Friday, November 20, 2015

Ten Things to Do When the HoneyMoon is Over with Your New Horse

Buying a new horse is scary!   I haven't had to do it too many times but each time what should have been a fun experience turned out to be a long drawn out affair that was miserable.  It starts out with excitement but then turns into just pure worry -- What if I buy the wrong one?  What if he goes lame? What if the seller lies me and this horse that seems like a dream is really drugged and will kill me when I get home?  What if I can't ride this horse the way the trainer does and it will just be a dud for me?  What if I shouldn't get a horse at all?

Then you bring the horse home and hopefully - at least in some cases -- the horse is beyond all your expectations.  Of course, your expectations were pretty low because certainly it couldn't be true that you actually bought the right horse!  When I brought my new horse home this summer I couldn't believe how great she was.  She was only four but despite my worries, she was the same sane wonderful mare she was when I saw her at the breeders.  We went on some trail rides and she didn't kill me!  She seemed happy to see me when I came out with her halter and considering I couldn't get her to to walk or canter well when I tried her out, we made some crazy good progress in the ring.   Life was grand!  

Then small stuff started happening -- she decided mounting wasn't her thing, some of the quick progress we were making slowed to what I could optimistically call "stable" and well to put it in a short summary... it just wasn't as grand.

Before I got too far into my head (a dangerous place to be), I had to take a few steps back and realize all was okay and it was just that the honeymoon was over and it was time for the reality of the real work that comes with owning a horse.

Here are some things I realized:
  1. Take inventory of what you have accomplished.  I was feeling as if we weren't getting anywhere but when I thought about it in the three short months we were a team, we had gone on countless trail rides, attended a clinic in a large indoor, attended weekly off farm lessons in different locations, completed our first dressage show, rode with strange horses... well shoot... for a new team and a four year old we had done okay.

  2. Go back to basics.  The dressage pyramid training scale was developed for a reason.    When my mare started hesitating in going forward I realized that maybe we had perhaps gone too far up the pyramid without establishing the base.  The base is Rhythm with Energy and Tempo.  If you don't have a horse moving with energy and tempo, you certainly are not going to get bend. And just because she was able to do all three the day before, does not mean that she will stay there.  If things aren't going well, it probably means you need to step back to the basics.

  3. Try a different method.  When we hit the "hey I don't want you to mount me anymore so I'm going to move my butt away from you" discussion, at first I just tried to stay patient and keep putting her in place at the mounting block.  What I was teaching her was that if she stayed persistent she would win.   If what you aren't doing isn't working, then you need to come up with a different plan.

  4. Get advice.  When I got stuck with the mounting issue, I reached out to my mare's breeder and trainer, a person I trusted because she had done a great job giving her a good start.  She suggested creating a chute so there was no option of moving away.  Of course I should have thought of that myself as I had used it two years ago with another horse but in the heat of frustration and test of patience, I had forgotten.   With that said, if you ask ten horse people for a solution, you will get ten answers so keep it to a minimum who you ask.

  5. Be consistent.  Which brings me to this point.  If you try one thing and it doesn't work and ten seconds later you try something else, its not your horse that is the problem - its you.  All you are creating is confusion.  Give your horse a chance to figure out what you want.  Break it into small bits they can understand and succeed at and then give them the reward of rest.  Then move onto the next bit so they (and you) can succeed at that too.  

  6. Do what you do well and do it often.  Find the thing that you do well and do that for one of your schooling sessions.  It will increase both you and horse's confidence and remind you that riding is supposed to be fun.   Its also important to interact with your horse as much as possible.  Don't worry if you only have ten minutes -- do something in those ten minutes.   The biggest mistake we can make is to wait until we have enough time for a long schooling session.  Frequent is always better, even if its short.

  7. Do something on the ground.    Don't keep banging your head against the proverbial wall.  Do something you and your horse will enjoy.   Spend a whole session just grooming.   Set up some obstacles like a tarp and practice progressively getting your horse used to it so she will cross over.   Work in hand on moving lightly off from a touch.   Set up some jumps and lunge your horse over them. Anything you do on the ground will build your relationship with your horse and make the under saddle work better.

  8. Take lessons.  A good person on the ground consistently giving you lessons is invaluable.   Set the dates up in advance and then show up.  Make them a priority.

  9. Be patient and be realistic.  Its hard to remember sometimes that this horse training takes time and there really is no such thing as the perfect horse.  You may be remembering your prior horse and all the things you could do and forgetting all the work it took to get there.  Or maybe this is your first time not on a school master.  This training stuff takes time.  Not days.  Not weeks.  Years.   Be patient and enjoy the process of learning.   

  10. Give up.  Yup... sometimes you really did purchase the wrong horse. If you have gone through all the things above and someone you trust who is not emotionally tied to the decision agrees that its time to throw in the towel, it may be.   Cut your losses and find your horse a more suitable home.  Then take some time to reflect on what worked and what did not so hopefully the next horse is the one that meets all your dreams.

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