There are times where I wonder why I still have horses. My life seems complicated enough as it is, and then add that I have three horses spread out on two different properties, all the expense of keeping them, all the time spent caring for them, and all the frustration they add into my life, it just doesn’t seem worth it.
I had been doing fine with Stu, he had been being a good boy, nothing of note to mention. Just moving slowly along, practicing transitions, different aids, lots of ground poles, even a few tiny crossrails that he trotted right over. I sometimes wondered about his capability to jump, as he never seemed to want to, just did his best big trot over everything. I lunged him over a scary looking flower box, which he did not care about, and he did the tiniest of tiny jumps over it.
Then I had a bunch of shoots, combined with a whole bunch of editing that needed to be done ASAP. I don’t mind this, it is my chosen job after all, and being busy means earning money, so if being unable to fit in riding, that’s just what happens.
I worked, I took care of children, children got sick, I took care of children. Children needed me, I took care of children. Decided to branch out my business to offer retouching services, which I’m still working on setting up, and then I took care of children some more.
You know when you have some of those days/weeks/years where it seems like everything is just not going well? That’s what it felt like to me. I went from the high of winning a photography award, to the lows of hating some shoots, which I didn’t even have the option of a reshoot. I went from feeling like I finally figured out how to manage my time, to feeling like I was out of control, and I couldn’t get anything done. I went from feeling like I was being a good mom, giving all the kids their attention, to terrible mom, dealing with three separate tantrums, wishing I could just get away. Like, far far away. Like, I need to fly to the other side of the world to get away. But of course, that would just make it even worse, I can’t possible go away when they all need me, and if I did leave, it’d just be ten times worse when I came back home, walking in and having my daughter informing me, “I cried because you left me here.” Yes, this is based on an actual, reoccurring story, and every time it makes me want to die of shame inside.
Meanwhile, Stu waited at the barn. Every day, I thought I was going to go see him, but then I realized I needed to get something done. I needed to edit more photos, edit video, update my website, create new marketing, take my daughter to gymnastics… there was always so reason why it wasn’t going to work that day. At first it was agonizing not to be able to get to the barn. But then, it started feeling like it would be a chore to go to the barn. I knew he’d be a jerk, I knew it would be an awful ride. I would be cold, I would be uncomfortable, what is the point, really? I’m not competing, I have no plans to compete, there’s no rush. Plus, I just had so much to do, one of the boys wasn’t feeling well, and there were just a million reasons why it would make more sense not to go.
I did slip out one day to see him, and as expected, there was fire in those legs. It was a ride that felt like I was flying through the air half the time, and not in a good way. More of, am I going to get tossed off at any second, kind of way. Will they find my squished body on the wall of the indoor? kind of ride.
It did not encourage me to come back.
After two weeks, I decided I had to just get out there and ride. I knew it was going to be miserable, but my choices were, give up riding and sell the horse, or stop making excuses and go ride the horse. Obviously, realizing that I love horses and I love riding, I needed to just go out there.
So I did. It was cold and windy, but I had made too many excuses to use that one now. I lunged, he seemed fine, so I got on. But it had been a clever ruse, he still had the fire inside. He spooked at everything, screamed at other horses, and continually tried to drift sideways around the arena. It was a tough ride. I knew it would be though, what else could I expect from my green horse that hasn’t done anything for the last two weeks?
The next day, I came back. I didn’t want to, it felt like a huge imposition to leave my house, but progress only happens when you show up, so there I was, ready to try again. I knew he’d be tough, so I lunged him. It was still windy, and he was still fresh. He did a nice fart spook and took off on the lunge line. Luckily he was still basically under control, and all he did was a few canter laps. He calmed back down, but then Bridgette popped up from behind a jump, and he spooked again, giving me some more canter laps.
He eventually settled on the lunge line, so I decided it was time to get on. Unfortunately, the wind was still going, and he was still fresh, so I got a fun ride of spooking at everything. People, horses, Bridgette, jumps, poles, all the normal stuff he sees everyday.
To be fair to him, he wasn’t being bad, exactly. He was just on edge, and I wasn’t giving him confidence. He was still listening, he was still doing as I asked, I could just feel the tension in him, which made me nervous. When he gets tense, I remember really fast that he’s a giant athletic warmblood, capable of moving very quickly, and oh yeah, one time he kicked me quite hard in the leg. It had been totally unexpected and out of no where so he’s definitely capable of throwing some unexpected punches.
His nervous energy combined with my daughter continually spooking him by just playing in the arena, and not listening to my requests to leave the arena, made for a disappointing, very bad ride. Add that to the shame I felt at being upset at my daughter for just doing the things she always does, and wanting to be near me. I finished the ride feeling like I was at an all time low.
I went back the next day, sans daughter. I knew he wasn’t going to get better without putting in the work, so what choice did I have. I couldn’t just leave it at two bad rides in a row. I just had to push through. What I really wanted was just to give up, admit this was beyond my capabilities, and just figure out how to get him in training. Let someone else work through this, make my life easy.
And to the people might be wondering why he isn’t just in training (other than the 22 months he WAS in training) – Well, the main reason is that I can’t afford it. Training runs about $1200 a month in my area, and I don’t have that much money. But the secondary reason is that this is my project, and I want him to be my creation. I want him to be good because I made him good. I want him to listen to the buttons I put on him, and I want him to feel like the perfect fitting shoe, just like my former horses, all of which I’ve done the riding on. I’ve done this before, and I want to do it again. (Not that I’m against lessons, I will definitively take lessons. I just want to be the person who rides him.)
Since I don’t have the luxury of someone else riding him, I just decided I was going to push through. Eventually he will get better. Just don’t screw this up, Courtney, and you should be fine. He’s been good before, he’ll be good again.
I’ve been working on just getting him responsive to whoa, slow, and the forward aids, and now straightness, since we seem to be drifting all over the place. I just put that in my head as I pulled him out of the field. Whoa, Go, Straightness. Correct Aids. You can do this. You’re going to have a good ride.
And then I said it out loud, “We’re going to have a good day!” I told him, enthusiastically. I even sang him a little song. He seemed mildly interested in this. I made the mental shift, telling myself this was going to be a good day. We were going to have a good ride.
We got to the cross ties, and he stood quietly. We went out to the arena, and he lunged quietly. He was either tired from the last two days, or he was just having a good day.
I got on fairly quickly, and we started working on the aids. Everything was checking out, he was listening. He was moving forward with momentum, he was stopping when I asked. I pushed him forward, and we just cantered. We cantered several laps around the arena, and I just felt lightness. All the misery of the previous days and weeks was fading away. All the stresses of the weeks faded away. We were just one, cantering around, enjoying the simplicity of it all.
At the end of the session, I had an idea. There was a little jump set up on the far side of the arena, just an 18 inch vertical, but I decided to just go for it. I didn’t show it to him, I just trotted over to it, and then trotted right up to it.
I was half expecting him to slam on the breaks. I was mostly expecting him to just take trot steps over it. Instead, I got power.
He didn’t even pause to think about it, he surged forward over that jump. He leapt up in the air, making a beautiful arch. I could feel the scope of it, he over jumped it by quite a bit. I hadn’t felt a jump like that since I used to jump Vintage, a noted over-jumper.
I was kind of stunned by it, and he might have been too, he did a little buck after the jump. It was a buck of “THAT WAS FUN!” It didn’t scare me or make me nervous, I was practically laughing with the thrill of it. I was hugging on him, telling him he was a SUCH a GOOD boy, while he cantered along. He drifted back to a stop after a few strides, but I could tell he was quite proud of himself.
That jump gave me the endorphins of the century. That’s the reason I have this horse, this is all I wanted to do, all day, every day. I need some more of those jumps.
Stu got a thorough grooming and much love after that ride. He alternated between falling asleep, and giving me some nuzzles, so I think he was pretty happy, too.
This is the reason why we do it. There may be bad days, in fact, there may be many bad days, but then there are the good moments. There’s the moments where we fly through the air, the moment of pure adrenaline and happiness. The moment were nothing else is on our mind except, we are here in this moment right now, and we did it. There’s no worrying about the stresses of work, other people relying on you, or just feeling inadequate in life. It’s just you and your horse, sharing a moment of joy, that’s unmatchable to anything in the world. The idea that you can team up with an animal, have a private, shared language, and accomplish something together is incredible.
Real life comes back. There’s gymnastics to go to, work to complete, and so many relying on me. But chasing that feeling will stay with me. It makes me excited for the next time. I won’t make excuses, I will get out there and keep on working with Stu, come wind and cold, or the complications of life, because I need it to function in my life. I need those moments of pure joy to keep me going when it feels like there’s a mountain of obligation forming on top of me.
And for the love of an animal who might drive me crazy sometimes, but overall, is really a pretty decent guy. I think I found a good one.