Not sure what's tougher. Horses or politics.
When I got back from DC, having been gone for seven days, I headed to the barn with some trepidation. I wasn't clear how I felt about being at the barn, whether this was part of my life that needed to continue.
But on the trip the one thing I came to realize was that this was not the point where I could quit.
Brief background jog:
About nine years ago I had this idea. (Like many of my ideas, it's become a bit of a pain in the arse. Someone stop me next time I get that look on my face, please.)
I decided we needed a family motto. I heard some guy on the radio talking about his family crest and the family motto that's been in his family for hundreds of years. I thought "how wonderful to have that kind of history, wish I had one."
Then I thought "you know, history starts every day."
So I contemplated for a few months what kind of motto would be the best gift I could give my children and those that would come later. The one I came up with was: Non ti arrende
Never give up.
Back to the present. Given the very real life lesson I was trying to teach my children I couldn't quit at this point, because this would be incredibly defining. I have fallen rock climbing (sustaining a concussion and a broken thumb and one of the most hysterical rescue stories in history), taken a beating while fencing, and each time I've gotten back to the sport and dealt with my reticence. I've faced the fear, swallowed the bile in my throat, and gotten back on the rock (or in fencing, the line). I hate being irrationally afraid of anything (by this I mean where it gets out of proportion, not the reasonable fear of getting injured any reasonable adult has) and the only way not to be is to get back there and get through it.
So I came back determined to ride and work both horses for a month. But when I came back to the barn, Smokey was unrecognizeable. Usually patient for the gate to open to his feeding area, he was tossing his head, snaking about, keeping Lily (who is usually the boss) back. He kept charging back at the mare across the fence. Who the hell was THIS horse?
When I took him out he had zero leading skilz. It was as if he'd never had a round pen session in his life, and this is the horse who has some of the best ground manners around. He was acting as if I didn't exist, being downright dangerous. He pulled loose on the lead line and that was it.
After calling him many, many, inappropriate names, and doing what I could to get his attention (backing and backing until I felt we could cover the 25 yards) I took him to the round pen. We spent 45 minutes there, having one of the hardest round penning sessions I've ever had with a horse. Turns on a dime. After one outside turn I sent a message - there were to be no more of those. Period.
He fixed that, but was still being a jerk.
When he refused to listen to the gaits I was signaling it was time for repeated turns over, over, and over.
By the end he was more compliant that I'd ever seen him. Zero nonsense. Zero dancing around. Zero movement when we were in the wash rack.
No more chasing off Lily. No more charging forward. Hasn't done it since either.
So. There's one thing I can do as a horsewoman.
I take the comments I've gotten to heart. I appreciate the support, the tough talk, the permission to make the hard choice.
I have since ridden Smokey in the round pen and arena and in the immediate trails. No issues. But, as was pointed out, we all have a line. Maybe Smokey is on the other side of mine. I still have three weeks on my "think it through" process. Where I am now is:
- I can work this horse with no issues in an arena and round pen and on familiar trails. I could limit my use of him there until... I don't know, till I can get over it or I can get him over it.
- I can step up my discipline to keep him in compliant space, since he needs that.
- Barrier: I don't know if I can deliver the miles on the trails that it will take to get him beyond this point.
- This horse has potential to be a great trail and endurance partner - but I don't know that I have the time to get him there any time soon. Demanding job and family don't afford me the time.
- He is my ideal horse on many levels - temperament, capabilities, breed, color. What happened on the trail stems from youth but also not enough regular trail time. He's a forward horse. He needs a confident rider on a trail that can do some cantering here and there to get some of that energy out. I'm not quite there with him (and certainly less so now).
When I bought Smokey, I was in a different financial situation. I figured I could get training and get him training at various points along the way when I needed it. Now, not so much. That will change at some point, but right now it's a consideration.
The thinking continues.
On another note, Lily is doing fantastic. We have at least two more arena sessions to go, then we'll be working on trails. She is taking a bit (although I'm riding her bitless anyway), lifting her hinds much better and holding them gently much longer. She's even coming up to me in the paddock instead of being evasive. I've catered on her in the round pen with just a thought and slight weight shift and her transitions have gone from bolting to smooth as silk.
So there's that.