Sometimes, being the good kid is more trouble than it's worth. Theo has been like a saint in this winter weather, standing his ground in the middle of horses that are all losing their minds. Trainer A likes to coo 'we love you, Theo' when he trots by, totally chill, while the rest of the ring loses their minds. That doesn't mean he actually is a saint, though.
As Trainer A put it, he's the guy that goes to the therapist's office for his anger issues, sits in the chair, crosses his arms, and glares while saying 'I don't have a problem, you've got a problem'. Real geldings don't talk about their feelings. He's been so darn good with the fluctuating temps and endless hours in the ring that it's easy to forget he's as affected as any other horse. He just keeps it to himself. Unlike the others that will toss in the occasional buck or temper tantrum to let the rider know they need to let off steam, mi papi keeps it all bottled up. He lets the pressure build and build until past the point of no return.
I noticed last night. I felt like I was skating along the edge of something very explosive. The ring was a bit nutty with a new horse losing his marbles over everything in the indoor. Theo stood completely still and seemed to ignore the nonsense, but I was tense. I didn't want the other horse to plow into my horse and I didn't want the complete space cadet pre-teen to run her mare into him, either. When we got moving, I felt him balling up and being very negative, but there wasn't much I could do. I couldn't really kick him up in front of me with the heavy traffic and flipping out TBs. His eyes were all wrong and his ears weren't moving. Trainer A was watching us very, very carefully after he jerked his head and tried to disappear behind the contact while refusing to trot forward. Everything in his body said he was ready to throw a big fit, but when I encouraged him to move out, he insisted he didn't want to go forward.
I played it safe and kept it very light. I got the heck off before he could have a bad experience and did a long walk in hand.
Today he was grumpy on the cross ties, his body language edgy and irritable. I decided to toss him on the lunge line for his warm up. He looked like he needed to rip out some bucks and burn off some of his teenage angst. There's too much snow for galloping and bucking outside right now. I put him on the lunge, expecting some head shaking and acting up. I got the ploppy pony giving me irritable looks. Trainer A suggested I get after him a bit, send all of that tense energy forward. I shook the whip at him and growled with my best angry German dragon voice.
He gave us a head shake, a little buck, and a somewhat scooty canter. We both said 'good boy!' in unison. His expression was classic. He was cantering around with his ears flicking every which way. What, I'm supposed to buck and scoot? We trotted then cantered again, encouraging him to jump forward into it and cut loose. We got another head shake, a bigger one that went through most of his body, and a bigger canter. We kept it up, goading him into doing his over the top trot on the lunge and shaking his head. We got some big, playful head flips and his eyes started to soften. Just go forward, papi, and tear it up if you want. It took about 30 minutes for him to relax and shake it all out. Not a lot of bucking, but some playful acting out paired with big, powerful gaits.
When I got on, it was all about forward. Go forward, go forward, go forward. We wanted him to keep that relaxed, happy attitude. He did some blowing and prancing under saddle, which was rewarded. Better to let it all out then to ball up and get resentful. By the end he was going beautifully with his soft eyes and ears. When I got off, he got a cookie and I got the icicles off of his whiskers. He set his muzzle on my shoulder and chilled. Finally, he looked happy.
Tomorrow he's going on the lunge again. It's totally on me that he got to that negative state, I forgot to make sure he gets his chances to just do his own thing. Especially as we start cranking up the expectations. We can't do trail rides or go for gallops right now, so I have to stay on top of mixing it up for him. I'll admit, I've been enjoying the fact that I don't have to wait for one of the lunging spots to open up before I get on and that my horse is totally chill even with snow falling off the roof of the indoor. I have to remember not to stretch him too far, or I'm going to set us back by pushing him past his breaking point and causing an 'incident'.
Chiro is out next week, probably a massage right after and a visit from the dentist. Spring is right around the corner, if we can just hang on a bit longer.