In Part One I described my “A-ha!” moment when I realized what my young trainer had been trying to tell me all along…. I did not have the respect and the relationship with my gray Arabian, Kadeen, that I needed to be successful. Once I figured that out and “raised the bar,” things really started moving in the right direction. And truthfully, “raising the bar” had a lot to do with GROUND WORK, and, also truthfully, I DON’T LIKE GROUNDWORK!
I was always the one who would rather just hop on and ride out whatever my potentially recalcitrant mount would throw at me. Lunging? That was for sissies…. But I dutifully attended clinics and expos and spent a whole weekend watching Clinton Anderson work his magic. I even bought a DVD package, and I have watched it more than once. I need to watch it again, because Finn, my new guy, is in dire need of some groundwork.
A rough beginning with Finn
Finn is a 7-year-old, half-Arabian half-QH/Thoroughbred gelding. He was bred to be a hunter jumper show horse. He’s big and bay and beautiful and really wants to be your best friend. That is, however, until you ask him to walk in a little mud or, even worse, actually cross some water! My young trainer had put almost a year on him before she casually suggested I ride him. The rest is history and he came home to hang out with Kadeen late last summer.
I rode him sporadically over the winter until about a month ago. Mostly that riding was in my trainer’s indoor arena or in my dry lot, with once or twice doing a brief road trip around my neighborhood. He was sure the trash cans in my neighbor’s driveway were going to devour him.
So, given how little I had exposed him to, it probably wasn’t the best move to haul him to the local park for a trail ride. As soon as he was pushed to try something he didn’t want to, he threw a tantrum. And while I can ride just about anything that a horse can do with his feet on the ground, I’m not too keen on front feet leaving the ground, even if it was only 6-8 inches. We did manage to cross tiny little creeks when I was leading him so he could see me, since we didn’t have the relationship we needed for him to be confident with me on his back.
One of the gals I was riding with is an endurance rider and a good horsewoman, and she very tactfully suggested that respect and relationship were at the root of our problem. I had figured this out with Kadeen, but I guess I was hoping some Fairy Godmother would magically make that happen with Finn, without having to do all the work. Sigh…. I guess not.
Relax under stress?
One of the other skills I had worked so hard to achieve with Kadeen was to relax in inverse proportion to his degree of anxiety. In other words, the more he wound up, the more I needed to relax. How hard is that? Nearly impossible in some cases. I knew in my head that me getting anxious was only making his anxiety worse. How does a person shut that off?
I just kept working on my relationship and communication with Kadeen. Gradually, we came to trust each other more and more. The more I had confidence in my ability to “talk him off the cliff,” the more I could relax and do exactly that. When I trusted my ability to do that, my body didn’t wind up and send hyper anxiety signals through my aids and into my horse!
So imagine my frustration when Finn started throwing his little hissy fit and rearing ever-so-slightly off the ground. How did I respond? By winding up myself. Once again, a huge red flag that our relationship was not where it needed to be. In Part Three I will tell you how it started to unfold….