Trust yourself. Trust your horse. Trust your trainer. Trust your Higher Power (which can sometimes mean “trust your horse or trainer,” depending on how you look at things.)
I’m a control freak. As a rule, we find it difficult to just let go and trust that things will happen as they should. We always feel that we could or should be doing things to affect a positive outcome, or, more accurately, what we see as being the positive outcome. Because as you know, what actually happens may be positive, but it may differ greatly from what we had originally envisioned.
I’m also a mom, so that means I always feel I could/should be doing things to create positive experiences for my kids, even though I know sometimes being a good parent means letting them work through the hard stuff themselves. Can you say CONUNDRUM??? AAACKKK!
I was reading Holly Covey’s recent post on HJU entitled OTTB’s: A Cautionary Tale on the Breed Du Jour, about her interview with OTTB trainer Pat Dale, and it caused me to reflect a bit on my kids’ experiences with James, the OTTB they have been riding since January. It hasn’t been an easy six months: My son moved from a lazy, forgiving Warmblood to a forgiving but more sensitive OTTB. My daughter moved from a pony with a typical pony stride to a long striding OTTB. This could have been a recipe for disaster (the kind Pat Dale talks about trying to avoid in the post) and there were times when I wanted to throw in the towel. It’s not that things actually got dangerously out of control. It was more like James would get tense or fast and it made for lessons where the kids’ progress seemed to go backwards rather than forwards. However, sometimes backwards can be a sort of forward progress, in that you learn what you don’t know and what weaknesses you may have. Anyway, this is where the trust part comes in.
Trust Your Horse
This was a tough one for us to learn. (I say ‘us’ because I sometimes ride James as well.) The kids have only been riding a few years, and they still have form faults and balance issues. The pony and my mare pretty much ignored it if the kids balanced on their mouths or did not follow the motion with their elbows. James has a soft mouth and likes a softer ride. Too much hand or stiff elbow makes James tense, and when he gets tense he gets fast. This, of course, caused the kids to hang on his face even more. I tend to be a micromanager, and will pick-pick-pick down to a fence in hopes of finding a distance. This kind of ride makes James crazy.
We went through good lessons and not-so-good lessons. My son Noah loves James, and wanted to improve in order to be able to ride him the way he needed to be ridden. Sophie wanted to go back to the world of ponies. I wanted to learn how to relax and let things flow and be a hunter rider. I didn’t know what to do. The question was “Do we try to find something easier? Or do we let the kids work it out?” There were potential downfalls to both scenarios. If we toughed it out, the kids might get frustrated, hurt, or lose interest. If we looked for an easier ride, they would lose time developing skills in the saddle and more importantly, learn that taking the easy way out is an option. That’s not a lesson we want to teach them.
Our trainer worked hard with the kids on their way of riding and understanding how that impacted James. She taught them how to half halt, and then let go, trusting that he was going to listen and come back to them. She’d say, “Half halt. Now, see, he’s being a good boy. he’s not going anywhere. Be good to him. Trust that he will listen to you and do your best not to hold on to him.” Gradually her message got through to the kids. The more they relaxed and trusted James, the more he relaxed for them and did his job in a way that left everyone happy and feeling successful. She also worked on other issues, like Noah’s swinging legs and active upper body. Once she was able to get him in a more stabilized, secure position, he was less active in the saddle, which produced a noticable difference in James.
Trust Your Trainer
Our trainer has also been invaluable in helping us manage James in a way that keeps him happy and relaxed. With her help, we’ve figured out that James needs to be outside as much as possible, and if he’s unable to be turned out because of weather, he needs time to run around the indoor to get his “bucks and farts” out. If not, odds are he’s going to take a while to settle in under saddle. My kids have very different riding styles, so we’ve found out that James does best if he gets at least one ride by my trainer a week to keep him tuned up. That was tough for me, as I wanted to ride him too. However, it became clear to us that he was more unsettled if the kids and then I rode him instead of the kids and then my trainer. Our trainer also has figured out what is likely to make him anxious, and how he likes to be managed at shows, which results in a happier horse and happier kids. More importantly, the kids have learned a valuable lesson in that every horse is an individual, and not every horse has the same needs.
I’ll be honest with you, I went back and forth over this thing, gnawing on it like it was a bone. Why is it that horse issues become so monumental in our lives, and take up so much of our thought processes? (C’mon, I can’t be the only one that does this, right??) I was terrified of making the wrong decision, afraid it would result in injury, years of therapy, or highly spoiled children who took the easy option whenever possible. I had to trust my kids and my own ability as a Mom. I had to trust that Noah was being honest with me; that he was not afraid and could, in fact, learn to ride James. I had to trust my knowledge of my daughter. In the past, when faced with adversity, Sophie has wanted to give up and press the Easy Button. My gut told me this was another one of those times. Our trainer said there was no doubt Sophie could ride James, and I’d seen her do a good job of it, even when he was “up”.
So did I go with what my gut said was the “right” thing, or did I press the Easy Button for the kids and look for something that was less of a challenge?
I went with the “right” thing. The kids are still riding James, and things have been steadily moving in the right direction. They are happy, and James is happy. Noah recently entered a horse show with James; Noah’s first show in two years. James was a star, and a day that began with hopes of just getting around successfully and keeping the horse happy ended with a Reserve Champion ribbon.
Sophie has not shown yet, but she and James have been doing very well, and she’s now jumping higher than she did with her pony, which has been her goal. She plans to be jumping higher than me by the end of the summer, and I don’t doubt it will happen. Do we backslide occasionally? Yep. Does James spook, or get quick sometimes? Sure. But he comes back right away and the kids know how to manage it now.
We never could have predicted that this unassuming OTTB with the dismal track record would have turned out to be such an important teacher in our lives, but we feel incredibly blessed that he’s been so willing and patient with us.
We’re probably what Pat Dale envisioned as a potential worst case scenario: Inexperienced young riders, and an inexperienced older rider relatively new to horse ownership.
We are fortunate to have a trainer who recognized the potential in this match up and has the experience to help us manage all aspects of it. Because of this, my children are learning lessons it may have taken years to learn otherwise.
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