The other day I was riding my (still fairly green) horse, Chance, and I came to the realization that he is a total control freak! With all of this crazy cold and wet weather we have had down here in Texas, it has been difficult to keep the horses in consistent work. Thus, since it was his first time jumping in a while, I was keeping it simple by trotting into – and cantering out of – three diagonal lines. Chance has a tendency to build too much around the corners after jumping, so I was working on slowing him down. He kept fighting me, and I realized that he was not super wild that day; he simply wanted to be in control. He wanted to do his own rather than what I was asking. That is the root of all the problems I have had with this horse… He is like a stubborn, rebellious child that constantly wants his own way. Unlucky for him though, I am equally as stubborn. So, I stood my ground and refused to let him have his own way. I did not get angry with him, or punish him; I simply remained firm. And it worked! He gave in, and began to listen.
That day was somewhat of a breakthrough for me. Much of the difficulty I have had with this horse, is either because I would give up and give in to him; or I would get angry and cause even more of a battle. It is such a struggle to find a balance between staying in control, and not getting too rough or emotional. Training a horse is so much more than riding; it is an intense psychological experience. It is not enough for me to ride well, I have to get inside the horse’s head and figure out how to make him/her listen while keeping myself calm and collected. To able to train a horse, I have to analyze pretty much every aspect of his/her personality; it is so much more mental than it is physical for both the horse and rider. Also, every horse is different. I think that ignoring this fact is why so many horses have behavioral problems. Many trainers have a “program” that they strive to fit their horses into. The problem with this is that every horse needs its own program. The trainer should not have a program, but rather each horse should have its own program. What works with one, may not work for another. Take Chance, for example. He responds well to a 4-5 day a week program consisting of fairly short rides (if he is being good). Any more or less than that and he becomes either sour or wild! I have also learned that I cannot go easy on him in flatwork. He must bend, he must give in to the bit, and he must move off of my leg. If I allow him to get away with not listening on the flat, he does not listen over fences. And a 17 hand thoroughbred with a huge stride – and the tendency to get too quick – not listening over fences is a total nightmare!
Learning all of these things about him, and adjusting my riding (and thought process) to suite his needs has enabled me to grow so much as a rider – and as a horse woman. Along with that, he has tested my dedication to this sport countless times. There have been so many days that I prayed to get him over just one jump. So many shows, my goal has been to simply make it around the course without falling off. Although I have worked with other green horses, I think that Chance has been the one to actually turn me into a trainer. He has been the biggest challenge of my riding career, thus far. But I am starting to think that the horses that challenge us the most are the ones that truly make us better. So, in spite of all those miserably frustrating days, I will forever be grateful to have owned such a stubborn, control freak of a horse.