Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Expectations and Suffering

First of all, thank you to all of you who took the time to offer sage advice in the comments of my last blog.  I think you are all correct and I'm planning on adding in more groundwork to bolster my confidence and her confidence in my leadership.  I thought long and hard about selling her this week and what that would mean.  I looked at other horses on DreamHorse and contemplated what it would be like if I owned that horse.  How would my goals change?  What would I do differently?  I wasn't sure a different horse was the answer.

I hadn't come to any conclusions when I showed up at the barn on Tuesday for my weekly lesson.  I felt like I was going to cry and I really didn't want to jump.  In fact, I just didn't want to ride at all.  But I was there and my pony was tacked up, so into the arena I went.

We had the usual fight.  Tessa didn't want to go forward.  I wanted her to go forward.  I nagged.  She resisted.  She wanted to look out the arena and balk/spook at one end and I could feel myself getting frustrated.  We couldn't get the right lead.  We tried over and over and over and we fell apart.

We took a break and I headed over to Laura.

"This isn't working."  I slumped in the saddle.  "It's been a year and a half of working on this and Tessa still won't go forward enough and I still can't ride her in half of the arena.  And when I ride her by myself, she just stops and won't go down there at all.  At what point do I give up on her and on me?  I know that everyone else can ride her better and make her go forward and I just feel like this isn't working."  I didn't cry, but I felt like a little kid whining at their mom.

Laura leaned back in her chair thoughtfully.

"Most people that own a horse like Tessa and are amateur owners, put their horse in training.  If this horse was in training, she'd be a different horse."

I could feel myself starting to get tense.  I can't afford full time training.  I felt guilty for not being able to.  Maybe this was another sign I had the wrong horse.  Laura continued, "If this horse was in full time training, she'd get ridden five to six days a week.  You'd ride her your usual two times a week and then she'd be getting four more rides from me.  How often do you come out?"

"I try to come out three times a week, but sometimes it's only two or one day.  And some weeks it's zero."

Laura nodded "Right.  So let's just put this in perspective, shall we?  You ride one to two days a week on average.  And though you've been doing that for a year and a half, it doesn't really add up to a year and a half of solid training or riding.  It's more like a few months if you actually look at days, right.  So, if you think about what this horse would be like with you just riding for a few months, how do you feel about where you're at?"

A few months?  "I feel pretty good about it.  We've ridden outside a few times, we've ridden all the way around the arena a few times.  We're doing pretty good for just a few months."

"Exactly."  Laura sat back, satisfied.

"But...but...she still won't go in the corner!"

"Okay, so let's look at that.  You could make a 'thing' out of that if you want.  You could put all your energy and focus on riding her in that corner."

Um, yes.  That's what I've been doing.  Measuring our success by that corner.

"So, you decide that it's about the corner.  And Tessa, having been un-trained when she got here to think that corner was scary (poor training moment from previous trainer who punished the pony when she was genuinely nervous) would continue to not want to go into that corner.  And maybe you'd work through it.  Or maybe you'd get more frustrated and tense and Tessa would feel that and would be even less inclined to go through that corner.  And all your rides might focus on that corner and before you know it, your horse is 15 and still hates that corner.  And so you do.  And every ride, all the two of you can think about is that corner. let go of that corner.  You have a really good ride at the other end of the arena and you don't worry about the corner.  And one day you might find yourself closer to the corner...or you might not.  But that corner doesn't dictate Tessa's behavior in the world.  If you go to ride a dressage test, their arena isn't going to have that corner.  If you go to a show up the street, their arena won't have that corner.  See, you've made that corner into something and the only arena with that corner is right here.  So, why not come out and have a great ride that just doesn't involve that corner?"

I laughed.  Of course it was that easy.

A dear friend of mine who was very wise once told me that expectations are the root of all suffering.  Last night Laura echoed this sentiment.

"You've got to let go of your expectations about where you should be at and what you should be doing."

I let that sink in for a moment.  And then she sent us off to jump a cross rail.  And another and another and another.  And at the end, we jumped an entire course and we were sweaty and happy and Tessa was cantering happily away on the correct lead.

I'm going to focus on the things that Tessa and I do well together and try to set us up for success.  Because if I can let go of the idea of 'the perfect horse' than she is the horse I have.  And the more we work together, the better we will get.


  1. Exactly! Very good thoughts - and if you don't think about the corner long enough, you may find one day that it's just gone away as an issue for both her and you.

  2. Oh, I can hear what a phenomenal trainer you have! She's a gem! What an inspiring pep talk!!

  3. I agree with all the points your trainer made. She sounds like she is a really good person to have in your situation.

    That being said, I don't think wanting another horse is necessarily a bad thing. If you consistently don't enjoy riding or don't want to ride, can't come out more than one to two days a week and can't afford full training - there may be a better fit out there for you. Not saying to give up on your mare, I'm confident you guys can overcome obstacles... but it needs to be fun while you are doing so!

  4. Laura is a very wise horsewoman, you're lucky to have her advice!

  5. Wise words. Also "Don't Compare your Chapter 1 to someone else's Chapter 20."