You know those totally dreamy rides you get every once in awhile? The kind where you faintly hear the Hallelujah Chorus singing in the heavenly distance? I had one of those recently on Poe. Twice, actually. In our two most recently show team rides, I got on the big red guy with a little apprehension.
Why? The first one, about a week-and-a-half ago, would only be Poe’s 3rd ride after a year off. So far he had been pretty good but I knew there was a wild card in play, which I’ve taken to calling The Kill Switch. It’s about as much fun as it sounds. So far in our work, Poe had not flipped The Kill Switch, and I wanted to keep it that way.
I needn’t have worried. He was an angel. My only goal for the ride was to get Poe to be consistent in whatever gait we were working in. And he was. Consistent and consistently awesome. Not only were his gaits steady and forward, but he was listening closely to my seat and really stretching into the contact. The whole time. It was two hours of pure fun, and I just couldn’t keep the smile off my face!
Here are two videos from that ride. Notice at one point we slow way down so as not to crowd Lydia in front of us, and then we lengthen back out on the short end of the ring. All that happened from my seat, folks.
The following Sunday, I rode again and we had a minor – ah, discussion – about not bucking. After that he was fine. Not superb like he was during the team ride, but hey, can’t win ’em all, right?
Wednesday, I went out to ride Poe again with my hopes sailing up in the beautiful blue skies. After all, the weather was great (a.k.a. almost 50), and surely Poe was going to be stellar. There weren’t many people at the barn, so we ended up having the arena to ourselves. I had some lofty aspirations of working on some simple dressage patterns. (Why? Balance and consistency. What for? To build the right muscles and keep my horse in tune with my aids.)
In my planning for the ride, I had failed to account for The Kill Switch. After all, it hadn’t really shown up much other than a bit of bucking on Sunday. I longed him around just in case he had some yah-yahs to get out (he didn’t). Throughout the ride, he was a little tight and up in his head carriage. I worked on asking him to stretch down and he didn’t really want to. Lengthening didn’t help either, so we worked on being steady and slow. That seemed to work a bit. Ever since my lessons with Mr. K, I’ve been much more in tune with my horse while I ride. After all, a horse can’t make a move without first preparing his body; therefore, we should feel the buck before it comes and stop it before it even becomes an issue.
Poe excels at finding excuses to flip The Kill Switch. I had felt him working up to a full-fledged freak-out a couple of times during our ride so far and managed to get his attention back on me. It’s really subtle, like the tense calm before a storm. His head comes up, he hollows his back and tucks his hind end under to get a really powerful push off the ground into the first buck. Yee-hah. If you can catch him when he tucks his butt under, then you’re safe. Sometimes it just all happens too fast.
The excuse this time was someone opening the door to the arena that leads outside. It was sort of comical, really. The door started opening and he kind of looked at it, we trotted a couple more steps and then he decided that OMG THERE IS A MONSTER COMING IN THROUGH THAT DOOR OVER THERE!!!
Activate Kill Switch.
He bucked. He lunged. He plunged and leaped through the air. He spun. And spun. And spun some more. He kicked. He backed faster than any horse I’ve ever seen. To give some sense of how long this went on, my internal monologue went from, “oh crap!” to “I’m definitely staying on,” to “well…maybe I should bail,” and back to, “there’s no way I’m coming out of this saddle, period.”
It really was a spectacular freak-out. A 10 out of 10.
Oh, except for one thing: I. Stayed. On.
The whole time I could hear Leanne’s voice shouting in my head: sit up! Sit up! Heel down! Heel down! And it totally worked.
Lisa: 1, Poe: 0.
After he finally stopped flailing, we walked a 10-meter circle so I could catch my breath. And then he got the crap worked out of him. We did so many figure-eights I think we were both a little dizzy when we stopped. That’s another trick I learned from Mr. K. Figure-eights make your horse balance himself and focus on where he’s putting his feet (i.e. not in above his head somewhere); and the smaller they are, the more attention they have to give you. It’s a handy tool.
The ending of this story brings us right back to where we started. One week later, we had another team ride and I was aboard Poe again. I was a teensy bit nervous. But he gave another fantastic ride. It was beautiful. We even went over trot poles without batting an eyelash.
So what is the moral of the story?
- I have concluded that Poe prefers riding in a group setting. This makes sense, since he’s used to hanging out in the pasture herd.
- Being along makes Poe nervous. If he were my own horse, I would use this knowledge and practice riding alone a whole lot. He’s not mine, and I prefer not to go to Round 2 with The Kill Switch before he heads off to his new home, so I’ll probably try to ride with others in the meantime.
- If I could find a horse that was consistently as good as Poe-sans-Kill-Switch, we would be formidable in the show ring. Must be time to start
torturing myselfdaydreaming by looking at horses for sale online.
What are some of your tactics for dealing with Level 10 Freak-Outs?