Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Why am I here?


I’m just thinking – typing the first things that come into my mind…  So this is going to be a bit of a ramble that hopefully makes sense in the end. 

I think I’m over-horsed.  I’m not quite sure how it happened, it’s not like I’ve never had experience with horses that are too much for me.  I have, and I’ve handed them back/onto someone else far better suited to their needs.

But with Sparrow, it kind of snuck up on me.  The first few rides on him were perfect – cantered him without a care, he felt just fine and I loved it.  That’s why I wanted him. 

But then he bucked me off during that one lesson.  I was told I scared him, but I don’t really know why it happened, and I didn’t see it coming.  He tossed me as easily as a pancake and ran.  I got back on, and we continued like nothing happened.  But something had.  I guess that’s when the first seed of doubt was planted.

Then I moved him to his new paddocks, but I waited a week to ride him until I was having a lesson with my instructor.  I told myself it was because that way she could help with any initial teething problems, but now I wonder if it wasn’t just because I was too scared to ride him without her?

Ever since then riding Sparrow is a battle for me.  Thinking about riding him makes my stomach twist into little knots.  I’m usually ok once I am on him and riding – but I think my reactions to his behaviour are more extreme in that I am more subconsciously worried when riding him, and I have noticed I will have a ‘bigger’ reaction if he does something.  If he freezes for instance, I don’t just push him on, I pause for a split-second, thinking that he might rear if I ask him to move off with anything stronger than the softest leg and seat aid I can give – more of a gentle suggestion then a command.  It’s no wonder he ignores that so often and just stays there. 

I don’t mind handling him on the ground.  I just poke him over when he gets in my space and if he gets agitated, I just send him in little circles around me until he calms down.  No, the main problem here is riding him and the main problem here is me.  My nerve.  It’s gone.  I’ve lost it with him. 

So why am I persisting?  Because I really feel that if I can work through this, I will be a better rider - no, actually a better horseman overall.  This horse is teaching me so much more than any horse I’ve had before.  He’s teaching me to be more clear, more precise and more accurate as a rider.  I can’t muddle my legs aids, he just won’t do what I ask if I do.  I’m ok with that – I WANT to get better, I want that so very badly.

He’s also teaching me to read his signals and body language in a way no other horse has.  Most of my horses have rarely had repeat issues over one particular thing.  Sparrow is far more sensitive and fearful then any other horse I’ve had.  I know that it’s partially his temperament, and I’m not going to change that, and it’s partially due to his age and lack of training and experience – that I can change, for the better or for the worse.  To me it feels like he will simply go one of two ways – either learn to calm down and trust me even when he’s afraid, or just learn to blow up and freak out.

I don’t know if I have enough confidence in my abilities to be the leader he needs so that he learns to calm down and trust me.  I think we have made some progress, like I mentioned in my last post, but I’m not sure.  I don’t have that confidence that I feel I need to see this through without one or the other or both of us getting hurt.  It might be because I can’t afford lessons with my instructor more then once a fortnight – which is hard.  More than ever I need a knowledgeable eye on the ground to assesses how we are going and what Sparrow is saying to me when I can’t read him myself.

*sigh*   And reading that last paragraph over, one thing stands out to me.  I just don’t have the confidence.  I think that I am a fairly good rider, although I have tons more to learn, I know I am handling him fine on the ground, but something isn’t clicking under saddle and I guess it’s that green, young horse unpredictability that I am feeling in him that is spooking me.  I’m not used to it, but it’s part and parcel of where Sparrow is at at the moment – and probably will be until he get a few years and a lot of mileage under his belt.

I read on Equestrian Ink the other day{The Young Horse} that a young horse, no matter gentle or well trained they are, will have significantly difficult, maybe dangerous, moments. 

…Inevitably it happens….eventually there is a day when the young horse acts up. Horse spooks or bucks or bolts—person is dumped and hurt, or just scared, and things are never quite the same again. Person has lost confidence in horse and perhaps horse has lost confidence in person. Sometimes confidence is regained, sometimes not. But overall, it’s a predictable story that could easily be avoided…

That’s my story to a T.  I got bucked off, but I didn’t get hurt, at least, not physically.  The damage is my confidence in Sparrow.  I just don’t trust him like I used to.  The question is – can we work through that – can I work through that – should I work through that?  Will he benefit from my persistence{or stubborn refusal to give up if you like}, or will it just end up badly for the both of us? 

…If you want a no-drama horse, choose one that is eight or older. If you choose a younger horse, be sure that you are Ok with some “dramatic” moments. Because you are very likely to have them...  

Am I ok with drama?  Yes, I don’t mind it.  Am I ok with unpredictable drama?  No, not really.  Am I going to be ok if I keep riding Sparrow?

….I don’t know.

Is that alright?   



  1. Hi Bonita, your very honest account reminds me of experiences that I had last year. I've been riding for twenty years, eight of those as guide at a riding holiday centre. I gave up that job and returned to sedentary work in part because of lower back problems. Anyway last year my old horse, a draught type, needed to be retired. I bought a 6yo draught-cross mare to ride. She proved a handful. To start with she needed time to settle down each time we rode out, usually half an hour or a couple of miles. A half-hour ride around the farm was (and is) a handful. She is sensitive, as mares are - until then I'd ridden mostly geldings and stallions - and would show me discomfort by bucking. Finally she was young and could forget herself. I suffered one big fall that hurt, just being bucked off in the arena. (Later I happened to have an MRI scan for another issue and discovered that I'd broken a vetrebra, which is a sign of getting old I guess.)

    How this went right is that I stopped arena riding and short rides around the farm. I took the mare out for an hour minuimum every time, usually at least two hours, accepting that the first part will be more lively. I concentrated on sitting well and not pulling, rather using weight to calm and assure her. I made sure that rides are interesting and long enough to tire her.

    Yes, some canters start with a small buck. The thing is to give her a free rein and be ready for these tricks. They aren't malicious, just an outburst of youth. She needs a good canter on most rides simply to have fun.

    I think that perhaps you can work around this problem - "around" rather than "through". A different format of ride may help you to regain confidence.

    It's a big shock to find that one cannot move forward as one hoped with a horse. My mare stopped me in my tracks and made me wonder what sort of a rider I'd become. It's important not to lose self esteem from such an event.

    I hope that this is helpful. I don't know you or your horse so I'm assuming that my experience will transfer - I hope that it does.

  2. Thank you WhiteHorse for the advice and encouragement. I will try to keep it in mind - at the moment trail riding by myself isn't an option, so finding someone to go with can be difficult. I agree that keeping arena work to a minimum is a good idea; I am aiming to do more trails and ground work/lounge sessions than schooling, sort of a 3 to 1 ratio which does seem to help.

    I will also try to start riding him longer on the weekends. That seems like very solid advice to me. Thanks again!


  3. Hi Bonita,

    I just stopped by your blog from Mugwump Chronicles. I do not know you or your horse, but I understand your fears. I think that you should send your horse forward. Really forward. Ask for the biggest trot that you can tolerate. If you are confident, ask for the biggest, fastest canter. He cannot buck if he is really moving forward. Ride him this way until wants to stop, then ride him a little longer. He should learn that he cannot scare you by going fast or choosing the gait, because you will prove to him that you can go fast too. You can do this in an arena. Always keep safety first and take my advice at your own risk. I think that you will notice a difference in your horse. You are not trying to chase or scare him. You are just showing him that you are not afraid. Good luck.

  4. Hi Val,

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting! I have to say that sounds like really great advice; barring one issue. My arena doesn't have a fence around it. : ( I would totally do this otherwise.

    Although, now that I think about it, I could try it when my instructor is there, and maybe that would give the confidence to really open him up and letting him know that I can handle whatever he wants to dish out.

  5. Hi Bonita-

    We are for sure having similar troubles with our horses. When horse shopping, my number one priority was a quiet horse that I felt safe on. I rode Tessa four or five times and every time felt really confident about her, so I bought her. Then I brought her home and put her in professional training for six months. Then I got on her, and though I haven't come off of her, she has been spooky and cranky and been more horse than I signed up for in a lot of ways.

    I started to come up with excuses not to ride. I would feel sick whenever I was supposed to go to the barn. I changed trainers and have been slowly getting better. I'm not even close to being 'there' yet, but I've gone from feeling panicky about it to being just uncomfortable. My trainer made me go out to the barn as much as I could and ride as much as I could. Even if all I did was get on and walk around and then get off. It has helped.

    Good luck and I'm excited to read more about you and Sparrow!

  6. Thanks Mona!

    I think as I am making myself do what I know I can handle with him, that that has been helping with my overall confidence with him, which means that riding him is also getting easier. I suppose it's just a time thing!


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