One of our boarders owns a big, beautiful American Cream Draft gelding. We will call him Wish. Actually, that’s really his name, it just sounds more mysterious when I say it that way. Anyway, Wish’s owner had invited me to ride him sometime. I thought about it for a few weeks and then worked up the nerve to ask not just to ride him, but to take lessons on him. Mind you, at this point I hadn’t even been on his back. But the first time I got on him, I knew he would be a fun project. Safe enough to challenge me… without hurting me.
I had my first get-to-know-you ride. He had a few small spooks and I pulled him up, as his owner told me to do. He hated being on the rail and he really hated the big open windows on the sides of the arena. He did NOT want to pass in front of them and when I asked him to, he would invariably jump at something outside. He’s extremely inverted, heavy on the forehand, has no lateral movement, and no flexion. But he has a trot you could watch television to. Or read a book – your choice. And he is so sweet.
Trainer Cowboy, as I’m going to call my new, Western trainer, watched for a little bit and asked me some hard questions. Then he said, you have to let him go when he spooks. I thought about it and realized that if I was on the ground lunging him and he started to act up, I would simply keep him working. No reaction at all, ignore the misbehavior altogether, and by NO means allow him to stop, thus rewarding him for his poor choices. So every time he was pulled up after a spook, he got to stop working. Of course he became “spooky.” He was rewarded for it.
I thought about it a lot and decided that my first two goals with him would be to work him through his spooks and teach him to trust me when I asked him to stay on the rail, even in front of the open windows.
We worked on our communication. I asked him quite firmly a few times with my leg to stay on the rail and then he began to move off my leg more freely, with a whisper instead of a shout. That’s figurative for the non-riders out there. Trainer Cowboy had me trot in both directions. To the left was nice. Good even. To the right was a train wreck. I couldn’t get into a rhythm, he was falling in, and I felt like I had no steering. I shook my head and huffed in annoyance, mostly at myself. This warrants a call into the middle of the arena from Trainer Cowboy.
“Why are you pissed?”
“He’s not going where I’m asking him to go. I feel like I have no control.”
“Is he trotting like you’ve asked?”
“Is he tracking right like you’ve asked?”
“Then why are you so upset? He’s giving you what you’ve asked for, even if it’s not perfect.”
Why am I so hung up on perfection? No one is perfect in dressage. No one. So why do I think I can be?