A Dangerous Game

I love my horse.

Shakespeare is friend, teacher and therapist all bundled up in own big, brown, furry package, and a dream come true.

Occasionally, however, he’s an opinionated, demanding, obstinate [insert expletive here]. I don’t like when he leads me doe-eyed up the garden path and then unleashes his evil twin. It’s not nice.

And so we begin …

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Hello Down There

… Who knows what evil lurks …

When I arrived at the barn on Tuesday morning I was feeling good. Temps were hovering around zero; the sun was shining and I was looking forward to spending time with Bear and having a coaching — our first in more than 10 days.

At the paddock gate I called for Bear who was lingering at the far end of the two-acre pasture. Hearing my voice, he sauntered over all relaxed, and evidently happy, following a morning spent lolling in the sunshine and eating hay with his buddy, Sam.

As I groomed him I chanced to look through the barn window and across the driveway to the arena. Snow on the roof and the milder temps portended the risk of falling ice, the downside of a sunny day in February. However, with my half-hour lesson scheduled for 11:30 I figured it was early enough in the day for this not to matter. Early afternoon seems to be the tipping point for ice melt.

Besides, Bear was mellow yellow. He’d been ridden the two previous days, so was in good shape to handle a bit of extra stimulation. As a precaution, however, I turned him loose in the arena before getting on him. Just as I thought, he was fine — no drama. Ice toppled from the roof in a gentle cascade at one point and, while he flinched, he held his ground.

So, we were good.

I got on. We started our warm-up walk. Ice fell now and then. No big deal. Coach arrived and as things were going well I asked to extend the lesson to an hour.

“Sure!”

Great!

Bear and I went into our trot warm up. Coach worked his magic. He is the best kind of teacher for me. Technical, intuitive, patient and keenly interested in our progress. My skill set has been reinvented since I started working with him three years ago. Miraculous would be the word for it, especially since I’ve also been negotiating the pot holes of adrenal fatigue during this time. A couple of rounds of golf for Christmas hardly seems enough of a thank you for the difference this man has made in my life with Bear.

Still, I think he gets satisfaction from seeing the progress Bear and I are making. He likes Bear; sees he has talent and that he’s smart, and he wants me to ride him well and have fun with him safely.

So, yesterday Coach put us through our paces, the focus — connection.

Bear is savvy enough to know that connection means hard work — engaging the hind end; rounding through his back; being in the moment with me every step of the way. It’s challenging — for both of us — but we are at a point in our development where a consistent connection is integral to our progress and, on a day when ice is toppling off the roof at an ever-increasing rate, vital to our safety.

A good connection means that when Bear goes off the rails, for whatever reason, I can make the correction within a step or two instead of floundering through ten. He feels the weight of a secure connection to the bit through the reins and his body through my seat and legs and is confident I can get him through the spooky stuff. In turn I feel confident I can get him through it too.

At the trot we did this to brilliant effect.

Then it was time for canter work.

Canter, in general, has proven more of a challenge. My big-strided horse covers a lot of ground and synching our rhythm has been difficult, especially in recent years while I’ve been battling anxiety. During the past several weeks, however, things have started falling into place. With a lovely round of canter on Monday under my belt I was optimistic for our chances. Surely we could command a repeat performance, especially with Bear appearing so relaxed.

Perhaps you can imagine where this is going …

About the time we started the canter work, just after noon, the sky started to fall. One great crash of ice and my seemingly placid Bear lost his grip on reality.

Enter Mr. Hyde.

I was surprised. He’d been such a good boy and had suddenly turned into a brat!

“He’s not afraid of the ice — his timing is off,” said Coach noting the cool expression in Bear’s eyes, “He’s toying with you. We’re asking more of him now and he’s using the falling ice as an excuse to throw you off your game. … Who’s going to win?”

Enter Mrs. Hyde.

As conditions around us became more volatile, I confined our work to a 20 metre circle. Coach stood in the middle and called out a continuous stream of instructions to help me weather the storm of Shakespeare’s tempest and set him right.

Bear’s claws came out — first in the form of a mighty four-foot-off-the-ground twisting buck (the first of several free chiropractic adjustments 😉 ), followed by a scoot, a spook and then, the final straw — an abrupt stop and propulsion backwards.

Going backwards is difficult for a horse. Bear was making my life difficult by making his life difficult, when all I wanted was for him to go forward into a nice, sympathetic connection.

He was determined to test my determination.

Fine!

“You want to go backwards buddy … have at it!” I put my leg on and kept him going backwards (which is what he’d told me he wanted) until we almost backed into the kickboards. Then I tapped him sharply behind my leg with the whip to remind him who pays the bills (I always use the whip sparingly) and, while maintaining the connection he was so anxious to avoid, pressed him into the forward canter I wanted.

He was not happy about it, and tested me some more, but Bear’s bloodymindedness only made me more determined. There was no way he was getting away with this obnoxious behaviour.

The whole experience was exhausting both mentally and physically, but in the end Mr. Hyde receded into the shadow of Bear’s psyche and once again my boy was putty in my hands all achieved, I hasten to add, with a commitment to the integrity of the process and the help of a good coach.

I’m proud of this accomplishment even if marginally annoyed that he’d lulled me into a false sense of security in the first place. This experience has left me with the profound sense that if I can manage the importunate demands of a 1,200 lb horse flying off the handle, I should be able to handle pretty much anything.

As a horse mom it’s my responsibility to see that Bear engages appropriately with the world around him. Establishing boundaries and laying down the law in a horse-friendly way is part of that responsibility. Bear’s a honey but, like the testy child, he took advantage of my good nature, dragging me into a dangerous game in the process. It was a game in which I simply had to outsmart him. It was a game I had no choice but to win.

Nurture what you love …

Dorothy 🙂
Horse Mom

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Copyright Aimwell CreativeWorks 2013

5 thoughts on “A Dangerous Game

    • Thanks … I’m back in the saddle for another lesson today, first ride since Tuesday, hoping for a slightly less volatile experience. … By this end of the winter the horses get bored with arena work and get ideas on how to create their own fun. This doesn’t help. Today my mission is to keep Bear so busy he won’t have time to think about being a twerp. … Such is life with the horse … You always need to think one step ahead while being in the moment … 😉

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