I'd like our rides to eventually look fun, obedient and relaxed like that video above. Bonus points if it's a freestyle because I'm DYING to do one, even if it's at Training Level! They currently look more like this:
So you all should see what direction this post is going...
Digby is a bit of a nervous horse, opinionated to boot, and thus can be QUITE bad. I know, I know. But Becky, he's usually super sweet, he's generally well behaved, so how could he possibly be bad!? Those who know some history of Mr. Dig My Size know that he can be very, very naughty. I can't stress this enough. He can be actively trying to kill you bad. I wish I had pictures or video footage of just how bad he has been before I purchased him because people who meet him now never believe me. I'm 100%% ok with never showing off this old side or people not believing me because I prefer my horse to not try to kill me, ever. I love and enjoy the cool, generally well behaved Digby. Luckily I am still young(ish), dumb(ish) and unshakeable(ish) still. I'm actually much more easily frightened when I'm on the ground than if I'm sitting on a horse in a ring. I'm at the point in my riding life, especially with Digby, that I'm like "oh? You're going to pull THAT trick out of your hat? Lolz. Alright, whatever, I'm going to ignore your meltdown, kick on, and you're going to eventually do what I want so really, it's easier if you just do it now versus in 5 minutes after a long fight that you're going to lose. Now do it. Cool, thanks." If I'm in an enclosed ring, I'm pretty much solid mentally regardless of what bad behavior happens. If I'm out on trails, I'm less confident. If I'm jumping, I will have a full on meltdown. It's not pretty. Luckily, we no longer jump. I haven't jumped any horse in a very long time. I suspect one day I will jump again, mostly because I think I missed my calling as an eventer, and will deal with those demons at that time.
Back on topic, I sat on Digby yesterday with the intention of minimizing any meltdowns and mostly walking. I don't want to do too much trotting given that he's, on the grand scheme of things, pretty out of shape. He rarely huffs and puffs but I worry about his legs holding up. The last thing I need is to create MORE opportunity for lamenesses and go scooting around with zero regard to fitness. I recognized that he was going to be pretty up most likely since it was a new ride and we were likely going to be riding alone, without any other horses in sight. The ring is situated at the top of a hill. You can see the pond, a neighbors house, a field, and the turnouts from the ring. You can sort of see the barn but none of the horses. I knew this could be tricky and hard for Digby to deal with so I came into the ride with a flexible idea of what "good" was going to be. I was hoping for at least some small signs of relaxation (no screaming for other horses, not being a total giraffe) and a few transitions which would include a halt that didn't involve dancing and not wanting to actually stop.
We tacked up ok. Digby was diagnosed about a year ago with limited/no vision in his right eye. This really doesn't effect our daily life at all but it can make new wash stalls and grooming areas a bit tricky. He doesn't like to go into any areas (trailers, stalls, wash stalls, etc) that are dark or small. I used to think he was claustrophobic but I think it's more vision related, as the vet had said his vision has probably been going for a while now, and it seems to be worse when it's dark or when he's going from really bright light (like a sunny day) into a darker (like the inside of a barn) area. I don't blame him. He stepped up into the grooming area after some hesitation and gentle reminder from me with my dressage whip that "yeah hey, I'm attached to this rope, you go forward when I say so." Digby's reaction to EVERYTHING he doesn't like is to go backwards. If anyone has a good tip for this, please, please, please let me know. I try my best to have a whip if I know it's going to potentially be bad but it's always his first reaction if he doesn't want to do something for whatever the reason may be. In the case of new wash stalls, trailers, etc, I try not to get upset because I think it is likely because of his limited vision so I give him a few tries. I accept any forward movement and, really, anything that isn't flying backwards. He got into the cross ties, we groomed, we tacked up. There was some yelling and dancing but he's a nervous dude and Rome wasn't built in a day, you know? I led him down to the ring. He stopped once on his own accord but otherwise was happy to walk next to me down to the ring.
Hind sight is 20/20. This ride was a job for my running martingale. I haven't used a martingale in several years so why would I right? Ok, so it was brand new area, I didn't hand walk around him or lunge him before, and I should of put it on just for a touch more control. Nonetheless, we marched around for about 10 minutes. He was pulling out some standard "fun" tricks, such as rooting on the bit HARD (he pulled me so hard once that I felt like a small child on a pony by how far I got pulled forward), jigging, grinding his teeth, chomping on the bit, flinging his head around, whinnying, going sideways, generally just being nervous about where he was and why he was suddenly the only horse alive in the entire world. He was pretty good about forward and was responsive to my leg. I got a few good transitions, he eventually stopped yelling, and we even had two good halts that lasted a second or two with no movement until I put my leg on. I was able to lengthen my reins a little bit more and he didn't try to kill us. I thought "ok perfect, this is fine. We lived, he learned he won't die and nothing in the ring is scary." I was JUST about to get off when a fellow boarder started turning out two horses. Digby saw them before I did. Their field is next to the ring. Digby LOST HIS BRAIN. He was SO upset that these horses were here, he decided that he needed to express his disapproval for me still riding by rearing.
Ok. So. Yeah. You read that right. Rearing? NOT OK. Never.
I'd be lying if I said anything other than he reared and I just sat there like "What? What is happening?" I was stunned. I expected the jigging, grinding teeth, head flinging. I did not expect my horse to rear with me on him. He has never reared under saddle with me before. For him to do it twice in a row was mind blowing to me. Digby is the perfect size for me so I can sit out his naughtiness with minimal issue. I was never worried about falling off or him flipping over. I was mostly stunned and puzzled as to why that just happened. I knew that this was a "kick on and worry about it later" situation so I did just that. I booted him to get him to go forward. His response? Fly backwards with much head shaking. Also not ok, nor what I asked for, Digby. So we had a discussion about what the correct response to leg was, ie GO FORWARD OR I WILL END YOU. I believe the exact words out of my mouth were "are you f*cking kidding me? Hell no." I've got a potty mouth and it gets worse in stressful situations, what can I say?
Where is poor boarder who just wanted to turn some of the horses out during this debacle? She was at the end of the ring asking what she should do. I was trying, in between, you know, riding Satan (aka my horse), to tell her that if she could stay there with the horses just for a minute or two until we calmed down, I'd appreciate it because Digby was now very much near the edge of the "actively trying to kill his rider" tipping point. She stood at the end of the ring with the two horses and Digby eventually (mostly) accepted that whole stop when I say stop and go when I say go thing. It should be noted that I actually turn out the horses most days, including last night, to "work off" some of my board and the boarder was just trying to be nice. I was not riding during turnout time. I did not expect horses to be walking past the ring or I would of stopped riding before that happened. I know that on his first day in the ring, Digby would not be able to handle that without having a total meltdown. I was right. She walked away with the horses after I said ok and I made Digby keep his big boy undeez on. He didn't love it, I couldn't get an immobile halt but he wasn't trying to kill me. I can handle teeth grinding, chomping on the bit and head tossing. I'll put it in the win column for the night, I suppose? I mean, we lived right? Ugh.
Afterwards, we walked back up the barn. He didn't try to bolt back, which I really was expecting him to do. We untacked, with about the same amount of dancing as before. The aforementioned boarder came over and we were chatting. We may eventually put out our horses together, as Digby still needs a friend, so she brought her gelding over so they could meet. She did this without asking me, which miffed me a little, considering my horse just had a complete meltdown that could be been really bad for all involved and maybe you should ask? I chalked it up to me being a little bit angry at my horse and tired after working all day and then that lovely adventure. They met without any incident. I sponged off Digby because he was only sweaty in his saddle area. He walked out to his turnout like a gentlemen and left me with quite a few things to think (and swear) about.