed like the more time we spent together, the more I believed in her, the better she got. Each and every ride was a milestone and that was very exciting. Now, however, we are reaching a different phase in our relationship. That first phase was like we were just becoming friends and were somewhat polite to each other. Now we are in the “good friends that have become college roommates and have less patience for attitude” phase. I also call this Sego’s “I am FIT and I feel GREAT” phase. She has become a lot of horse in the last couple of weeks. First off, the mare moods. There is so much sass and attitude packed in this one horse I sometimes cannot even believe it. If anyone is lacking some piss and vinegar in their horse, Sego has plenty to share. When she came around into her cycle, my relatively easy-going mare suddenly became a fire-breathing dragon. Head high in the sky, eyes wide, snorting and spitting, trying her damn best to trot around the world and back. That was really lovely to ride for a few days. There’s nothing like struggling to mount your 16hh dragon from the ground as she is spinning in circles, blowing sparks and smoke. Then to the complete opposite side of the spectrum. She was so pokey and lifeless for a couple of days that I gave her the rest of the week off, worried she had been worked too hard. When a little heel pressure on her side resulted in crow-hopping all the way up a hill one night, the pieces finally came together for me. I realized she was in heat (other than the differences in her personality and peeing on her hay, she doesn’t really show any other obvious signs!). Okay, cool. I am figuring her out and being lenient on days where she is just not feeling it. The much harder thing to do? Figuring out when I am not in the right space for certain training, and accepting that.

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“Who, me? I am a perfect angel.”

To be honest, I’ve been a bit of a fire-breathing dragon myself lately. I don’t really know what to blame it on other than it’s my turn for that most lovely time of the month (okay Pony Girl, we can relate there). Being prickly and easily offended does absolutely nothing for horse training. But the hard thing is, I’m a major “Upholder”. I create goals/plans for myself and even without any accountability from anyone else, if it is written in my planner, it is happening. So if I have it written that I will be schooling Sego on the flat, it’s really hard for me to change that even if I recognize that I am in a piss-poor attitude to be asking Sego to do hard things. Just last week I had planned on taking Sego to the arena to trot poles and possibly go over a cross rail. I was getting stuck at work and becoming increasingly agitated. When I finally got off, I rushed Sego into the trailer and off to the arena. I was feeling flustered and rushed, I knew those were dangerous feelings to be having before mounting a young horse. Sego was a perfect champ, doing everything I asked of her and going over the poles and cross rails smoothly. But I completely lost my cool with her when she took a corner like a barrel horse for the tenth time. Before me, Sego had never been ridden in an arena. She couldn’t control her speed or her gaits, let alone trot a circle in balance. Though circles are somewhat doable for her now, she still loses her balance and falls in, she is still building the muscle to be able to move this way, and it was very unfair of me to get after her. I felt tremendously guilty that night, vowing to never get on her in a crappy mood again. The last thing I want is for her to be anxious every time we go to the arena.

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Sego going over her first cross rail, no “if”, “and”, or “buts” about it!

 

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Until she figured out that she could just trot it, even when we raised it. At least she has heart!

 

But sometimes I get on her in a perfectly good mood and find myself increasingly agitated with her antics. Lately, whenever we move out for a conditioning ride, she’s a damn snake for the first 20 minutes, serpentining away from my efforts to keep her moving straight, looking for the slightest gap in my aids to turn around and go home. Today, I had no goals or expectations for our ride. I just wanted to take it easy and enjoy the afternoon with my husband. I decided to lope her for a stretch. When we passed my husband and Strider, she went full blown snake mode, squirming and squiggling beneath me, trying to keep a side eye on her big bro behind her. I’m actually pretty certain she was doing flying lead changes, HA. However, I was not laughing in the moment. I got dragon-y. I kicked her whenever she squirmed, which caused her to be a galloping snake instead of a loping one. I ended up eating dirt. Sego felt so, so bad. She did not budge when I got back on her, and she cantered such a straight line afterward that we would have received super high scores had there been a little plastic rectangle around us with letters. We trotted home, I got off, gave her an apple, and laughed at myself. Though it can be hard sometimes, I think the best thing you can do while training a young horse is to not take yourself so seriously.

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Sego loves water so much that she will dive head first into it. This boggy pond was not her best idea ever.

And that’s just it. Don’t take training so seriously. Don’t take conditioning so seriously. Be adaptive, learn what your horse is feeling, and recognize your own feelings, too, before getting on. Most especially, do not take this grass-eating and grass-pooping animal with its quirky antics so seriously. If you make a mistake, learn from it and move on. Don’t sit and dwell on it. These are the things I am relearning on this treacherous road of young horse training. It certainly is not for the faint of heart! Time to dust off the breeches and climb back in the saddle.

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Some days I find myself worrying. Does she like me? Does she enjoy her work? It’s hard to tell what a four year old horse is thinking, especially when her job has gotten harder and she probably prefers to eat over train. And then other days, she effortlessly trots down the road. She picks up her head and with it her spirit, and she kicks it into “Standie Gear”, a breathtaking trot that seems to be a different gait entirely. One-two, one-two, one-two, one-two one-two one-two I hear her hoofbeats pick up in speed, until I can feel she only has one foot on the ground at a time while still being in the trot. She seems to say “Girl, hang on. I was BORN for this.” And take off in speed without any encouragement from me. I have found that I live for these moments. The moments where she’s in charge, doing what she knows and loves, and I’m just along for the ride. Now, just to string those moments together for like 25 miles or so…. One day. One mile at a time. You have got to love training a young horse.

 

 

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