The art of training a horse is not for the faint of heart, or those with a weak spirit, or those with a dull mind. So all of you committed horse people reading this, pat yourselves on the back, you are awesome. As a horse trainer I try to listen to what the horse is telling me. Sometimes this is a very difficult feat. You have to first wade through all of your own human emotion and ambition and then figure out what the horse is really saying. Does the job seem difficult to them because they don't yet understand it, or is there truly a lack of aptitude?
As someone who has helped a lot of troubled horses find success I feel like I can often hear what they are saying, but not all the time. Part of the reason I wanted to try a different coach was to help me hear what Prisoner is saying. We have been struggling with jumping for a year. Yes there have been lots of small successes, but there wasn't a formula for why things fluctuated between good and bad. I tried doing smaller jumps, changing bits, using a hackamore, different saddles, trotting jumps, going slower or faster in the canter, etc etc etc. We also addressed stomach issues and body issues.
I've worked to not dwell on the negative parts so that they wouldn't color the good parts. Something that I was also doing was blaming most of the issues on myself. I've talked about working through mental baggage so won't dwell on that too much in this post. You probably read my post a couple days ago about our great jumping lesson. There were still sideways bolts, but I thought we were working through them. Well, this week's lesson rolled around and things unraveled. I made it over 6 jumps pretty well and then he said, 'Bye Felicia.'
He ran sideways for no reason, we weren't crooked, we weren't underpaced or overpaced, he just tuned out. After a few tries we stopped so the other students could continue and then the instructor asked if he could climb on. I was more than happy to watch someone else deal with the shenanigans. First he cantered and galloped all around to get a feel for things and then cruised over the jumps. Prisoner tried all his tricks and while he couldn't get away with as much (thank you long long legs Mr. trainer) he didn't really give it up. When he finished he walked over to me and said, "I'm glad he is yours and not mine." Well shoot. This guy is an intuitive rider and can get the job done on just about any horse. He also loves OTTBs. He finished teaching the lesson while I stood around with Prisoner and watched.
After the lesson he walked over and I was blunt. "Ok, truth time. Is this horse worth the effort? If I put in more time, ride better, etc, will we find success eventually?" Keep in mind this trainer has seen me for years, I haven't taken more that the very occasional lesson from him, but the local horse scene is small and we all know a lot of each other's business. He is also an observer, he really watches people and sees what is happening. Many years ago I started riding a mare that he thought was not really worth the time and she actually went on to be somewhat successful and he was open enough to complement me on what I had done. So, he knows what I can do and what my struggles are. He explained haltingly (I think for fear of offending me) that he had spent years putting countless hours into challenging (more like beyond challenging) horses, and yes he found some success, but it was very rarely fulfilling. He said he didn't do it anymore and that neither should I. He said that there are too many horses out there that really want to jump the jumps, why should we mess with one that doesn't. We could spend the time getting him to finally (maybe) go around beginner novice or novice, and then what? He would meltdown at training. Coach man says, "That isn't enough for you."
Truth time sucks guys. I knew there was a high probability of that being the answer, I was mostly ok with it, but that doesn't make it any easier. I was really proud of not succumbing to girly emotions, though my eyes were damp. I agreed with him, he assured me that he loved to teach me and would still help me with Prisoner, but that if I had another horse that maybe that one would be more worth the time. I told him that Prisoner actually rocks the dressage and I enjoy it on him and that Slider already has a more uphill canter than Prisoner on his best days. Coach man took a deep breath then, I told him I would be out soon with Slider.
I thanked him profusely for his honesty and headed back to the trailer. Alyssa was there (taking all these pretty pictures) and I chatted with her about everything. We discussed how something can be learned from every horse and experience, and the frustration of it all. I was still successfully keeping my emotions in check. I loaded Prisoner and paid for the lesson and got in the truck. By the time I hit the main road I was sobbing. The logical part of me knew this was for the better. Any reasonable horse (which Prisoner is) would be light years ahead of where we are with the training that I have put in if they had an aptitude for the job. But the heart doesn't always listen to logic. The heart dreams and yearns and Prisoner has been at the center of that. Instead of listening to him I was busy building airy castles, I am choosing not to beat myself up for taking this long to reach that conclusion. Better to be sure, I guess, than to give up too early. He could be a low level hunter or jumper maybe with years of practice or he can do dressage and trails and sometimes jump at home for fun. Does this mean I will sell him? Probably, maybe, yes, cue more sobbing. But not right away, we have a few dressage shows lined up already and some to trails to explore and even maybe some play time with cows. This horse is too cool to not have a few more adventures with.
I need some pictures like that with my floofy pony. I only gave myself the rest of that day to cry though. If I want hard core goals, I need hard core emotions. If he isn't the right horse that is ok I can still love him, but maybe it is time for him to be the horse for someone whose every dream is fulfilled by what he is great at. The other thing I realized while finally listening to what Prisoner has been trying to tell me is that maybe after all I'm not such a failed rider. On a horse that actually loves to jump the rider I was before Prisoner could find success, the rider I am now could find blue ribbons. I have had to become so technical, the slightest change in weight (I'm talking ounces here) or crookedness (millimeters) were enough to send Prisoner right over the edge. I'm excited to bring that level of riding to a new horse.
I will love you forever Prisoner, sorry it took me so long to hear you.