I have an anxiety disorder. It's diagnosed and managed, but these things tend to do their own thing. It occasionally decides to rear up and make my life far less pleasant. I have no idea what set off the episode three weeks ago. There was no single, concrete event. Probably a combination of crazy work deadlines, personal life, and my horse.
Yes, I had an anxiety episode over my horse. It's been building up for awhile as I work through a lot of uncertainty and changes in how I see things and working through the challenges of getting my horse to actually submit to . . . anything. I actually took a whole week off from the barn, cancelled both of my Mary lessons, the whole shebang. I went into survival mode. And while I was out? Mi papi bucked off his leaser.
By all accounts, it was a little buck and he looked really startled when she actually came off. It was the sort of thing Trainer A and I sit without noticing. His leaser didn't know it was coming and was caught off guard. Trainer A said she saw the signs, but didn't realize he was going to actually act on it. He didn't do his old trick of running to the barn, he just stood there looking surprised. His leaser hopped back on, since it was a soft fall, and proceeded to canter him for about 40 minutes to burn off the excess energy.
After that was the decision that she would take a school pony and not Theo on her three day vacation to Vermont. He's been good enough on her trail rides, but he's always a little up, a little on edge. Something I don't mind, but for her going on vacation? Too much risk. She doesn't have the tool set to manage one of his explosions and there's the other ladies on the trip to consider.
So I went back to riding after my week off. And my first ride was fantastic. How did I stress about this? He's so much fun!
And then on my second ride I tried to add the forward while keeping the connection and he bulldozed through my left shoulder deliberately. It's still touchy and I'm contemplating actually going to get it evaluated. Nothing causes anxiety like knowing that something is going to hurt. Theo has a general policy of 'forward or round, pick one'. I took too long addressing the training problem and now Theo knows if he truly lays into that left rein, he'll get a release. And let's be clear, he's not naughty. It's action/reward. He does the thing, pressure releases, he gets to trot around with his head wherever he wants. It's clearly what I want!
Except I'm sitting in the saddle with a shoulder that won't cooperate, trying not to lose my temper because my horse is learning the exact wrong thing and I'm in pain. And then my right shoulder, that has never given me trouble in my life, started to hurt. He'd generalized and was trying the same thing on the right. Damn it. My contact was a disaster area, heavy and evasive.
He spent two weeks in a pelham with two reins. It gave me the option to ride on the snaffle rein but have the curb rein available when he decided to test my still injured shoulder. I don't like biting up, but come on, my left arm is going to fall off some day.
But we're coming around the bend. The attitude problem that comes with the seasons changing is abating. I'm also picking my way through a fight that should have happened when he was six. The rider does have some say in things like flex, both lateral and longitudinal, and forward. Theo has been allowed to do whatever the hell he wants his whole life and threatens anyone that says otherwise. I don't think he was ever properly broke. I mentioned that to Trainer A and she said 'I think his owner tried and that's how she ended up in the hospital'. Oh yeah, that's a thing. Good reminder.
So a couple of things are coming into focus. I'm not happy, which means something is wrong. Theo's not too terribly thrilled, either. So I threw my jumping saddle on, had a jumping lesson, then went out on two trail rides. When I went back? I was able to get a nice, soft connection. I want a long, relaxed neck. I don't want to fall into the trap of jacking his neck up to get him . . . wherever. And when I chill, he chills.
So I had a radical thought today. What if I take a little break from trying to drive him forward into the big, powerful gaits needed to show? Because a lot of this trouble really comes back to him having to show a lot more forward than what's natural to him. I mean, there's nothing actually wrong with this canter. It's just not going to get me a high score. Maybe I should chill, enjoy, and lock that canter down rather than continuing to shove this along.
What if I just step back and focus on him being active, soft, obedient. Actually fun to ride again? Just with the submission to the bit because I'm not letting that go. He's just so much more pleasant when I'm not trying to make him look like an super powerful warmblood. Maybe I should take some jumping lessons for awhile, go trail riding in the beautiful fall weather. He's clipped and ready to roll.
Maybe it's time I actually pull the trigger and buy that western saddle I've been eyeballing and switch him to a working jog and collected lope. Because the way he wants to move is what they're actually looking for. And it won't hurt my regular dressage at all, we'll just focus on light and obedient for awhile. Let's face it, at the lower levels, dressage judges do like to reward harmonious, light, and correct even with smaller gaits. So long as I fix that connection, my scores should pop right back up. We've already been rewarded for that change.
Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. I need to shake things up before I ruin my years of work on getting mi papi to enjoy his work. Or I decide that this is just not fun.