November 30, 2010

What would you like to do?

Once I had my first horse and was firmly planted at Carol’s barn I joined Pony Club with my friends.  I loved Pony Club, it was like Girl Scouts but more fun.   My first horse, Bee Bop enjoyed it as well.  He happily plugged along whether it was over jumps or around a training level test.  We competed in the rallies and did well.  I enjoyed the dressage aspect more than most of the kids, but still loved jumping.  We used to go over jumps with our hands stretched out at our sides like we were flying, and to a little girl it’s about as close as you can get.

Then Bee Bop’s attitude started changing, he started to refuse jumps, and in general become less cooperative when we moved from the dressage ring to the jumping field (we practiced both every lesson).  The less cooperative over jumps he got the more time we spent in the dressage ring.  We later found out Bee Bop had navicular.  As we tried to fix him, jumping was out so we became a dressage team.  Eventually we realized he wasn’t up for that either and he was sadly re-homed to someone who was happy riding him out on the trails.  Bee Bop tried his hardest but he let us know he couldn’t handle it any more.

Enter L.E. – my new Pony Club horse!  Or so I thought.  She jumped just fine but she hated it!  And she let you know.  Because we had issues with our last horse we made sure she had no soundness issues, she just didn’t want to jump.  Like I said, she’d do it because I asked but she’d throw her opinion in with a little buck or grinding of her teeth (that was her favorite form of expression).  And who wants to make a horse do something they don’t want to do, so we ended up spending more time in the dressage ring (again).  The more I rode dressage the more I realized I enjoyed it more than jumping anyways.  It was technical and very detail oriented (not that jumping isn’t, but I was able to grasp dressage’s nuances better).  So L.E. made me a dressage rider, and a relatively good one at that.  We still would hack around every now and then for fun, but we never really competed L.E. in the jumping arena.  And because of that we kind of faded away from the Pony Club world and into the USDF world.

So after L.E. I decided I was a dressage rider and my next horse would be a dressage horse.  Afer a 10 year hiatus from riding I got my dressage horse… Gunner.  I had Gunner for over a year riding circles and serpentines and leg yielding before I got the nerve to hop him over a small jump.  He did it perfectly, he didn’t rush, he didn’t get nervous, and he seemed to get excited about it.  So I started jumping Gunner more, I wasn’t a complete fan, and it made me nervous at times, but I could tell it piqued his interest, so I made sure we found time to doe it every couple of rides.  Gunner also liked to get out of the arena and run in the field, he was a thoroughbred after all.  Especially when I let him stop and smell every pile of poo in the pasture as we cooled down.   And when it came time to sell Gunner I was happy to know he’d be going to a couple of girls who loved to jump.

I’m still figuring out what Dexter likes to do.  So far I know he doesn’t like to ride in the indoor, or in the small arena, he likes the big field.  And he doesn’t like to ride in the wind.  He seems to enjoy his dressage work and really loves his lessons (except at the end when he gets tired).  I’m learning to read him better, for instance I’ve noticed he starts to chomp his mouth when he gets frustrated or doesn’t like what we are doing.  He used to do it all time, when he’d totally avoid the bit and thought he had to hold his nose to his chest the entire ride.  We have since invited him out to the bit and he’s much happier, unless I fuss with him to  much.  But there are some days when Dexter doesn’t feel like working, and I get it, there are days when I don’t feel like riding.  Those days  we do minimal work (or none at all) and just walk around and watch the horses across the street.  I know that tomorrow he will be in a better mood and we will still get our work done, together.

Horses are amazing animals, the do so much for us and ask for little in return.  So when possible I try to remember to ask “What would you like to do?” and see what kind of things make them happy.  Sometimes its flat work, sometimes it’s jumping and sometimes it’s meandering around a big pasture with no agenda what so ever.  Sure there are times when you have to buckle down when they aren’t particularly in the mood, say on a cold or rainy day, but in general a happy horse is way more fun to ride.  So whenever possible I try to listen to what my horse is saying, and find a happy medium.  There is no law that states a horse has to do what I want him to.  So I am grateful for every good ride I have and learn from every bad one.  People might think I’m being to soft and developing a spoiled horse.  I don’t think so, we still ride regularly and are training and accomplishing amazing things.  We are just optimizing our results by doing it when we are both tuned in to the goal.  And others might say I’m silly to think the horse wants me to ride him ever… maybe so.  All I know is Dexter still greets me at the gate every day, and follows me out to the field. It may be true that riding isn’t his favorite pastime, but I like to think spending time with me is and he knows to do so, some work has to be done.

It’s often hard to know exactly what a horse is going to be good at when you are first purchasing them, so its good to keep an open mind.  Know that you are purchasing a good solid partner and find out what you both enjoy doing.  I’ve found that ultimately equals what you both will be best at.  And try to ask “What would you like to do today?” every now and then.  I know Dexter likes dressage but doesn’t want to do it everyday. I’m guessing even some of the best jumpers might enjoy a  swim in the local pond every now and then.

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