I’m on a hunt. There must be a rational way to deal with a horse that you love on every level and with all your heart. But that horse is a spook.
First, I’m going to lay out my rationalizations. I’m a baby booming adult amateur who didn’t starting training until my mid forties. I’ve had too many falls to remember. My first fall nearly ended the whole horse thing. I was hurting for months after and the only reason I stayed with the sport was that I already owned the horse. After some real work getting back into the swing of it, I soldiered on. But my lousy seat betrayed me several times over the years and I ate more than my share of dirt. Ten horses later, I can’t say that I’ve totally recovered from the last few. 66 years old makes for some pretty hard ground and lack of bounce.
Enter Casanova. On the surface, the ideal horse. Only 16’2 with a compact build, sweet as can be on the ground, easy to sit, lovely gaits, loves to please. He seemed exactly what I needed after all the big horses I had been pushing around the arena the last twenty years. My trainer, Jen and I tried him about a half dozen times or so. My legs draped easily. He was responsive and soft. So easy off the leg. He was schooling a very green Prix St. Georges. Everything said go. He was glad to see me each time we tried him. Check out the photos above. It just doesn’t get better.
So home he came in November 2016. He immediately carved his own corner in my heart. To this day, that corner just grows larger.
But, he’s a very spooky horse. He is a true Chicken Little. His spooks are not big. Jen can bring him back in an instant. But with each spook I witness, my courage falters. Riding on the buckle at the walk is an exercise in adrenaline control.
I’ve set up my darling horse. Now me.
My last fall in 2012 was quick and dirty and on my relatively new mare Delhia (Lhia). In retrospect, I think it has colored my riding ever since. Fortunately, I had Callista who I never was afraid to get on. But once Lhia dumped me, I found myself discouraged. I worked hard on my seat, as I rightfully concluded it wasn’t good enough to help me in an emergency.
I pushed myself to get back to a good place with Lhia. We were making progress. But she went lame in the late spring of 2016. I’ve only just got back on her at a walk ( we are rehabbing her from a subsequent surgery) and she’s still fairly gimpy. On the days she’s really fresh, I don’t get on. That’s what brave, confident, YOUNG trainers are for.
With Waterford a two year old, Callista being retired, Lhia laid up, the purchase of Novi was everything! And we started well. I was letting Jen start him and I was finishing him, always working on my seat. Then the spooking showed up.
We checked his eyes, kept an eye on saddle fit, asked for the work kindly. We were and are very fair. We offered as much turnout as our boarding facility could allow. When we came home to Bella Blu, we offered even more. We vary the program, offer walks on the bridle path, we are committed to a regular show and clinic calendar to vary his environment. But he remains a spooky creature.
When he is good, he is perfect for me.
His spooks are largely visual when he is going left. It’s his right side when it’s on the outside that presents the problem. Yes, we had the eye specialist out to rule out any vision problem. But lines of any kind, footing variation, sun and shadow lines are all issues for him in this direction. As I said, most of his spooking is easily ridden through. He never loses his head over it. He just is a horse that thinks the sky is falling on a regular basis.
Anyone reading this would say, “Just sell him and get something else.” That’s not why I’m writing this entry. This is my Challenge. I want to trust ME to learn to ride this otherwise wonderful animal.
So that brings me to today. I’ve only been back to riding less than a month. This last year, I’ve been plagued with Lyme, shingles, my mom’s death, my torn up Achilles and ankle. I finally was out of my cast about four weeks ago. I’m soft and more chubby than usual, due to a year of zero activity. But I really wanted to get back into things ASAP.
So it’s been mostly walk-trot this month. I started well, I think. I stay off of Novi on the days he is very “up” and when he is particularly spooky. But I have days when I let my environment get to me even when he is not spooky. Today it was windy. Novi had been particularly good with Jen in the schooling. Because she is showing him this weekend (Four One), I was just getting on to cool him out. We’ve been incorporating a lot of walking on the buckle to make up for the casual kind of fun riding I didn’t get as a kid ( it’s a huge thing to be an adult rider without that careless childhood horse history). But I let the head games begin. And I dismounted unnecessarily early because I caved.
And it’s me. It’s not Novi. And I truly believe selling him and getting a different horse is not what is needed. I truly believe this is about me believing in me. When I can get over this hurdle, I do think Novi and I will do well together.
A Super Large sigh is echoing across the void.
We have a plan. One is taking advantage of Waterford’s training to help me. Just now, I get on about once a week for a lead line ride, using my seat and leg aids only. Jen proposes we put her up on him and begin teaching him how to longe with a rider up. When I graduate to trot on him, it will be on the end of a longe line. Waterford is a supremely confident youngster. As he matures, he will be a great help to me, I know. And hopefully, we can eventually have Novi do the same.
Now I need to work on sport psychology. I’ve a good library with all the classics. Time to read. Time to practice mental strategies. Time to believe in me.
to be continued….