Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Emotional Availability

 So I've been getting to ride a Grand Prix stallion.  No big deal.

That's Muffin, Trainer Z's retired GP mount during his competition days.  Quite the stunner, right?  He's everything mere mortals wish they could ride with those gorgeous looks and huge gaits.  When Trainer Z suggested I ride him for a couple lessons, I jumped at the chance.  Who wouldn't want to do that?

Retired Muffin is now 23 years young and a school master for various lesson students.  Plenty of people want to take a lesson on a horse with every single button.  He does tempi changes for fun and loves to passage.  The magic of Muffin is that he also loves to be a school horse.  If the rider is uncertain or losing their balance, he just walks because clearly this is not going well.  If he suspects the rider is not ready for stuff, he will jog around like an ancient pony and refuse to canter because they are clearly not ready for it.  He is quite happy with that kind of lesson.

If the rider can hit the right buttons and convince him that they are a real rider?  Another horse shows up.  A 16.1h Grand Prix stallion that knows these moves like the back of his hoof.  He has a trot that feels like it travels up more than out and damn near bounces you out of the saddle as you try to post slowly enough to go with the loft.  Oh, you think you should sit?  By all means, you can try.  I managed to sit a whole long side and woke up the next morning thinking I'd been hit by a train.  Every part of my body hurt from riding his collected trot.  It was still so dang cool.  

So tired.  So sore.  So happy.

He's so much fun because he loves his job and because he doesn't get ruffled.  As Trainer Z described it, he's emotionally available.  He doesn't get upset over mistakes or miscommunications.  He either does what you said to do even though it's wrong or he walks because he thinks you're going to fall off.  If something is going on outside the ring, you can just ignore it and keep working.  He can't stare at the farrier and do laterals at the same time so he stays focused and doesn't fall on his face.

I'm learning that it's the mind that makes the GP horse, not the lofty gaits or being 'born on the bit'.  Muffin made it to GP as a sound, happy stallion that hated retirement and came back as a school horse so he could keep doing his job.  Per Trainer Z, a GP horse needs to have the mind to handle the sport.  They need to be smart, curious, and playful enough to think that they're playing a game.  They need to be able to handle pressure that's physical, mental, and emotional.  Plenty of stallions that are making people gasp as four year olds never make it to the FEI levels because they don't have the rest of the equation.  19 year old Schrodie is like Muffin, he comes out of his stall with his ears pricked, looking for the arena.  It's a game and they want to play.  Muffin swaggers when he knows he got something right.  I usually make it very clear with lots of mane scritches and verbal rewards, sometimes there's even cookies.  There's a reason he likes me.

Muffin made me aware of how emotionally sensitive Theo is.  Theo will get overwhelmed and either shut down or try to leave the situation.  It's not that he's being bad, he just can't deal and his fight/flight kicks in.  Theo is unusual for a gelding because he's totally down to fight if he feels trapped.  It's taken years to get him used to the idea that he can cope with some pressure and stay with me mentally.  He's certainly improved a lot, we were doing counter canter circles and he managed to stay with me even as he did something that really bothers him mentally.  Riding Muffin made me realize that's what will hold Theo back.  Not his gaits, conformation, even his age.  His challenge is that he isn't emotionally available.  It's difficult to keep him with me mentally when he gets emotional.  He boils over and strikes out.  It's not his fault, some idiot gelded him too late and never taught him how to cope, but it's there.  When Muffin has emotions, he stays with his rider.  Good, bad, or indifferent, he's going to stay with his rider and the task at hand.  It might be because he's half TB, he has that TB work ethic.

We have also had some truly glorious miscommunications. I damn near fell off when I leaned forward into a canter transition and Muffin politely stopped rather than canter with me in the wrong spot.  Same when I first started trotting with that big, lofty movement and could not stay in the center for love nor money.  And poor Muffin was trying to keep me on top by adjusting while I was trying to adjust to his gaits and, well, I think we entertained Trainer Z a bit.  And when I couldn't freaking canter because I've always asked wrong?  It was exactly why I was put on Muffin.  I got it right or I didn't get anything.  When I get it right?  Passage/piaffe/passage and nice, straight flying changes.

And then we go for a little trail ride because Muffin loves to walk in the woods.

And yes, he's available for breeding in case anyone loves the idea of a GP stallion that's trusted to carry fragile adult ammies with wonky discs while they learn how to ride collection and the canter correctly *cough donttipforward cough*.  Carried his owner at GP while she was four months pregnant.  His dam is a TB and his sire did some jumping and eventing as well as dressage, Muffin tested quite well for his jumping.  His kids do dressage, eventing, jumping, and hunters.  His five year old son is utterly charming and is Theo's neighbor, they like to play grab face.  You know, just in case that kind of referral is interesting to anyone.

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