They have certain behaviours or traits we as riders must learn to mesh with - these "traits" being things we don't necessarily address for the purpose of eradicating them. Horses are horses, and even moreso, some are very individualistic beings. "Quirky" horses are often underappreciated amongst the masses, but with the right rider/owner combination, they shine and boy, when it goes good, do they ever sparkle.
With all that being said, have I ever taken a second to explain what a sensitive and hormonal mess Spud is?
I mean, to most, he is the most affectionate, sweetest, and goodest boy in the world.
And truthfully, they wouldn't be wrong.
He is affectionate. He is sweet. And he is a good boy.
|The Best Potato™|
Over the years and as our relationship has blossomed, we've become pretty amicable partners. He is still a very fussy and sensitive flower, and I've learned that I can't change him and do what I can as a driver to emulate positivity and good experiences.
It doesn't mean we avoid the hard stuff, because proper training is important.
But, I don't get mixed up in the details.
And I don't let him drag me into an emotional fight - neither of us win and it only creates a more tense, nervous, and sour horse. Not exactly the vibe I strive for.
|He may be sensitive, but he's as solid as they come.|
What I was even more surprised to find out is how resistant and tight he is in harness this year. It isn't during conditioning drives - he loves those and is happy to trot all day long if the circumstances dictate. However, the more technical and dressage-esque schoolings we've managed to put in have sent him right into pissy pony land.
We had a particularly disastrous drive a few weeks ago, wherein he completely blew off my verbal cues the entire time despite receiving reprimands and reminders (a tap on his butt with the reins was met with absolute and utter meltdowns, so that was fun).
We took some time off to take things back to the drawing board and I lunged him several times to really drive home the verbal cues. He continued to have a pretty sour attitude about work in general, but without the cart in the way, we were able to suss out a few non-negotiables.
|Spud: "This is bullshit"|
Annie: "I'll just watch."
Additionally, since being broke and reliable, Spud hasn't been a main priority for me to school or drill particulars into. I mean, we've still gone to shows and we've still pushed for more, but at the end of the day, these last few years were about Bringing Up Bannie. Time is scarce as an adult amateur, and lack of consistency is also (likely) a large factor in this.
|There is also no horse I trust greater |
with precious cargo than this guy.
The Terrible, No Good Drive, while particularly awful, gave me a lot of information about my mini and what I needed to address on the lunge. Particularly, he expects me to nag him along the entire time. Which, may be motivating for him, but it is absolutely frustrating for me to ask him for the same thing 10x. We practiced a lot of "trot" means "trot" and not "trot then stop and wait for me to ask again" - he was verrrry offended by this but I remained insistent and unchanged by his obvious frustrations and annoyances. Once this happens, he becomes impossible to rate and legs fly every which way.
Spud is a sensitive boy - he takes criticism from his driver to heart, and he frets over it instead of absorbing it and moving on. This prevents him from concentrating on the next series of movements or questions, and he gets all jumbled up and overwhelmed so his solution is to go fast and blow through the aids - because nothing says "I'm listening" like trotting mach 10 towing a cart with a human inside.
|When he is all in and is strong in the bridle, it feels like |
the most magical thing in the world.
All of this to simply say - driving horses don't get chances when it comes to safety.
Since going back to the basics and re-addressing things, he is becoming more amicable and pliable in harness. We've driven a time or two since, and both have been very pleasant. I am dolling out some high value treats (ie. all the carrots) which is not something I have ever done before with him, but I found good success with Annie with this method so I figured it was worth a shot. An obscene amount of praise and cookies being tossed his way has seemed to have boosted his morale and work ethic, which is nice to see.
We still are not passing go.
|He is still a very good boy <3|
But tack changes aren't the holy grail, and while waiting for that to arrive, we're still working towards a happy and positive horse. Making small changes and outlining the expectations in a fair and consistent way gives him the opportunity to seek the "easiest" route. Refusing to engage in his hysterics (ie. Zen Ninja Level 100) negates any escalation and for someone who has dealt with a Meltdown Queen (looking at you Annie) the past few years, I am well-versed in the practice.
|Our happy place!|
With any horse, finding the right balance is important, and sometimes, you have to recognize that you don't get to collect $200 and you don't get to pass go.
Sometimes, you have to hang out on the boardwalk a little longer.