I moved to a new barn at the beginning of January. Stu was at the previous barn about three months, and it was three months of mostly frustration. I didn’t even want to go see him because I wasn’t having fun. There were definitely a few rides that felt wonderful, but the majority felt like I was making no progress and I wasn’t feeling confident on him, which he felt, and it made him spooky and unresponsive to my aids.
When it was time to move, I had to think about what I was going to do differently. A new barn meant a fresh start, and it also meant I’d be on my own, as I am not currently training with the trainer here. I probably will start taking lessons later this year, but right now my time is so limited I can’t even commit to regular lessons. As a side note, if someone else was telling me that they were having issues with their horse but not using a trainer, I’d suggest they get a trainer, so I get the irony of myself not using a trainer for this situation.
However, I’ve been riding basically my whole life, I’ve trained every horse I’ve owned, and I was feeling like I could work through this on my own, especially since I don’t have any timeframe or deadlines to meet. I’m not trying to start showing in the spring, or get ready for any event. I’m just trying to work with my own horse, for my own enjoyment. I’m not saying that I am at all above using a trainer, but I’m willing to try it on my own. I find it very satisfying to work with my own horse and know that they are the way they are because of me.
Unless I mess it all up in which case I will be horrified and embarrassed beyond belief. But we’ll cross that bridge if we come to it.
In anticipation of doing this all on my own, I bought Noelle Floyd’s Masterclass Series. I actually love online learning, it’s incredible the amount of information that can be found online. More knowledge is always a good thing, and several of the classes, like Working with the Spooky or Anxious horse, and Training the Young Horse, really spoke to what I’m doing with Stu right now. I’ve watched quite a bit of it so far, and it’s been eye opening. It’s made me rethink my riding and my relationship with Stu.
There’s also a bunch of other classes on there that I’m very excited to check out. I have a lot of videos to watch while I’m on the treadmill!
I also bought a very important tool: a rope halter with knots. I had started using one at the previous barn, and it actually made working with him much easier. He acts a bit dull, and he’s extremely strong. If he decides he wants to go somewhere, there’s no way I can physically stop him. This halter had knots that lay on a sensitive area, so if he pulls against it, it’s very uncomfortable. My aim isn’t to hurt him, but with a horse as huge as him, I need to be in control. Eventually, I’m going to make the switch back to a normal halter, when I’m sure he’s learned his manners.
After watching many videos and spending some time to think, I decided the best action was just to take it slow and get to know him. I really don’t know him that well. He’s been with other people the last two and a half years, and a lot of information about him was passed to me from other people. I was given a lot of mixed messages, depending on who I talked to. I needed to just see him for what he was.
I decided I was just going to walk around with him, do ground work, and observe. I was going to watch what he reacted to and how he reacted to it. I was going to hang out alone, with other horses, resting, walking, exploring, and just see what happened. I wasn’t going to try to ride until I saw, with my own eyes, what kind of horse he was.
The Follow Through
For the first two weeks he was there, that’s all I did. I took walks around the property. I followed friends around. I went to the arena and did ground work. We went in the barn and had long grooming sessions. I observed the way he behaved.
…and he was good. He couldn’t have been a better horse. He followed me obediently around the property. He stopped when I stopped, and would stand idly with me for many minutes. He hung out quietly in the barn. He lunged quietly in the arena, even though it’s in a frightening location: right next to a busy road. Motorcycles, giant trucks, horse trailers, and loads and loads of cars all went by, sometimes honking at us. Nothing phased him, although it’s making me seriously question why people think honking at a bunch of horses is a good idea. It happens frequently, and it’s not like I know these random people, or they are stopping to have a chat. What do they mean to accomplish by honking??
But I digress.
Stu was perfectly behaved. From the moment he stepped off the trailer onto this new farm. He has not spooked, or acted in any way obnoxious.
It was time to get on him. The day I took my first ride, I wasn’t even nervous because I had seen already how he had been acting. He continued to act the same. Sure, there were baby moments, like when he would rather stay near his new horse friends instead of going around the ring, or our continuing issue of him being the slowest warmblood in existence, but he has not been reacting at all the way he was at the old barn. Every time I show up, he’s the exact same horse. He doesn’t even care if I miss a few days, he’s still the same horse. It can be super windy, and he’s still the same horse. Like he is just literally a new horse here. There’s no spooking, or getting incredibly strong in the bridle, or completely ignoring me and acting like a freight train.
It has only been a month, but I’m actually enjoying going to see him now. Every time I ride him is a pleasure. It feels like we are actually moving forward in progress, instead of just reacting to the moment. There are still challenges, but it feels like they are normal baby horse challenges, not “horse is trying to get me off” challenges.
Taking the time to do lots of ground work with him definitely helped. I think it made both of us more confident, which translated to a better ride. I also think he just likes it here better. He has a full field of friends, and a huge field to just explore and be a horse. I think it just suits his personality better – he’s basically a big puppy and a gentle soul. He just wants friends and attention.
Now that winter has finally arrived, I might not go out quite a much since I am a huge baby this days, but I’m so excited for the next time. I feel like I’m having fun again, and I think he is, too.