A few months ago, Natasha (one of Lauren’s wonderful assistant trainers, and a killer trainer of young horses) was kind enough to come to my farm to give me some lessons on Healey. I haven’t invested a whole lot of time or money in trailering him to Lauren’s this year because, in general, I don’t need the same kind of regular eyes on the ground to put Training Level basics on a horse that I do to teach Cardoon the pirouettes, tempi changes, or perfect the half pass.
That said, a check-in is always helpful and this was the first time since I bought Healey back in February that I’d had a lesson on him. When he came to me, he had good life basics. He could stand to be tacked, and groomed and knew how to walk, trot and canter under saddle. That was pretty much it. He was good guy, but he had no muscle and anything he’d learned about going on the bit in some form of balance had been lost over the winter while he sat in the field, fat and happy, with his previous owner. His reaction when you took some contact with the bit was to duck behind the bit and fling his head around in confusion.
So, at this lesson with Natasha, I was excited to show her that I’d managed to train Healey to take the bit like a champ, rather than just duck behind it. Just the day before my lesson, he had trotted around in a solid contact, and even occasionally managed to hold himself up in some semblance of balance. Sadly, as usually happens with horses, this success was just a harbinger of bad things to come, because when I got on him for Natasha, eager to show her our progress, it all went to hell.
My charming young warmblood who a day earlier had been steady, light and delightful in the bridle, was now careening wildly around the arena, trying to drag me out of the saddle. So strong was he in the bridle, that my half halts were more like “three-quarter halts”, as I tried to slow him down and regain some balance. Natasha just laughed, and said, “Heather, the good news is that you trained it!” Yeah. We went from no contact to oh-my-god-my-bleeding-hands contact.
Natasha and I had a good laugh, and went back to half halts, transitions, and trying to get Healey to stand up on his own four legs, rather than sustain a controlled fall on a circle.
This is so typical of horse training – you try and try and try to teach them something, failing for what feels like forever, and then one day you get it.
And then you can’t stop it.
Teaching Cardoon flying changes was like this. We learned changes and suddenly couldn’t stop doing them. Everywhere. All the time. Sometimes he falls sideways, and I can’t stop it, despite the fact that sideways is not one of Cardoon’s talents. Lauren’s response : “You trained it!”
The past year has had its ups and downs, but in general, I think we ended with more training successes than failures. I managed to train Cardoon to Prix St. George (I trained it!), but he’s a little burnt out now (maybe I trained him too much?), and is enjoying a well deserved vacation for a few weeks. I also managed to take Healey from a very green five year old, to a Training-level-green coming-six year old who at least sometimes understands the concept of a half halt. Maybe that last one isn’t amazing, but it feels like it is sometimes.
I learned perseverance, practiced patience and became a stronger, more confident rider and trainer in 2016, all from working through the challenges of learning and training pirouettes, tempi changes, and teaching a five year old how to trot and canter on the bit.
I don’t know yet what challenges 2017 will hold, but it will start with helping Cardoon to find his joy and work ethic again, and continuing to solidify basics on Healey. I hope to earn my Silver Medal (just one more PSG score to go!) and get Healey to some shows and see how he handles it. Thinking on a grander scale, I’d love to ride a full pirouette and learn the two tempis this year, and it would be swell if Healey showed some capacity for collection.
More than anything, though, I just want my horses to continue to be happy and healthy and keep trying for me. For both of them, even Cardoon who has an absolute tendency to shut down when he just doesn’t want to play anymore, they have shown a terrific propensity to try hard to understand what I want and make some effort to make that happen. And you can’t train that.