If I’ve given the impression that my horse, my beautiful Bear, is all sweetness and light, let me set the record straight … he is, and he is not.
And, don’t be deceived by the “Who me?” expression captured in this image. It’s just his way of sucking you into his “horses are perfect” fantasy world.
Bear is a horse. Horses are prey. Prey animals fight or flee when they feel threatened and uncomfortable. In Bear’s case, there may be an opinion attached to it.
Usually I can count on Bear to be attentive, responsive and obedient. However, he is a horse with a mind of his own that’s easily distracted and prone to flights of fancy. As one can imagine, this can get in the way of any common sense that might exist in the recesses of his busy mind.
In his defence, he is a Warmblood, a Hanoverian, in fact, and Warmbloods are notorious for over-reacting to unexpected stimuli. For example, a plastic bag blowing in the wind may as well be a mountain lion. It’s why these horses are sometimes affectionately referred to as “dumb bloods.” They are bred to be powerful sport horses but are often slow to mature in their minds. Training takes patience … and years.
When they find their groove their energy can be explosive. And as long as you can keep up with them, they’ll give you the ride of your dreams. And this is what keeps us crazy horse people going back for more.
However, their hyper-sensitivity verging on stupidity when combined with power poses an interesting training challenge. I call it “riding 1,200 lbs of opinion.”
The training road Bear and I have travelled in the past six years has been a bumpy one. Finally in the last few months we’ve been finding and maintaining that elusive connection and most of my rides have been pretty dreamy.
Bear has been waiting patiently (and sometimes not so patiently ) for me to refine my skills so that he can do what he was bred and trained to do — be a sport horse. At long last, and to our mutual relief, it’s all coming together as manifested in Bear’s more expressive movement — his stride is more elevated, his back more engaged, his connection to my hand through the reins more consistent. He’s more content in his work now and, as a result, less forgiving if I screw up.
Yesterday, with a head cold begging for attention, I wasn’t riding that well and Bear called me on it.
How does 1,200 lbs of opinion do this?
First, he looks for an escape route. In this case Bear tried to leave the 20 meter trot circle we’d been working on by simply ignoring what he considered to be my less than precise cues. When I gently but firmly attempted to correct him he persisted in his dumb blood moment, stopping dead in his tracks and having a hissy fit. A little buck here; a kick and a side wind there; a twirl or spin here again; head up; nostrils snorting; tail spinning — all as if I’d asked him to trot past the den of that mountain lion! All in a matter of seconds.
There was no point in arguing with him as this only escalates his bad behaviour. Instead I gave us both a moment to collect ourselves (him for his mind to settle, me to take a breath — jeepers!) and then insisted through more relaxed body language and firmer cues that he listen to me and go forward.
But Bear wouldn’t have it. Four tantrums on the circle and then a silly, explosive spook provoked by a couple of horses chasing each other in the paddock beside the arena put us both in an unhappy place.
Bear was wired and belligerent, but I was determined not to get drawn into his drama. With the assistance of my coach we gradually and quietly worked Bear down from his high horse (ha!) and into a sympathetic contact where he could once again relax and trust the process. By the end of our session he was putty in my hands and acting as if nothing had happened.
Of course, it’s all forgotten now. I was at the barn today and Bear just batted his baby browns at me and nickered for his precious carrots.
Tomorrow we’ll train again and with any luck I’ll ride better and my 1,200 lbs of opinion will be able to keep it to himself.
So you see, my sweet little satsuma-eating, social butterfly is also a one-horse power dynamo souped up on opinion with no apologies.
That’s my boy!
Nurture what you love ,