This past weekend was the Midwest Horse Fair, my “almost” annual tradition – out of the last 10 years, I did skip one year. I sure was glad to go to it this year, and there were a few clinics I really specifically wanted to see.
Amongst them was a clinic on getting started with driving, which I went to as support for the club that put it on.
Another was on liberty training, which I really found all too advanced for me, but I did pick up one beginner level pointer, that I hope to put into practice with the horses soon.
Many of the clinics were so packed, that if you wanted to get a seat to get off your feet after walking around for so many hours, you needed to get to the clinic you wanted to see while the clinic before was going on, and hope you could sardine yourself into the bleachers to catch a seat. That tactic failed most of the time ;)
However, while watching one clinic before the clinic I actually wanted to see, I ended up catching a bit of Chris Cox colt starting. He was working with a horse that he described as truly dangerous. He said that he felt only about 5% of horse trainers out there could start this horse. After seeing the way the horse reacted to things, it really wasn’t hard to believe.
The horse was definitely one with a dangerous and aggressive streak in him. Chris would gently rub the saddle pad on the horse’s back, and put it down and you could see the horse wanting to strike out. The horse tried a couple times to want to cow kick the saddle sitting harmlessly in the middle of the round pen. Chris talked about how that horse would strike and bite and truly wanted to hurt someone. Hey, I knew a horse like that! No, I couldn’t work it her.
I’ve seen some of Chris Cox Horsemanship on RFDTV, and I do enjoy him. Some of the things he did & said during this clinic, though, will keep him resounding with me for a long time. He received a straight up round of applause for his choice to not force the horse into accepting the saddle cinch to be tightened. It was clear the horse wasn’t ready for that, and after a time or two of trying, he returned to just putting the saddle on and off.
Not often do you see a clinician not push a matter with a horse. I thought that was awesome.
And with that, he started talking about why he chose not to push the horse, and got onto the subject of how he’s figured out to work with horses, and one thing he said really rang true to me.
He mentioned that he’s learned to work with horses, and how to work with them, through years of experience … and making a lot of wrong choices and ruining a lot of horses along the way.
That really resounded with me, given my sketchy history with horses, and it really got me thinking. I have a better relationship and understanding of my horses now, and I’ve accomplished more in the last 3 years, than I ever did in the 18 years before that.
Throughout those 18 years, I rode Western, hunter, Dressage, and I showed. I had one horse over those years that I really advanced with because I had a trainer that I worked well with. In my weekly lessons with Noah, I went from taking Lickety Split from falling over his own feet and crashing down into jumps, to clearing 3′ & even a 3’6″ fence. Apart from Zoltan, a few months later, who I jumped 4’2″ with, that was the highest I’ve ever jumped with a horse – and more so, that was the highest I was ever comfortable jumping.
There’s a huge difference, there, too. Doing it, and being comfortable doing it. I did sporadically jump a 3′ vertical or oxer here and there over the next remaining years that I rode, but I was never as comfortable doing it as I was with Lickety Split.
Not long after I moved away and Noah was no longer my trainer, I started focusing more on Dressage. And, despite having a fair rigorous lesson schedule that included hunter lessons and dressage, I ultimately ended up, years later – still riding at the same level I was at a decade prior!
By the time 2006 rolled around, I was barely able to manage a training level dressage test, only showed a few times, and never earned a ribbon, and then I had… the mare. The one we wont’ speak of lol. “She who shall not be named”. Who broke whatever fragment of confidence I still had left. It was also around that time that I was still struggling to manage a full course of 2’6″ fences, and I had started ruining horses. It did not start with “the mare that shall not be named”, in fact, it started with the horse I owned before he, and a horse I riding as well at the same time. The mare was just the worst of it.
After a massive blast to my confidence, that made me question everything I ever thought I knew about horses and riding, I got Chewbacca. I purchased him because he was exactly what I thought I needed to help recoup my confidence. In the 4 year interim before I bought him, and after the issues with “the mare”, I still continued with my weekly hunter lessons, and yet I still struggled. Between confidence issues and weight… I was not exactly setting myself up to succeed. I rode in my lessons and did what my instructor told me, and it seemed to go “ok” but that’s about it. I no longer showed, and I really never progressed.
Then, after my decision, which did not come lightly after 18 years, to give up riding, suddenly opened me up to progressing more than I ever realized I could! Ironically, I stopped taking lessons from instructors, and started taking lessons from the HORSE.
Although I am just beginning to touch the tip of the iceberg, I still have learned so much, I understand more, and I’ve progressed farther than I ever have before. I actually know enough at this point to know what I don’t know (follow that one did you?)… and it feels great.
Hopefully my days of ruining horses are behind me. Although I’ll still be making plenty of mistakes along the way (hence, why Luke can levade, and not piaffe……), but I’ll prefer to take my lessons from the horse here on out, and I can’t wait to get the next one that can train me.
Have a great day (where DID spring go??)