So the past week has been a bit tough for me mentally. Am I doing the right thing for my horse, my program, my life? So much deep thought and reflection. It took me a while to write this post and the two before it because of some flipping out that was going on the internets.
The Monday after the show, I was still struggling to put things in piles and figure out where to go with my "big" horse. Consequently, early that week this article popped up.
When this popped up, I ignored it. When it popped up again and again, I ignored it. When Sarah asked me if I'd seen it, I said I saw it going around but hadn't clicked. She mentioned some other things and I ended up clicking. Since I was feeling like a borderline horse abuser myself from the past weekend, I wasn't sure how I was going to feel. So. I have a better seat than her. OK, a much better one. Her horse appears to be a tolerant, lazy, hot type. I have one of those. In my mind I was questioning (again) my choices at the show the weekend before but realized I didn't look like that.
So I debated if it was someone with money just "chasing a dream." I know as a trainer the pressure to get people up the levels (especially those with large pocketbooks) is intense. I didn't see anything that was "blatant" abuse as mentioned in the article. Overuse of the aids due to a rider's lack of core? Yes. The horse kicked out WAY less than Vana does for the whip. Granted her award riding made her hands and aids really poorly timed. I saw a rider that had been told to "ride forward" as I was on the same type of horse at that same level. I saw a wealthier, less talented, less fit, less experienced version of myself and Vana in my mind in the beginning.
The other video was later posted and well. OK, maybe it was excessive and it no longer reminded me of myself. It reminded me of how I'd see many of the other trainers in the area "schooling" their horses and some of the behind the scenes "corrections" that made my working student and myself squirm. When the rules of reporting abuse was released, my emotion was now mad at myself for not reporting this instance that we had witnessed in the past year with a local well respected trainer.
I guess my point is that the trainer didn't let this person down. The horse wasn't let down. This is what is wrong with the "pay to play" system AND the "look the other way" system. I don't believe the judges should have done anything different. IF she was scoring over 60s, ok fine. Bad on the judges. They appeared to judge as fairly as they could. With my most recent shit show of a test on the previous Saturday, I HEARD as I rode by how hard it was for the judges to tell the scribe what to write as they move quickly to the next movement. An ENTIRE test of this is going to miss some things and there's no way around that.
Not every test is going to be perfect. Not every rider is going to be perfect. I can see the argument for the rider, the trainer, the horse, the sport, the judges from all angles and I'm not sure what the right answer is. Writing this article in a bullying type way isn't the right answer, but sensationalism gets people to read your article and thus talk about it. It's Journalism 101.
The following counter article came out addressing the bullying and several other topics.
I mean we can go round and round on this. I'm not going to. I'm just going to report abuse next time I see it at a show instead of looking the other way and keeping quiet.
The week after the show started our training of getting Vana to accept me riding him and accept the bridle. This was not going to be a good thing but I started into it easily. First we walked. Each time he sucked back and got behind my leg, I booted him into the bridle. Occasionally I touched him with the whip and kicked him up when he kicked out/bucked. Gotta get a proper response to that aid rather than EFF YOU.
OK, we managed to do that somewhat and he was begrudgingly participating.
So after walking, I decided to go for the canter. This is our easier gait and seemed less homocida for me to try. So we start cantering, he gets behind my leg, I boot him up and he.. does nothing. I touch him with my leg AND whip and he actually goes. More or less. Keep asking for him to come back and forth promptly and he puts in some good work with minimal issues with contact. There's hope for us.
Then we trot...
This is when shit got real and for the first time in my life I thought Vana might kill us both. Not over exaggerating. My green horses looked more broke than him. He couldn't bend to the right. He couldn't go forward. He couldn't do lateral work. He couldn't he couldn't he couldn't.
For a trainer that just asks for a try, this was not a good thing.
I did a one ring stop for the rearing. Nope, horse apparently has experience with hyper flexing and so he touches his nose to his shoulder (like the curling in the ring) and won't allow me to boot him/tap him/whip him/kiss him into the contact. Nope, no way, not happening. What he COULD do was throw his head at my nose, athletically fling himself sideways, and slam everything in reverse and run into things with the whites of his eyes showing and hs curb chain smacking as I have no rein contact.
It wasn't fun.
My goals suddenly became just to go forward without trying to kill us at the trot (walk was still doable). It took about 40 minutes, but I got a 20m trot circle in the end. Once he's forward, he's great in the contact and we can do things... until we.. can't...
Mentally I felt him more "with" me at times so it'll be the right pathway but man. I hope I don't die and he doesn't hurt himself. *sigh
I won't lie, after rides like this I always re-evaluate how it went. Did I do the right thing? Was I safe? Did I push too much for the level the horse was at? Did the horse learn something? Do I keep going in this direction?
The answer in this case was all Yes. I tried to convince myself to keep Vana at 3rd or 4th level and just putter there. I thought about retiring him to just be ridden at home. I was mad at his previous trainers for training him this way (although because of his age, this was the norm for training the horses). The list of things that went through my mind were lengthy but in the end, the best thing for both of us won't be the easiest - I need to tactfully fix this issue as we've known it was brewing. I'm going to focus on bringing up Jade more since I do really like riding her and we'll give her a chance to start showing. I just want something I trained and I enjoy to offset when Vana goes all Vana-y. If Vana and I ever get to GP, that'll be great but for now we're just going to keep working on his acceptance, his gaits, and keeping him with me. We'll hit shows but we're also going to start overlapping the younger horses and not make everything "The Vana Show" each show. I'm happy with this but it's going to be a long road. Or maybe not, he's a smart dude and wants to please.
This will be a long post in a series of long posts. There's no way around that because what was going to be a simple lesson recap and then a show recap got lengthened considerable to where I didn't want to write about it as it seems to have grown to the never ending topic.
Here we go.
We attended the HDS Winter Show Jan 27-28, 2018 where Vana and I did PSG again. I had a set of lessons the week before and the idea was that Vana needed to "let me ride him" rather than making his own choice. We started riding him FORWARD into the contact and he was NOT a happy camper. Years of getting by on his talent utilized half assed and ridden by AA riders that may or may not have been nervous makes him want to be like I GOT THIS! and do what he thinks is right.
I don't need the help.
I need a horse that is actively listening. We can do it. Helllooo 8s+. I KNOW we can do it. The mirrors say we can do it. My warmup the evening before the Saturday show at GSWEC said that we could (although AT the show it was more like 5s and 8s even split but whatever. I can take FANCY and EH in the same test as a sign of progress). Our warmup on Saturday was... ok. I rode him into the contact, praised him when he chose to do what I wanted as well as being appropriately fancy, and was firm but fair in my corrections. That doesn't stop him from doing aires above the ground when I touch (seriously TOUCH, not tap, not whack, TOUCH) him with the whip to gently remind him to use his inside right leg. SERIOUSLY... GET THE MESSAGE HORSE. He refuses to allow me to touch his right side bend, my awesome saddle is lumpier on the right continuously, and we do EVERYTHING to work on this. I know we're making progress. Each time we show he gets hotter yet also more ridable. It's a weird type of progress, but I can see it and I know it'll pay off in our hunt for our Gold.
But we entered the ring looking like I was on an inverted giraffe convinced he was a war horse. Seriously, we get in there and he just turns his head to his chest and leans into the contact like LET'S DO BATTLE. At this point, I try to subtly remind him what we're doing and all I get is YEAH YEAH SIT THERE AND LOOK PRETTY. Commence my sitting as accurately as I can and focusing on riding as tactfully as I can. I rode the CDI tests with basically NO horse in my reins so I mean, I can do things. But geez, it's definitely catching up with us at these FEI levels when he doesn't allow me to influence what we're doing. He also has ridden this test more than once in his life and being the intelligent horse he is, he "knows" how to do and it "shut up and let me be fancy" is his motto.
Saturday's test I "went for it" and rode him into the contact like a boss and called him on ALL his shit. All of it. Seriously, nothing was left out and I struggled through the entire trot tour to get him to get his head out of his chest and into my hands. We did some passage and well, I schooled the hell out of it. Only enough, we nailed our 4s which is something that we NEVER do because he decides on the 4th change to well change on the 3rd. No.matter.what.I.do.in.the.test. So yay for that.
I felt relieved and so the 3s ended up being a shit show since I (stupidly) thought that the thing we can do in our sleep would be a nice break from the shenanigans.
It wasn't pretty. It wasn't harmonious. I rode the best I could and as tactfully/humanely/fair that I could and I KNOW my horse still looked like I was beating him with unyielding hands because his mouth was open like a big mouth bass as he tried to touch his chest.
Judge at C whacked me hard for being an aggressive rider with evil hands and a meanie, Judge at E had a better seat to the action (hi voltes) and marked the HORSE down as disobedient. I love you Judge E.
So I felt good that I rode the test I needed to ride and make (some) point to Vana about.. something. I'm not really sure how he took it since I never felt he was mentally "with" me - hence the test being a hot mess. Sunday I decided to ride the test as a hybrid of what I would do and what coach would want me to do. I was humane and fair, but audibly praised and even pet when he tried, was with me, or actually did something obediently. Instead of letting him blow, I said "easy" and similar things. It was more harmonious apparently and honestly that's about all I can recall about it. We got a much higher score (naturally) but I wouldn't say Vana was more with me really and he kept waiting for me to beat him or something. Because we do that a lot *eyeroll.
Sorry scribes for making you write so much and sorry judges for not being as beautiful as we can be and using you for schooling. We're getting our crap together, I promise.
So after this weekend, I was a bit meh and knew the main thing we needed to focus on was to really crack down on Vana's acceptance of the bridle, acceptance of me, and acceptance that he didn't need to "go to war" when he gets in the ring at a "real" show.
Hang on for our next post... *sigh
Heels Down Magazine posted this article this past week on Facebook.
As someone that's trying to be "someone" in the horse world, this title made me click on it. There are loads of people that are "older" in all the horse sports and in fact, I would argue that the people that are here the longest, the most respected, and their horses tend to "like" them are the older people. Youth has many benefits, but one is not patience and the other isn't perseverance.
One of the things about being older is the obvious: life experiences.
It's simply, we have more experiences, but it depends on what you do with those. Many people are depressed about their lot in life, many haven't learned to keep on keeping on, many haven't really pushed themselves out of their comfort bubble. These are NOT the people you see around horses and especially not in a training or professional capacity that produce horses well or are able to sustain high level competition with happy horses and clients. I think especially if you are starting a journey to be a professional (like myself) at a later stage in your life you basically have to push aside the notion that your best days for this are behind you and to just say eff it and do the things. YoLo and all that.
Naturally the worry of being hurt, the cavalier attitudes, the desire to push and pull things into existence won't be there for an older professional seeking rider. You also don't bounce as well and by now are well aware of that. You have a family now probably (quite possibly a big reason you haven't pursued this path until now) and you realize how much they mean and/or depend on you. So you end up figuring out ways to manage that, question your life choices sometimes, and persevere anyhow.
IF you can make it past all those things, a big perk is that you now may (or may not) have some income (that you're about to set on fire and make your family doubt your sanity). You may or may not have access and relationships with people that DO have money and support you. You will/should have the confidence in yourself and your skills to represent yourself and program accurately. Additionally you should be able to say "no" in your daily life. You need to be able to self promote: look, act, talk, behave professionally. All these things make you so much better prepared to tackle this attempt at being professional and/or self employed.
Looking back , yes I wish I'd just gone and done the working student when I was in my 20s. I lacked the ability to use these words to my parents though and I lacked the willpower to follow this pathway when people shut me down with basic questions. These skills would not have made me even a good working student nor led me anywhere down the professional trainer pathway anyhow. The hardest thing about experience is that it takes time. You simply cannot get as much as experience in 3 months of a working student position versus riding over 15 years regularly and with self reflection. Now you might get more concentrated professional efforts in that working student time frame, but you won't be able to really use those on another horse or to teach people. You need the experience of applying it to many horses of many years. Your training plan will always be evolving (or should be). You have to be flexible, rigid, and humble all at the same time. Oh and a good business person.
No big deal.
While what I'm doing right now is a lot of highs and lows (sometimes in the same day), I believe in what I'm trying to do and on the days I doubt it, I look at the people that have chosen to help me, support me, and follow me and I know I'm doing something right. Learning to slog through the trenches to hopefully get to where I think we can be is a skill that I've learned over almost 40 years of disappointment and problem solving. It's not something to be depressed about but rather something to wear proudly as you would any scars and use that knowledge, grit, and determination.
Based on a super unscientific observation based on Facebook and bloggers, I feel like there are more people in their "nearly 40" or so age group that have done what they "should have" in their lives and kept on working horses as a hobby that are now moving away from these college based careers to follow their nutty crazy horse girl dreams. Honestly, ALL of them/us are focused, determined, and just killing it. All of us have gone from a beginner looking level to upper levels in a matter of years. It's just a matter of changing your focus and going for it.
It's just not something that youth allows for. Here's a bottle of Advil to all those older people trying to become horse (and/or dog) professionals!
I'm super excited to announce that I've been selected to represent Dark Jewel Designs as an ambassador! Dark Jewel has been almost our exclusive brow band supplier of choice since 2015 and we've competed from Training level to Intermediate (CDIAM), schooled, and just run them through the ringer on all the horses and they are wonderful blingy brow bands. Amelia, the owner of the company, is super amazing to work with and is always there to support us as a customer and so we're excited to help her grow both our businesses in 2018!