Sunday, May 5, 2013

Splitting Hairs

Tessa and I have come a long way, no doubt about that.  On May 2nd, she turned 7.  I forgot her birthday, but made it up to her today with extra carrots.  Today did not go as well as I had hoped.  There are two things bugging me.  To some of you, this may seem a bit OCD or like I'm splitting hairs and to others I'm probably still missing the whole damn point.  But this is where we're at.

Thing One That Is Bugging Me:  When Tessa spooks I get frustrated.  It comes on almost instantly.  I know that it's related to fear, but I am not longer reacting in fear.  Instead, every spook and every refusal to move forward makes me angry.  It still brings up feelings of 'this horse will never be the right horse for me'.  It still brings up tears.  Yes, I know how to cope with it now.  Yes, I give myself and Tessa grace for this and I get off if I need to.  Sure, I often end up working it out and feeling positively at the end, but it keeps coming back up.  Obviously I need to address something more.  Or I need to have a horse that doesn't spook like she does.

Part of the problem is that it's not just a spook.  A spook I can handle.  Something where she jumps suddenly and then you just keep going.  She doesn't do that very often.  Her 'spook' is that she stops.  DEAD.  No matter what gait.  And then is a rock.  I can get her moving by changing her direction, but it's super frustrating when your goal is to ride forward and you can't.  And though we work and work and work, we still get to that spot and she stops.  Or she refuses to go in the 'scary area'.

Thing Two That Is Bugging Me has some similarities to Thing One.  Thing Two is that I tried to walk Tessa down the driveway today.  I gave myself the time and set out with good intentions and good energy.  She would take one step and freeze.  The only way I could get her unstuck was to turn her towards home.  Then she would take one more step after our circle.  We did this for an hour.  We made it halfway down the driveway.

Yes, we had some good moments where she went through the gate quietly, but what is it that I'm doing wrong or differently that is keeping her from going down that driveway?  I was not afraid AT ALL and was quiet in my body language.  I know you guys can't really tell me 'cause you weren't there but man, it gets frustrating when you can't get your horse to walk down a driveway.  I didn't get tense, angry or frustrated while trying to go down the driveway.  I just stayed calm and focused and gave her tons of praise and carrots whenever she went forward.

So, it seems to me the answer is that I'm not a leader that Tessa trusts.  But at this point, after two years and weekly lessons and thinking "I've got it now!" will I ever be?  I'm not old (41) but I'm not getting any younger either.  My confidence is not likely to ever be huge.  Has it gotten better?  Definitely.  Do I feel like Tessa and I have a growing relationship?  Sure.  But how can I be a better leader when I don't think I'm feeling fear in these moments.


  1. You know what, as much as you've been told to stick with it and persevere with Tessa, at the end of the day, horse riding is not something you are doing for work, you are doing it as a hobby for enjoyment. There is no shame in selling Tessa and buying another horse, one that won't cause you so much frustration. But whatever you decide, it is of course up to you! - has some interesting articles

  2. Two thoughts that might help you. But first, of course it's your decision whether to keep or not keep Tessa - if she truely isn't for you there's nothing wrong with finding her an owner who is a better fit.

    But that said, two ideas to try - the purpose of this is mainly to get your mind off the stopping, and if your mind is off it, hers will be as well. The two ideas are - first, before you get to the place she tends to stop, or the scary place, be doing something else already - shoulder in, lateral work away from and back to the rail, turning around and backing, whatever - the idea is to have your mind and her mind fully engaged so there's no room for thinking about the stopping place or the scary area. Then you'll be actively leading her with your mind through the bad spots - and remember the active mind isn't about "not to stop" or "not to spook", it's about whatever positive task you are intently doing. Actively doing a task that fully occupies your mind will keep you from anticipating the bad spots - it's your anticipation that she may be picking up on, or it may just be a habit that she's developed.

    Second thought - avoid the bad spot or scary area for a bit while you build your mutual confidence - who says you have to get through a particular place right this instant? Work in other areas of the ring where she feels safe, and once things are working very well there, gradually edge into the more difficult areas, but retreating to the "safe spot" to give her and you a break, and never pushing farther than she's comfortable with. It might take a while - even multiple sessions - for the issue to resolve.

    Be creative and imaginative - if something you're doing is repeatedly not working, then don't do the same thing the same way again, do something else.

    Good luck.

  3. I would have to say, you are right...she doesn't see you as a leader she can trust to keep her safe from the horse-eating monsters. So, she's taken a role she doesn't really want (being the leader for both of you) and isn't suited for. Some horses are brave, good leaders, some aren't and need a strong leader (either in the herd or in the person).

    Can you do a LOT of ground work? Think Clinton Anderson or Parelli-type groundwork. Moving feet, making them look to you for direction, etc. etc. I have had similar issues in the past with horses who just didn't see me as a strong enough leader to protect them...and groundwork made ALL the difference in the world for them.

    I have to echo the sentiment that you ride for fun. If you are frustrated and angry more often than relaxed and happy, maybe it is time to find another, more suitable horse. Also, she's only just turned 7, she's still a "teen" and could mellow out more as she gets older and gains more confidence in you. Only you know what's best. Maybe try a lease situation? Find someone to lease Tessa and you, in turn, find a more suitable horse to lease and see how things go. Good luck!

  4. My horse is 13, and I've had him for nearly 3 years now and have taken weekly and more than weekly lessons, and he still spooks. But he's getting better and braver as we do more. Yesterday we were out in a totally new place, and while he was scared and unsure, he was totally well behaved with all sorts of scary things about. But there have been a LOT of baby steps along the way there.

    I'm OK with taking the time with him to teach him confidence and bravery because he is teaching me a lot in turn. If you don't have the patience (or the money to hire someone) to teach her to be a calm, brave, go-anywhere horse with all the time that takes, that's perfectly fine, but then you need to find a different horse I'd say.

    Like anon said, we ride for fun and there is no shame in finding a better fit for both of you if that's what you want.

  5. Some horses are just more sensitive to their environment, some riders don't enjoy riding reactive horses. But these statements are true and there in nothing wrong with either. If you really aren't loving your journey you should find another partner, if it's a bump in the road than I really empathize.

    Tess is a strong willed horse, she needs a strong leader. That doesn't mean someone who isn't sensitive and aware. It means she needs her rider to be confident and patient, you are alpha and while you pay close attention to her needs, it is you calling the shots. I've found it helpful to carry the attitude of complete certainty and not allow any little signs of disobedience (at first) later you can relax more but you have to have the relationship defined first.

    The trust has to go both ways, you have to trust she is going to take care of you and she has to trust you won't put her in a "bad" situation. When I'm jumping Joy I have to trust she is going to safely jump the fence and she has to trust I'm not going to put her to a jump she can't handle. Sure, unexpected things happen but what matters is you have a foundation built. Reward often.

    I think we are drawn to the horse that we need rather then the one we want sometimes. Having a partnership with a horse pushes us to be better riders and people.