On Friday I hit a new low with Pilgrim. I headed down south to Paradise in Aiken again, and Trainer L, her working student and I went down the road to Jumping Branch to school some stadium and XC before the horse trial next weekend.
We started our warmup in stadium, where we jumped a black/red vertical a few times with no issue, then we were to jump the domino jump:
P said, “no way” and slammed on the brakes. Turned, headed for it again and he flew over. Ok, whatever.
Then we were to jump the dominos, and roll back around to a roll top + pole. The roll top was fairly large, around 3’3″, and P slammed to another stop. Turned around, headed for it again and over it he went. Repeated these jumps with no issue.
So then the next jump was a blue/white oxer with barrels underneath. And Lellie asked that we PLEASE jump it the first time it’s presented. Ok, I’ll try my best. So I kicked, drove with my seat and definitely did NOT drop him on the approach (win for me!). And I was sure he was going to jump.
P slammed on the brakes.
Holy shit, horse.
So we tried again. And again. And again. It would take me a long time to type our how many agains we tried, so let’s just say it was a lot.
And then I quit.
He and I weren’t getting anywhere together and I was taking it way too personally. By this time, Trainer L had dropped all the rails so it was JUST BARRELS and he still wouldn’t jump them. He actually started to crawl over them, then backed up and tried to take off. He was doing a bunch of mini rears and ducking and spinning, and nothing my spurs, crop, voice, seat, hands were getting that to change. I was over it and at that point if a glue factory worker came to take him, I would’ve thrown them the reins and headed for the hills before they could return him.
Yeah, I know. That’s so terrible. But I’d had it with him. This horse can literally jump anything. He’s got scope to the moon and back and these barrels were not even 2’6″. But he’s so damn terrified of anything that’s not a white pole that it’s getting ridiculous.
At that point there was no getting me back on him- all I wanted to do was go check into the hotel and stuff my face full of food, so that’s exactly what I did. After turning P out in the pasture next to the sheep (he’s afraid of the sheep)…and placing his dinner bucket next to the fence between him and the sheep. He actually ended up not eating his grain that night. Whatevs. He’ll live.
The next day there was no riding because the farm was having an obstacle challenge show and it lasted longer than expected. Which I was kind of relieved about, to be honest.
So yesterday was our final day at Paradise. I talked with Trainer L about leaving him with her to sell him, which she doesn’t want me to do. My concerns are that 1. I pay way too much for this hobby for it not to be fun; 2. If P is terrified of stupid barrels then what in the world am I still doing trying to make him an eventer; 3. The longer I wait to sell him and buy a horse I might actually enjoy riding, the longer I miss out on doing what I want to do, which is event. And not event at starter events because that’s all P can mentally handle. I want to really event again…on a horse that’s brave.
Her points: 1. He’s young and has really low miles as far as XC and SJ go. Which is definitely valid. Where I board at, we have white standards, white rails, white gates. That’s it. 2. I ride him like I expect him to stop. Which I do…because he stops. Commence vicious circle. 3. These are not uncommon issues to run into. She’s personally trained over 10 horses from the beginning to the Advanced level. While I’ve assisted in training horses to start eventing, I’ve never trained any one horse even half as far. When I bought my previous eventer, Harry, we were both running Training (separately) and graduated to Prelim together and then to Intermediate together. But Harry came to me with lots of mileage. So obviously Trainer L’s experience definitely wins on this one. 4. Once these issues get sorted out, and she’s confident that they will, he and I can go as far as we want. It would take a lot of money and/or time to find another horse with the ability that he has.
So we talked for awhile about P’s mental state. I think he’s a chicken and she thinks he’s a gang member. Yes, you actually read that correctly. He’s got my number and he knows that if he acts up and throws a fit that I’ll back off with the pressure. So I’ve got to pretend that we’re heading to war and I’m going to win. Ever since meeting Matt, she just loves to throw out military expressions and metaphors. But it works.
So the first thing we worked on was called “skid marks.” I swear, she needs to trademark this stuff. Anyway, it’s where you pretty much ask the horse to stop and sit down. Not actually sit down, but the point is for them to bend at the hocks and have a light front end. P tends to stop on the forehand (because I let him), with straight legs, and then our transitions fall apart. We worked on that for awhile, incorporating lots of walk to canter transitions and rein backs, until P was light and listening to my aids.
Then we moved on to flying changes over poles. P rocked those quickly as his flying changes are on point, so then she started setting up a grid.
I had to admit at that point to Trainer L that P has never been through a grid. Yeah, my bad. But when you board at a barn where courses are always set up, it’s not possible to set up my own exercises. I’ve actually printed out and planned to do gymnastics with P, but since I can only ride during lessons, I can’t exactly go around taking down their stuff. I really thought I’d get a beating for that one, but instead she half smiled and said, “Oh, good. This is going to be fun.”
She had the grid laid out: 3 jumps with a rail before and after each jump. We started with one jump, a vertical plank, and P saw the 5 rails on the ground behind it and went, “Nope”, and slammed on the brakes.
This time, instead of melting down, we went to war.
Ok, so it wasn’t that dramatic. But I was done with P taking advantage of me. What did I have to lose? So I kicked him over it and stayed out of his way as he navigated through the poles. And guess what? We survived.
So we headed back around and again, he tried to duck out. So he got thwapped with my spurs and up and over he went and, again, lived to tell the tale afterwards. So then she put up the 2nd plank jump.
Trainer L’s words of wisdom: “Horses can evade you 3 ways: 1) Bouncing up and down, 2) Laterally- moving side to side, and 3) Longitudinally- stretching out and escaping the bit. So you can’t just sit there and look pretty if you want to stay on. Sometimes it takes a bit of maneuvering around in the saddle to stay with the horse. So get to gyrating.”
Have I mentioned I love working with her?
So we come around again and he jumps, one stride, jumps, and heads out over the poles perfectly. So plank jump #3 goes in the cups, and he goes over all 3 perfectly. So jump 3 became an oxer and that’s when I put my real war face on because historically, P HATES oxers. Doesn’t trust ’em.
So I kicked, and I held those reins and I gave him zero excuses not to jump it and guess what? He jumped all 3 like a rockstar. So all the jumps went up, we headed over them again and it was a success.
Then we added in a skinny. So go through the grid , roll back to the skinny, flying change. Nailed it.
Then I think we’re all done because, yay, we didn’t die, but no…Lellie’s got a very, erm, unconventional exercise for us to complete.
Her dressage arena was dismantled and set up as 6 boxes on both long sides of the arena from the obstacle challenge. So she says, “Go jump in and out of each of the boxes. Inside each box is 2 strides, then out and back in is a bounce. Off you go.”
At first I was a little hesitant. I mean, P has never jumped out of a dressage arena (not counting the time I leg yielded him out of one) and I quite enjoy the fact that he sees the little white fence as a real boundary. Do I want him to jump over it? But again, I’m not the Olympic level, former International 4* rider so, yeah, I did it.
And at first we were a hot mess. P had no idea where his feet were and I’m slowly and oh-so-gently guiding him through it, which meant we were getting 3-4 strides inside every box and at least 1 stride in between. So we complete it and then Lellie goes, “GALLOP IT!”
So we gallop around wildly (well I felt like it was wild. It was actually a slightly quick working canter) and no, it wasn’t perfect. We did manage to get a couple of bounces, and a few 2 strides, BUT it was fun and P wasn’t stopping or feeling backed off, so we come around the last time and I pull up and she yells, “Through the grid!” So I pick up my slightly fast canter again and we “gallop wildly” through the grid and then around to the skinny and holy gee whiz…that was fun.
Of course the only video my husband managed to get was one side of the dressage arena grid. Oh well.
But it truly was a great ending and was another notch in the confidence belt. Though after much thought over the weekend, I asked Trainer L if she had the time and room for P to stay with her for the week. I just need a break from him. We have a schooling HT next Saturday and with the work week ahead of me, riding would be hit or miss before heading back down to Aiken on Friday. So he’s there for the week and I almost miss him. But not quite and I know I made the right decision. This way he’ll get a workout every single day and I don’t have to panic if I leave the office too late or if there are too many people in a lesson to ride. So while it’s going to be kind of hard not to ride for an entire week, it’s a relief. I’m planning on getting to Aiken mid-afternoon on Friday to ride and I’ll decide if I can stomach the horse trials with him then.
So in the meantime, here are some pictures from after our lesson:
And then just for fun, a bunch of pictures my husband took of the kids at the farm. I feel so incredibly lucky to be able to ride at this place as often as I do.
Baby Noah playing with one of the obstacle challenge props. We tried casting it and reeling it in off of Pilgrim and he was very unimpressed.
Until next time, Paradise!