The last time I posted an update about Stu, I had fallen off. It was quite an experience; he’s a tall horse and we were going fast. Although I’m basically over it, I’m always very aware that he’s very big, very strong, and could easily do what he wanted, if he choose to. But let’s keep that secret to ourselves, he doesn’t need to know that.
The fall was so many months ago at this point and although I haven’t updated, things have been moving along. Shortly after the fall, I had a trainer start riding him twice a week. I felt like I was just too busy to give him the consistency he needed.
The training rides helped a lot. Not only did it benefit him, but I took a bit of a mental breather. I’ve been trying to get so much done that it was nice to take out one thing to worry about for a bit.
The trainer rode him for 6 weeks, so 12 rides total. Although I rode him sporadically, it was mainly just her riding. They worked on some basic stuff, and she even started him over little jumps. Then it was back to me.
The little breather cleared my mind and I started riding him again. I set a few ground rules for myself:
I must ride every other day, or as close to it as I can get.
That’s basically it, the whole rule.
Why this rule? Because I am juggling so much going on, I have to make it a priority or it doesn’t get done. If I don’t specifically plan out when I will ride, I’ll end up too busy to ride. It’s way too easy to get distracted with the kids, the cleaning, working or just falling asleep in exhaustion. As long as I follow that rule, everything else falls into place.
It’s actually kind of incredible how much happens when I commit to the schedule. Stu is doing so much better. I used to complain that he was a train that was hard to steer. Not anymore. He’s super supple and easy. We did circles until the cows came home, and he went from being stiff and unyielding to a spaghetti monster of turning. He carries himself better. He responds better. He listens to my aids better. And now if I lose my balance, he’s a bit offended, as he knows how I’m supposed to do it, so why am I acting like that? I have to be very careful with my body because he takes balance and weight shifting as an aid. I wouldn’t have believed it if someone had told me my dull, uncaring horse of a year ago would become a sensitive flower.
Part of my inspiration and what motivates me to keep going is the thought of one day doing working equitation. It looks like so much fun, and I greatly admire the training of those horses. At this point, it looks like it might be a possibility one day, and not just a pipe dream.
But that is still way in the future. Let me talk about right now, about the main highlight of our journey so far.
I’ve made no secret of my love of trail riding. It is possibly the main reason to ride horses, everything else is secondary to that. So naturally, I need Stu to be a trail horse. He may be a warmblood bred for the show ring, but trail riding is much more important to me personally.
I wondered when we would be able to reach that point. I had visions in my head of galloping through a picturesque field of flowers, maybe like a mountaintop meadow like the start of The Sound of Music, if I could ever get Stu over into the Swiss Alps. But since that seemed like a lot of trouble, I’d also be fine with some nice areas of Virginia trails. But location aside, would it ever be possible on my massive toddler of a horse?
I had been regularly riding around the property, but at a very cautious walk. Riding outside the ring is different. The arena is where you feel protected. It surrounds you like a big comfortable blanket, and everything feels safe. Once you leave the arena, you leave the controlled space.
Even if you’re just walking on the driveway, it feels like the wild wild west. Anything could happen outside of the arena. Deer might pop out, snapping turtles might be underfoot to crush hooves. Who knows, maybe a giant tornado will form as soon as you step foot into grass – at least that’s how I imagine some horses must feel, based on how their entire attitude changes.
Stu would be like this, too. He would be about to doze off in the arena, but once we left it, he was a rocket building up his thrust before take off. Despite already being a huge horse, he would grow another hand or two once we were in the wilds of the grass next to the arena.
But I kept riding him out, primarily because my friend wanted to ride hers out, and if it’s one thing I can’t resist, it’s peer pressure. So we did it together. He got calmer. And a few days ago, we went out in the pasture, and she started trotting her horse. Stu was amazed, I don’t think he realized he could trot out there. Unfortunately he got a little too excited and nearly ran her horse down, and we were kicked at. But we tried again, with more control. He was reverting back to his old train ways of not listening to me. But we tried again, and there it was, a beautiful floaty trot, out in the open grass, with nothing to to contain us. We only went 7 or 8 strides, and I had to basically fight myself not to pull back on his face in fear, but we did it. It was beautiful.
But also importantly, after that trot, my friend kept cantering around, and Stu did… nothing. He didn’t chase her down. He didn’t rear up because he was upset he was being left. He didn’t get excited and try to follow. He just walked quietly while we waited for her to finish. It was like my baby boy was finally growing up.
Those few trot strides were all I could think about for days. It was just a few seconds of a trot, but it was magnificent. It was the best single moment of riding Stu so far.
And now that I’ve done it once, we will just keep building on that. It might be millions of little steps, but together all the pieces form into a perfect riding horse. I’m so excited for how far we’ve come, and what we have in store.