Sunday, May 8, 2016

Round peg, square hole

Trainer A really, really likes mi papi.  And he really, really likes her.  He'll go out of his way to go over to her when he's walking on a loose rein.  He likes to nudge her on the shoulder and remind her that he is amazing and needs adoration.  Trainer A loves cooing and fussing with him, rubbing his ears until he blisses out and telling him how clever he is.  It's really quite awesome to have a trainer that sees your horse the same way you do:  terribly flawed but terribly perfect for me.  She's seen me on about six horses and she always insists I go back to Theo.

Poor thing is stuck with me

During one of these random loving on Theo sessions, she finally said what I'd been thinking.  Theo's not an eventing prospect.  Physically, he would eat up the low level stuff and not even break a sweat.  Mentally, he doesn't enjoy it.  He enjoys structure and knowing what's going on.  He love, love, loves jumping in the ring.  He carries me forward with ears pricked and right on the bit.  He's never offered to attack a fence outside of the ring.  He's willing to take my word for it that it's safe, but he never takes the bit and never pushes forward.  He sucks back to get in that extra peek before going over.  His heart pounds with fear going into a jumping field and even his home jumping field takes him a couple of minutes to settle in.  Nope, mentally, mi papi does not have it.

Yesterday I mentioned this to someone that used to ride him and it went . . . interesting.  She gave me the 'don't give up, he's got just you now and he can learn, you should teach him, he's so talented, why wouldn't he event, he trusts you so much' followed by variations on how she would never want a horse that couldn't do a bit of everything.

Of course I hesitated.  I loved going Novice with Fi.  It was such a high to open that horse up over fences we were both completely confident over.  I know Theo would bang around at that level and with his dressage training, I could finally have the dressage scores to back it up.  I have daydreamed of taking him to UNH at Beginner Novice.  He really does have all of the talent necessary to be a very successful low level eventing horse.  Part of me misses the adrenaline, the rush.

A certain mare that always looked like it was Christmas morning when she was on cross country

This might be the biggest lesson Fi gave me:  Don't shove a round peg into a square hole.  It's not a lot of fun for the peg.  Denny Emmerson recently wrote about what it takes to be an advanced horse and the top three included courage and desire in the horse.  Theo doesn't want to go out and do cross country.  He will do it because he trusts me and cantering around in the open is a nice change of pace, but I've ridden plenty of horses that genuinely loved it.  Allen, Fi, Spinniker, Ben, the list goes on.  Each one got bigger when they saw the jumps, took the bit, hunted for fences.  Theo does none of those things.  I've had to coach him and work with him to teach him to actually open up on the trails.  If he's isn't mentally wired to open up and gallop on a straightaway that he knows, he isn't going to enjoy doing that in a place he's never seen with obstacles in his way.

I backed away from the conversation after I tried to explain mi papi doesn't want that job.  I was vehemently told that he did want it and I just didn't give him a chance.  I was honestly surprised at the amount of emotion directed at me.  Mi papi seems to have a knack for having people fall in love with him.  All he has to do is stand in the cross ties and people can't stay away from him.  There are lots and lots of adult women and girls that are gaga over him.  They follow me around at the barn, telling me about him and what he wants and what he should do.  I've actually had a lesson interrupted by a young lady that had to know about the beautiful black horse and couldn't wait.  Of course, most of them have never ridden him or have only ridden him in a highly controlled situation.  Beautiful, yes, but an angel?  Not even a little bit.  As the only one in the barn (aside from Trainer A) with a record at recognized eventing and the only one to get Theo around a cross country course, I think I get to be the expert on the subject.  That doesn't stop them from assuming the reason he is now only seen in dressage is because of my insecurities.  Can you hear my teeth grinding? 

At one year in, I feel confident saying that I know my horse and that he would be quite pleased if I never, ever made him leave a start box again.  Hunter paces, those are fun with good company and small fences.  Trail riding adventures?  Sure, once in awhile, it's a nice mental break.  But as far as a job goes, he wants the sand box.  Especially since he's figured out that being big and powerful is rewarded, he gets what he needs in the structure and geometry and power requests.

My safety vest is staying in my car because we still play with it.  I would like to take him out cross country schooling as a confidence exercise.  But I think we'll both be happier if we leave that game to the horses that truly love it.  I just need to make it official so I stop looking at things and being tempted.

Theo is dressage and stadium jumping ONLY because that's where he wants to be and it would be selfish of me to make him do something he fears just because I think I'd get ribbons in it.

Armchair experts can now exit stage left.


  1. Kudos to you for sticking up for your horse! Horse people always have opinions and they may or may not be useful but they will tell you anyway. Let them think what they want you will have a happier and better horse for it.

  2. I so get where you're coming from. I've heard lots of opinions and what I should and shouldn't be doing with my horse. Until they've ridden them on a regular basis, no one should be spouting riding--especially competition--advice to that horse's owner.

  3. Good for you for really listening to your horse! There are so many factors that get in the way of truly listening and accepting a horse's preferred specialties - money, personal dreams, and just plain old uncertainty of our own feelings and abilities. For me, listening to my horses was heartbreaking in one instance (a really beautiful jumper who actually hated to jump) and a complete blessing (a horse so obviously a dressage-loving beast that I had to hire and dressage coach and start learning about a whole new discipline!). At the end of the day, it should be all about the horse and helping them have just as much fun as we do right? ;)

  4. ha that's such a typical horse person attitude - "well of course your horse would do such and such - you just have to try harder!" I said similar things to my friend about her gelding right up until she exasperatedly threw the reins at me saying "go for it". And. Well. I obviously majorly failed haha. You know your horse best, but furthermore he is YOURS. You get to choose whatever you do with him anyway, other opinions be damned.

  5. That gif is so great. Good for you, knowing what your horse wants to do, and playing to his strengths. It's easy to ask a horse to do a job he doesn't like when he's willing to do it anyway, but I think you're right in saying that's it's not fair to the horse.

  6. I always love how people know your horse better than you. The truth is that horses have no real ambition other grazing and hanging out with their buddies (humans included).

  7. In the end, you ride the horse you have under you. Either that, or sell him and move on. If you can be happy riding Dressage and jumping stadium, then that's what you should do for your horse and yourself. Life is too short for either of you to be miserable.