So…the problem with Trainer M is that his attention span is pretty short and in fact could charitably be described as “magpie-like”. (It’s his girlfriend, Trainer L, who is the detail-oriented perfectionist of our barn.) Beware of when things start to get too easy for you and your horse, because M finds that particularly boring. Before you know it he’ll either have raised all the jumps five holes while you’re not looking, or set an exercise with so many striding options and changes of direction that your brain is liable to explode while trying to learn it. He likes big jumps, tough courses, and a lot of adrenaline in his life.
A while ago I told him that, although I’m all for fun jumping times, Schmoodle and I are alone, doing flatwork, 95% of the time, so we should probably do some flat lessons. I just kind of meant getting some feedback on Schmoodle’s connection and shape, bouncing around some ideas for dealing with his tension, and having someone on the ground to yell at me about my hunchy shoulders and wonky left leg.
M acquiesced (“…but are you sure you don’t want to jump the course in the grass ring instead?” You mean the one set for the 1m40 horses, complete with open water? Yeah, no.) and we had a good lesson last week, addressing all those things. Then during yesterday’s lesson, Schmoodle came out feeling great – relaxed, forward, good shape, respectful of my leg. So naturally M upped the ante by taking away my stirrups. That’s cool, I’m all about no-stirrup September. Then he added that excellent exercise, posting while standing for two or three beats, sitting for one. “He looks great,” M said. “This is getting boring, though,” he continued under his breath.
“So just shoulder-in in trot on the long side, haunches-in on the short side, canter an eight-metre volte still in haunches-in out of the second corner, back to trot and repeat,” he said casually. Keep in mind we are riding in the indoor, one-third of which is cordoned off for hay storage, so the rideable space (i.e. the free arena space minus the requisite 5-metre perimeter from all spooky things that Schmoodle contractually requires) is about 20x35m. This was really hard, not least because I struggle mightily in the transitions to keep Schmoodle’s shape, and because haunches-in on a tiny volte is…not something I practice enough. Once we mastered that, we did serpentines with simple changes though walk (“You’re not allowed to touch the reins during the downward transition! Keep the activity in the first walk step!”), then serpentines with flying changes (“Hey, that was front to back! Needs to be more uphill! First step of the new lead should be in leg yield!”). Then: “Canter half pass from F to X, flying change, continue in leg yield to H.”
OK SERIOUSLY NOW. When did M become the Dressage Queen of Synergy Farm? What happened to “flatwork is boring albeit necessary”?!
That last exercise was SO HARD, I never really ended up doing it properly. In the time it took me to get the half-pass without the hindquarters trailing; straighten the horse; perform a lead change; then keep moving laterally the same direction but with the opposite bend, we were basically bouncing off the end wall of the arena. I can’t wait to try it again during my next ride (I had an epiphany in the shower later about how to better visualize and ride it.)
Anyways, Schmoodle’s and my minds were blown. BLOWN, I say. And I’d wager he is as muscle-sore as I am today. Poor Schmoodle, I think he would like his life of single-outside-diagonal-outside back, please. I, for one, thought that lesson was kind of awesome.
Schmoodle is on his own this weekend. Because I’ll be on the road trying to find his replacement.
The career and life-stage stars have finally aligned such that I feel comfortable with assuming the financial responsibility for a horse of my own. As much as I love Schmoodle, and thought hard about pulling the trigger and buying him from his current owners, I’ve decided to start with a clean slate and try to find a young prospect.
Schmoodle is a wonderful horse – so much more horse than I’m able to afford to own. He’s imported, super scopey, careful, sound, and fancy, not to mention sweet and personality-plus. Unfortunately his inherent tension and spookiness will never go away, I don’t think – that’s why he’s mine to ride despite having been actively for sale for years. Although he trusts me and we work well together, there is always a bit of anxiety present at the back of my mind with him, especially when faced with a new situation, because you can’t tell if he’s going to have an explosive reaction. I don’t want to own a horse I have to longe and ride down for hours at the horse shows in order to jump around the Adults safely. And I really don’t want to own that horse and be unable to sell him when I’ve decided it’s time to move on. Jackie describes her horse as “[making] me both insanely happy and entirely furious, usually within the same day.” That’s how I feel about Schmoodle, but with a bonus dose of anxiety thrown in, and honestly, that I could do without.
I want a horse that might be able to do a bit of everything: bop around the hunters at a low level, for one, but maybe also school cross-country or even – dabble in eventing? I’d like to be able dip my toe in the waters of dressage showing, as well. Basically, I’m looking for something reasonably athletic, with a good brain, that wants to come to work cheerfully and play ball every day – not the world-beater, and not a bombproof deadhead – just a good citizen.
So if you have one of those in your back pocket, let me know!
And if anyone has any good/ridiculous horse-shopping experiences to share…please do!