Couples Therapy

After what was, truthfully, a rough few interactions that left me feeling not so in love with my horse–including almost getting kicked/kneed/squished when trying to clip Val’s legs– we were due for some easy, happy stuff. That first came in the form of an easy hack out in our new field on Saturday after body clipping and a complete change of clothes. And I do mean everything.

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So much hair on the Heather.

There were actually a few things I was hoping to accomplish with that ride.

  1. Get all of the just clipped sillies out of his system
  2. Do some couples therapy to remember why we love each other
  3. Get Val more acclimated to riding in such a large space all alone
  4. Let him really stretch and relax in a no-pressure type of ride

When I first got on we were jigging all over, so we jigged over to the grass ring to longe for just 5 or so minutes. The weather was weird and gross, he was cold, and he’d been stuck in the cross ties for hours with no turnout in over 12 hours when he’s normally out 24/7. A little longe time was a fair ask.

When I got back on he was still just a little up, so we did a lap of trot on a loose rein each way in the ring before we headed out to the field.

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Everything the fog touches is ours.

Val is funny with this kind of stuff. On the one hand, he loves adventures. So so much. He just wants to go galloping along down trails and across fields. It’s adorable. He’s also a ring baby and a horse that raced for about 6 years, so getting out of the ring like that also mildly terrifies him. So what actually happens is he constantly feels like he’s about to run away, but never actually goes anywhere. Not at first any way.

We did a lap of walk around the whole field, and then I got right to work trotting around the field, back and forth across it, across the long diagonals, etc. I rarely touched my reins, and stayed in a pretty forward seat, and I was rewarded with some really good work. Especially going across the rows of newly mowed grass, he lifted through his back like he was going over trot poles.

Even after 15-20 minutes of solid trotting, Val felt really great and forward. I made him take a lap to walk, and then I let him canter around doing all of the same work. Long, and loose, with me basically hovering up out of the way. I did package him up just a bit near the end of our canter work, just asking him to his his back a bit more, and I asked him to still keep his stride pretty open and relaxed. At the very end of our work, he gave me some of the best stretchy canter he’s ever offered and I grinned like a loon.

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You get not relevant photos to break up the text, since someone didn’t want to stand in the drizzle to take pictures…

When we finally finished (at around 50 minutes with just a few walk breaks) he felt loose and happy, and I loved my horse again. Val felt really brave about everything out in the field, and he was more relaxed but still didn’t feel tired. I was super glad he was naked though, because he was a little warm even though it was in the 50s and foggy/misty.

Sunday dawned even foggier and grosser, and I would like to mention that we were told 70s and sunny and beautiful for the weekend forecast, with rain finally rolling in Sunday afternoon/evening.

Regardless, I grabbed my naked pony for a 9 am lesson.  He had still not been turned out yet, because I didn’t finish with him on Saturday until dinner time anyway. But a good long ride in the field still seemed to have done its job. He was relaxed and happy again and not spooking at things like he had on Thursday. Until we went over the first tiny warm up jump and he launched with his nose between his knees. Which was the same jump we’d started with Thursday and every jump school for most of the past few weeks/months.

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It was tempting to prepare for a fight, but I did my best to take a breath, laugh it off, and just come to it again.

After 2 more passes, he leveled out a little, and I kept cantering to a few more little jumps until he finally got a little more normal. For our first little course after that he was really good, and he peeked at our scary new jump going over a smidge but was really quite reasonable.

Our next course went the other way over it though, going down the bending line instead of up, and we came to a screeching halt a few strides out. I made him stand still for a moment so he wasn’t getting to run away from it, and he proceeded to stop twice more, even with the jump knocked down as small as it would get. Ugh.

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Working on that dent in front of his withers a lot more this year. 

Finally I borrowed a crop that I then used at one more stop, then trotted up to the jump. He basically jumped the standards, but we got over. I tried not to touch him on the back side except to pat his neck, and we kept cantering to come back over it again and then finish our course. The last few jumps were ugly and reactive in between, but I called it a win that he had no inclination not to jump after that.

From there everything started to even out, and we didn’t do that jump again for the rest of the lesson. He did shoot to the left after the fence we’d done as the first of the line when we first came back to it, but even that went away, and by the end of the lesson, Val was super game again even with most of the oxers right around 3’3 again and some really tricky, short turns with not much time to analyze the fences.

We even dug in so well at one point that we turned around a clump of dirt we flung, and it just barely missed my face. That was kind of cool.

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I often forget that even though Val could jump the moon, he’s just not the bravest of guys. He jumps so well because he’s really rail-phobic, and always a little peaky. This means that from time to time, we’re just going to have to have the conversation about how even when the jump scares him, he just has to jump it. As he gets more and more schooled, those instances become less frequent, and I start to forget that going between the standards was not always his first choice when he was afraid. To some extent, that’s a good thing, because it prevents a lot of baggage, but it also makes me less patient with him from time to time because the behavior somehow surprises me.

In the end, it was actually a fun weekend, but more than that, it was a much needed reminder to have a little patience with my horse, and to remember that though he tries hard for me and is braver for me than anyone else because he knows me, that doesn’t mean that he’s the steady eddy I can drop at the base of a scary fence. Sometimes he’s just not going to be brave, and that might mean we blow a class here and there or have a rough lesson. But nowadays, he also comes back down from that panic much faster, and as long as I’m prepared for those moments of worry, it’s not as hard to overcome them.

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Seriously, you guys, even if I never get as far as I hope we will, this dude is teaching me invaluable lessons about training horses.

4 thoughts on “Couples Therapy

  1. What a cool little Porsche of a horse he is 🙂 Frankie is super relaxed and brave about jumping, but that comes with its own set of challenges- he is totally cool with crashing through a jump instead of picking his feet up haha. One of these days we’ll get the right mix of brave and picking-the-feetsies-up-all-the-way.

  2. That ride through the field sounds like bliss to me right now!! I desperately miss those wide open spaces at my new, more compact farm (tho there’s apparently a small field a quick hack up and around the pastures but I haven’t explored there yet… Soon!)

    Anyway tho nice job getting him back on track in the lesson. I definitely know that feeling of getting lulled into forgetting how things didn’t always used to be easy, and then getting a rude reminder about it haha!

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