Think about this for a second…how often have you had a “favorite food” that you ate so many times you can no longer stand it? Oh, you may take a break from it, then decide next year you really DO love it and go back to stocking your pantry again. Or you may never be able to stand to even LOOK at it again. Either way, my point is the same…our tastes change. Same with clothing, our styles change too…like that awesome sequin-studded shirt that was so trendy last year, the one taking up permanent residence in your closet that you can’t believe you ever thought was cute!
So what makes us think our horses are any different? That their needs or preferences will never change? I was humbly reminded of that recently with my mare (there’s that word humble again, she’s been teaching me plenty of lessons on that lately!) We started our Florida Eventing adventure off so well, getting one of our best dressage scores EVER at our first 3-phase here, a score of 29!! I was on cloud 9, and she and I were just meshing and getting better and better with our dressage.
Then came 3-phase number two, and it was a scorcher. The temperature was up above 90 degrees F. Warming her up for dressage was like trying to get a sloth to run in the Kentucky Derby…she was SO behind my leg and resistant and just not using her hind end at all. The dressage test itself wasn’t any better, she tripped three times and wouldn’t move off my leg no matter how much I asked with spurs OR dressage whip. It wasn’t like her at all. It was a wonder we ended up with a 6th place score in our class of 12, I was pretty sure we’d be sitting in the 12th spot after our display of laziness! I had recently done a lot to rule out any other issues and for the first time in a very long time, she was actually back soreness free! I started to wonder…is it this heat? I mean, as an Ohio pony, she had been exposed to similar temps in the summer, but in thinking back, she had reacted similarly to them when they did occur. Maybe she just can’t handle the heat of summer – which doesn’t bode well for taking up residence in Florida!
After a break at the trailer and a tack change, we went over to warm up for jumping…and I had a different horse. And the temp had only gone UP. But she was energetic, moving off my leg with no problem, taking the jumps perfectly! We had a clear round in stadium and another clear round in cross country and I was perplexed. The sloth I had in dressage had turned into a cheetah! I actually had to slow her down in cross country to avoid speed penalties, she was having an absolute blast! We took second place that day after moving up with our clear cross country round and I was ecstatic…but confused too. I left that day scratching my head about the dressage.
I went home and started doing some thinking. Now in Florida lately, it’s been pretty much constantly in the 90’s and the trend I’ve figured out with Sandie seems to be that at any temp over 85, she doesn’t want to do dressage. But give her jumps and she doesn’t care if it’s 95 – she is game! So I decided to take a step back in our dressage work. If her head’s not in it, we aren’t going to have our usual nice, harmonious ride. And what’s the point then? It’s not as if we’re competing for some big money prize…we do this for fun. And I’ve always been of the opinion that if she or I are not having fun, then it’s time to do something else. It’s time for a change.
So in light of Sandie’s new preferences, the game plan now is to just have her be my Jumper pony for the summer. In the fall when it cools off a bit, we’ll go back to Eventing and see how we do. We’re of course still working on our flatwork in the meantime, but we’re going about it a different way. Lots of things like transitions both outside and within the gaits, and I’m even finally getting back around to teaching her flying changes (she still just does simples). Having new things to work on seem to have perked her right up, and they’re all things that will benefit our dressage work when we get back into it later this year. And the best part…we’re having fun again. I’m not stressing about our dressage and getting her to work in a frame. Instead, as long as she’s round and responsive to my aids, she can go around in a longer frame and we’re both happy with that right now. And it doesn’t mean we’re giving up on Eventing…OH NO, we love cross country too much for that! And when it’s cooler she makes the cutest little dressage pony and it’s really enjoyable! I’m just listening to her preferences right now and I firmly believe it will make us both stronger Eventers in the long run…and better partners too. 🙂