Monday, April 28, 2014


I had a bunch of very interesting and thoughtful comments on my last post, all of which I appreciate. Alicia made a particularly interesting comment that really gave me some food for thought. What she specifically said was:
"Try less to think about putting a round peg in a square hole. Make the hole round. Seeing as the horse is round already, why change the horse, just change the demands. So you want to be an eventer. Be one!! Instead of 'making' O do eventing, make eventing work for O."

I really like that way of looking at it. It's very easy to feel frustrated when you're in dressage tack in a dressage arena and nothing is going right.... BUT take away the tack and the arena and give the horse something else to do, and things are very different. To say that O is a tactical ride is the understatement of the century. Complicated things shut her down. Slow speeds frustrate her unless she is completely relaxed. Her evasion of choice is to get strong and run away at every gait. She absolutely excels at the combo of curl your head to your chest, completely ignore half halts, and bolt. When she is frustrated or confused, she fights me every. Single. Stride. Most dressage rides, it is all I can do to just get her walking quietly with four or five steps of relaxed trot on a straight line, and that's all we can do. That usually either comes only immediately in the beginning of the ride, or after two or so solid hours of sweating, cursing, and fighting each other tooth and nail.That pretty much sucks for both of us, all the way around. Neither one of us works well when we're upset like that.

When we're out going down the road, or when we're working the barrel pattern, I have a different horse. It's not necessarily on the trail that she is good - and it's not necessarily in the arena that she is bad - it's mostly just on the hardtop road going in straight lines that she does her best work, which boggles me a little bit. It took me a little while to figure that out - I thought that being out on the trail itself was what made her happy enough to relax, but in reality I don't think it is relaxation. I would not say she is relaxed so much on the trail as she is vigilant and interested in her environment, enough so that it gives her something else to think about. At that point she goes, "yeah yeah human you can manipulate me how you want, I have more important things to think about here." This of course still can go too far - if something is genuinely scary, she is still going to get tense and bolty. If she has seen the trail a million times, she is just as full of evasions. If she has never seen the trail at all, she sometimes gets a bit too spooky to relax. There's a formula to it that I haven't quite figured out. Pretty consistently, however, she gives me awesome trotwork on certain stretches of the roads around the barn. And if I can get her relaxed enough, no matter where we are, she's always pretty darn good.

One place that she is consistently good is on the barrel pattern. She gets it, it's automatic for her, and she can therefore relax because she knows exactly what is going to happen. She gets plenty fizzed up about it when I ask her for some speed, but the rest of the time she gets so mellow that she lowers her head, stretches out over her back, takes a big sigh, and breaks to the walk around every turn. Except for the turns of course, everything she does otherwise is perfectly acceptable dressage-type work.

It is extremely tricky to have a horse that is either 100% chill because they are doing the same repetitive thing in the same place, or 100% batcrap bananas because they are doing the same repetitive thing in the same place. You're never really quite sure which horse you're going to get that day. Doesn't matter what tack, what she has been doing before you rode, what you did yesterday, what kind of a mood you are in when you get on. There doesn't really seem to be a connecting factor, which is tricky.

The one place she is consistently good however is on the barrels. She never fights, never evades. She sees the pattern and heads right for it, and takes herself through it with no muss or fuss. She just gets it. And this is something I can DEFINITELY use to my advantage.

So therefore, I need to have a different plan. I can't just waltz into an arena on any given day and say, "we are doing dressage today!" I need to just let that go for now. We need to be doing things that give her enough confidence and relaxation that she becomes malleable. She needs to learn to be in control of her own body, that she doesn't have to haul on the reins or fall in or gallop off every time the balance changes.We need to take dressage and forget about the idea of making it dressage. It is, after all, just training the horse to carry itself properly, no matter what tack you use. We need to be doing something she enjoys, with a grander scheme in mind. We need to take dressage and disguise it as something else.

We need to do some barrel-ssage.

Because, let's be real... every time I look at this horse and the way she moves, all I can think is, "this horse is way too pretty of a mover and too cute of a jumper to not be an event horse."

Even when she's having a minor tantrum about something ("I SLIPPED AHH!"), she's still so pretty.

The day I can canter this mare quietly on a loopy rein in a circle is the day I start believing that anything can happen. I don't know how long it will take to get to that point... but that's where we need to go.

You wonderful wonderful blog readers are the best.... you're always there with words of encouragement even when I feel like I am about ready to give up. I'm NOT ready to give up on this horse eventually becoming an event horse... I need need to completely 100% change my tactics and go about this in a totally unorthodox way. The tried-and-true methods for producing horses in my past are just NOT working on this one. It is time to try something totally different!


  1. This is awesome! I haven't commented recently, but every post of yours where you're struggling with this all I can think is "O has IT." You know, that bit of personality every event horse needs to be great. She does such good work with you sometimes, and I think you're totally on the right track with this. Plus, don't give up on being an eventer. I think it's doable for you guys!

  2. Growing up, I had no arena most of the time. Trails were my only outlet to practice our Dressage. It was frustrating, but looking back it is perhaps what kept my hottish/could be crazy Appy sane. She also had 0 spook cross country. I whatever works to keep your horse happy and continue to build skills to do the discipline your ultimately want to do!

  3. Can you try making your dressage work into a pattern? i.e. do the exact same figures in the exact same order every time, as if you were doing a test? You could modify slightly every month as she improves.

  4. So glad some of the nonsense I spewed made sense to you :) I say all the time that you can NOT get onto a mare with a plan in mind. Because they simply don't allow for it, and will not be convinced otherwise. Yes I'm sure there are exceptions but owning a sassy red mare myself I've learned better. You learn what they like, what they don't, and try to figure out how to make whatever you want to do something they want to do. And at the end of the day we really wouldn't want it any other way.

  5. I love the "I slipped ahhhh" tantrum! If anyone can turn her around - you can :) I have faith!

  6. The other thing to remember is that you've only had her for a year, and she's only nine. You're making great progress with her, and it's not like she's OMG too old for anything other than Futurities. Yall are doing great :)

  7. Good thing you are the best at unconventional! ;-)

  8. She's lucky to have you as a rider.

    I'm caring for my sister's grey mare at the moment and her and O could be soul sisters, but I don't have the time or patience to persevere with her (I'll admit it!) so good on you, you awesome human being! :) I think she'll be another spunky eventing mare of yours :)

  9. I think it is absolutely awesome that you are not giving up on a.) your horse and b.) your dream. So many people would be quick to dump the horse and get one more immediately suited to their sport, and I just think it is great that you are working so hard to find a way to work with your crazy amazing exhausting smart talented infuriating little mare ;) She's a unique one for sure, but I have faith that you guys can work it out!!

  10. I agree so strongly with Katie and Beauty! It is so wonderful that you love O and are going to do what she is best with or are willing to take the time to develop her so that she loves and is good at your chosen sport.

  11. Wow she is complicated!!!!! So happy I have a gelding haha. Sorry I couldn't resist. :) I'm too complicated to ride a complicated horse.

    I'm glad you have a new plan! You will find a way through to her. Also I totally forgot you have only had her a year! You've come SUCH a long way since you got her. I still remember when you first brought her home. I would never have guessed she would have come so far in a year. :)