Tonight I ended my search for my next horse.
Yes, TR and I drove, along with my ever suffering husband (ESH) an hour and a half to see this horse.
10 yr Old Palomino Gelding
Grade horse, calm disposition, had been sitting for 3 years. This trainer, Dave, took on this horse and in the last month has spent time putting a handle back on it. Chester was a handsome horse and as I saw Dave ride him I was pretty sure he wasn't the kind of horse I needed.
First of all, watching Dave ride was amazing. This man rides like the rancher I wrote about at the Kathleen Lindley clinic (you can read about him here and here). I love watching a good rider.
He said that when he first got this horse he was worried how bad it would be because it had been with women. He noted that women make a real mess of horses, at least from the area these women were from (which shall go nameless since I don't want Dave dive bombed).
"They're all 'oh poor horse' when the horse is stepping all over them. Tell you what, your horse won't be calling 911 when he breaks your foot" (Note: this is not an exact quote. I was a little surprised and wasn't taking copious notes at that point.)
Of course it reminded me of the session in the clinic where Kathleen discussed all the dangerous "natural horsemanship trained" horses. Lousy ground manners always shock me. Heck ground manners are the easy part.
Dave cruised around the round pen in the saddle and described how he had worked the horse, what he liked about him. He admitted the horse needs finishing. Some head tossing, some holes here and there. The palomino was incredibly bright though, and has a great disposition, and I liked his nature once I got in with him.
TR rode him for me and put him through the paces. He could see the diamond in the rough on this horse, saying later - that is going to be one heck of a horse. TR got him to lower his head a little better, showed that nice slow canter.
Then I got in. I worked the palomino on the ground for a moment and then stepped into a saddle that Dave had won this year that looks like it's been ridden in for 10 years, not 5 months.
Up in the gallery area around the round pen Dave made a few comments about a guy that was out who didn't know what he was doing and how he didn't tell him anything because the guy said he knew everything.
As the palomino and I started our first few strides, I struggled with the split reins. I never ride in them and had no clue what to do. "Listen, you tell me what I'm doing wrong, because I need to hear it."
Hoo boy. Did I hear it.
Way back, in the Canyon days I wrote this:
As good as Canyon is on the ground, and as good as we seem to connect, he's not all the way there. This horse seems connected with me, but it's not there in the saddle. I can lead him into anything and he'll follow me around the arena, back, turn, everything without a touch on the lead line. But it's not translating when I get on his back.
And I keep feeling this way. It was precisely the same with Cibolo. Things didn't come apart on the ground. They came apart in the saddle. And I know that I am doing something wrong.
Over and over and over.
And it's not about softness, per se.
Clinton Anderson talks about the three things it takes to keep a horse broke: wet saddle blankets, training, and speed. If you only have one, you have a mess. (For example, race horses have plenty of speed, but never get the miles of wet saddle blankets or the training time in ground work or body carriage)
I'd say for me I'm looking at a similar dynamic. I have one thing down : ground work. But ground work you can learn from a magazine, and a book. It's mostly a brain thing. Riding in a saddle is something that you can't learn, or at least I can't, from reading and watching videos. You have to build a sense of your self in the saddle, of how to work your legs, your split reins, your body. It takes the combo of lessons and miles. Of which I have far too little of both.
Based on the barrage I got from Dave (all done bluntly but not unkindly), I knew that I had driven an hour and a half to hear this. This man, who I'd met on the phone, who could actually text on his phone while he was riding a cantering horse, who rode in a 5 month old saddle so much that it was completely broken in, this man was telling me what I needed to hear.
As I stroked the Palomino's face afterwards, the same face that kept deciding he could look outside the pen because I wasn't in charge in that saddle, Dave looked me in the eye. "You can have a broke horse, but you can unbreak a horse if you don't know what you're doing. If you can't give him the signals he's been trained with."
And at that moment I knew my search for my horse was over.
Because I have to learn how to ride first. Otherwise I will unwind another horse.
So instead of paying board on a second horse, I'm taking TRs advice. Lessons. For at least 3 months. Maybe by then I'll be ready.
As I search for a trainer I hope I can find someone as blunt as Dave. He's a little too far for me to travel to for lessons and I don't know if he even does that. But I'm staying away from people/trainers who will tell me only what I want to hear.
Because I'm on this journey to make some progress. Trust me, my ego can handle the bruising.
And I'll be damned if I don't turn this around.