Wednesday, December 27, 2017

2017: The year of realizations

Oh, 2017.  If only I could go back and give myself a message at the start of the year.

I went into 2017 all shiny eyed and confident, thinking I was going to be competitive at First level, do some hunter/jumper shows, and maybe even move up to Second.  I would surely qualify for my freestyle.  Basically none of that happened.

Still BFFs somehow

I found out that my secure, work from home, low stress job of ten years was changing and that I needed to look for something new.  That started the tailspin, ratcheting my stress up to new levels and stealing time away from the barn.  When I found my job (only 20 minutes away from the barn) in March, I had to rebuild my schedule so that it included a commute and a job that needed me to actually work.  I picked up a leaser, set my pony up with a training ride once a week, and tried to figure out how to be a part time rider.

Theo and his leaser

We careened into the show season with less fitness for me and less polish for him.  Our first outing boosted my confidence with good scores at First, but then the wheels came off.  Theo demonstrated why he's not a h/j pony by having a grand melt down in a flat class, bucking enough to alarm the EMT in warm ups, and generally ending any hope of a hunter career for him.  Pony loves to jump.  Pony does not love jumping away from home.

Super fancy show pony 

He also demonstrated that he's still convinced there are aliens everywhere and he needs to run from them, almost getting us eliminated before the judge could even ring the bell.  I struggled with how to get him around the outside of the ring before a test.  I embarrassed myself with a spur rub.  I didn't break 60% at any of my sanctioned outings.

First Level 3 canter this ain't.  Holy crap, so bad.

I realized I was going the wrong direction and started to look for help.  I bought a trailer so I could go out and adventure on my own.

My very own rig 

I met Mary Howard in July and started the grand battle for contact.  It was a miserable couple of months that threatened to throw Theo and I off the tracks completely.  There were draw reins, lunge whips, and tears.  I was hurt, frustrated, and having anxiety attacks.  Theo wasn't enjoying himself either and resisted every step of the way as we pushed against something he'd successful fought since age six.  By September, I had to take a week off to reset.

But that was the turning point for the year.  When we rounded that curve, I had all new options.  I could suddenly communicate with my horse rather than having him lock me out.  Vitor Silva gave us some new tools to straighten him up using lateral work.  He reminded me that Theo is a proud horse and that he has to be set up to succeed.  Mary Wanless focused on my seat bones and convincing them to share the saddle.  I used all of our very hard work throughout 2017 to present my horse as a confirmed First Level horse and he certainly looked the part.  That dip at the base of his neck finally started to fill in.

Training 3:  72%, First 1:  68%
We had a schooling show to end the season with our highest scores ever.  We learned a new way to go into the ring, removing the tension and drama.  I FINALLY found a western saddle so we can branch out into a new discipline.  We started to reintroduce Second level movements and collection with a focus on lightness and suppleness.  Theo discovered that he had stifles and that they could flex and push.

Goin' treeless

I also found that supplements called Ultrafire are not to be added casually.

Demon horse

I discovered that Theo is his own beast.  He hasn't read the books or watched the clinics.  I can't just do what someone says.  German, French, classical, competitive, none of them are the answer.  With him, I have to find my own way.  With compromise and a hell of a lot of cookies, he will try his heart out for me.  He really is more of a mare than most mares.

Our two phase with a dressage score of 27

2017 was not the show year I'd planned.  Instead we had some holes in our training shoved into my face and I had to tear part of the foundation down and rebuild.  It wasn't easy and wasn't even fun, but in the end, we are moving forward again.  This time, we're moving forward in a correct way.  My horse has learned to relax and follow the contact as opposed to bracing and locking me out.  With that, I can ask him to step underneath himself and lift his back.  I ask with a touch and he answers.  Slowly, very slowly, the spurs and heavy contact are being replaced by lightness.

Bringing 2017 to a close

2017 was a foundation year.  I want 2018 to be the pay out for all of the hours spent in 2017 building up that foundation.  We both learned a whole new way of going.  We both got our perspectives rearranged.  We both spent some time not wanting to see the other one, but we're back to him cantering up to the gate when I call for him.

Still the most fashionable pair in the barn

So here's to 2018.  May it be a year of new adventures and new milestones for this very stubborn, opinionated, goofy, adoring pair.

And may I develop some selfie skills


  1. Years like that aren't a lot of fun, but they set us up for so many better things later. :-) Onwards and upwards!

  2. I love that thinking - "foundation years" where you lay down all the hard work and then can build on it for greater rewards for next.