Last night I was chatting with my friend that shares my lesson. She was gushing about how much fun Theo is and how much she appreciates me swapping ponies with her sometimes so she can ride him. And then she paused, looked at him, and said 'and I used to hate him so much'.
That's kind of the summary of Theo's journey to date. He's gone from being a loathed school horse people genuinely hated (I do not use that word lightly) to being the show horse in the barn. Miss Thang? She's lost her place as the fancy horse in the barn. She's now just another school horse. Mi papi, on the other hand, is the one that the kids say oh and ah about.
Master of opinions
Now I know that he's not really that fancy. He's pretty earth bound and lazy as hell, no suspension or real stretch, but the power he's capable of is very eye catching and he's becoming well schooled and very broke.
Since my friend needed a good ride, I traded ponies with her after she'd successfully cantered her usual ride. A little coaching, some walk to trot transitions, and then I walked her through a walk to canter transition. It took a couple tries, but it was worth it for the look on her face when Theo lifted his entire front end and stepped directly into a canter that she carried all the way around the ring.
She was beaming, grinning like it was Christmas morning. And she just couldn't get over the difference. She got the wrong lead at one point and said 'but I can tell! I can feel it!'. And then he popped a neat lead change for her and she was just done.
Tolerant school master
One day, Theo is going to be a wonderful school master. He's going to be the horse that shrugs, goes 'close enough', and offers the movement. My friend wasn't wearing spurs or carrying a whip. A couple of transitions with a boot if he didn't step right up and he turned his listening ears on for her. There was a whole list of things she felt with mi papi that she'd never felt before and she had several light bulb moments in her ten minute ride. Theo shrugged and went along with it. After a walk to canter transition that had me grinning (his rider nailed the prep, even though she wasn't sure what she was doing, and he really lifted over his topline and I could see his abs tighten), she handed him a cookie and he decided that this worked for him. He wasn't on a proper contact, he wasn't doing the level of work I demand of him, so he was happy to cooperate.
An instructor that, in the past, I saw get rough with Theo and insult him, called him her beautiful beast and tried to cuddle with him. Which was a bit jarring, as I haven't seen her with him in months. I guess she's forgotten the past. Theo sure hasn't (he took a shot at her), but he holds a grudge.
And when a little girl came out with her mom for one of the adult pony parties and announced she wanted a beautiful black horse with lots of fluffy hair? Guess who was waiting for her.
Leadline pony extraordinaire
She was so excited. He was exactly what she wanted! That tail! I think I'm more proud of those pictures than any of the other ones. He was so very careful with his tiny rider. He kept looking back at her with a look of complete wonder. Were we aware that his rider was so tiny?!
I'm not sure what came first, the change in perception or the change in Theo. It's been gradual in a lot of ways. I don't think Theo's base personality has changed at all. He's always been a cuddle bug under a tough shell. He's always needed to feel secure in order to trust and try. But now some of the positive aspects of his personality are shining since he feels more secure and comfortable.
Part of it is just me learning what he needs and loudly telling everyone (with all of the rights that come with being his owner) how he needs to be handled. If Theo wants something, he damn well gets it. Extra protein in his food, nice shoes, supplements, massages, carefully fit tack, more ear scritches than any one horse should need, metric tons of cookies, very specific handling. Every part of Theo's life is tuned in for what he needs.
Part of it is just the change in perception. Several of the girls currently at the barn didn't meet Theo as a school horse. They only know Theo as 'Catie's show horse', the one that goes to the big shows and knows all of the fancy dressage stuff. They handle him like royalty, like it's a privilege to do things with him. Even the girls that knew him before handle him completely differently. Fear of my wrath is effective. I might occasionally be 'that mom'.
As greedy as I am, I love the fact that mi papi gets to show off all of these facets. I want lots of people to appreciate how much fun he is, not just me and Trainer A. And I want him to keep thinking that his job is a pretty good gig and that all of the people in his life will treat him like royalty. If he keeps going as he is? His future is looking very, very golden. Third level school masters tend to have very pampered lives.