To horse? Or not horse?

As a child, I always loved horses. Nearly every birthday I would ask my parents to take me on a trail ride. It didn’t matter that the horses were programmed to go forward and follow the horse in front of them, no matter what, I really thought I was a little western cowgirl (in horse only, I’ve never been one for Wrangler jeans, cowgirl boots or ten gallon hats). Obligingly, my dad would climb aboard a horse with me and off we would go with the group for a 30-60 minute walk through the forest.

I couldn’t get enough.

As you can see from the pictures:

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In the picture above, it was 1983 in Lake Louise, Banff, Canada, and I was 6, so forgive my stylistic choices (and lack of helmet, we didn’t know about that kind of thing back then).

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This is probably a few years later. I’m sure I drove my parents crazy everytime we passed a horse. If I was anything like I am now, when I walk past the barn and a horse head is sticking out, well, they will get a rub or a pet. I literally cannot help myself.

I.Love.Horses.

Four or so years ago I started taking riding lessons, thinking that maybe now that I was older and could afford to take lessons, an hour a week on the back of a lovely horse would be a lot of fun. It’s one of those ‘yes it is and yes it isn’t’ kinds of things. The barn I rode at before, the first lesson horse wasn’t super into riding English style, but we managed and did fairly well. (I did briefly switch over to Western style.) I started riding with a new trainer during the week on a different horse and things were looking up. I had a good handle on posting and we were working on getting the correct diagonal. {here are definitions on what that means if you are not all.things.horse.obsessed}

Summer was approaching so I knew I couldn’t ride during the week with my (then young) kids out of school. Things being what they were, busy, I didn’t go back to riding again after the summer. Then we moved to London. While I did look into riding in London, riding in Hyde Park with traffic whizzing by wasn’t my idea of fun, and getting to barn outside the city wasn’t feasible without a car.

When we returned to Seattle this summer, after lots and lots of trial and error and phone calls and barn visits, I finally found a place that I really like, doesn’t require the equivalent of college tuition to ride a horse, and while certainly not close by (45-60 minutes each way), I am happy with both the instructor and the facility.

The biggest problem I have is with the school horse I’ve been assigned. Her name is Joy. And last Friday, she was anything but a joy to ride. Here’s where I start to wonder if I’m too old to be doing this.

The first horse I rode, Guinness, wasn’t a good match. Week two I started riding on Joy. She’s 11 years old and has been a school horse probably forever. This means her primary rider is a child, who is likely being led on a line. There are no signals – leg on, clucking, squeezing, steering – she is being made to follow from the students. She gets pretty much free reign to do what she wants.

Then there’s my ride with Joy. I am (trying) to give her all these signals to get her to stay on the rail (leg + rein), trot when I say (squeeze, leg, cluck, beg…) and we are just not getting these basics. Especially with staying on the rail. I did not have this issue with the horses I rode at the last barn, so I am questioning whether it is me who has unlearned this task, or the horse that simply won’t do this task I’ve asked of her.

I walked away really dejected after Friday’s lesson. The last three sessions my trainer has climbed on Joy after we’ve been in the arena struggling and forced her to comply. It is about having to be dominant over the animal, and I do get that. She has almost listened completely while I’m tacking up (and I’ve learned what to do when she is naughty and we pretty much go with me having to reinforce proper crosstie behavior every week…) The trainer has given me a whip (and several times spurs), and I am not comfortable at all having to use them. I do understand I am not hurting Joy, and according to my trainer I’m not even being forceful enough, even though I feel bad having to use the whip after everything I ask Joy to do because she refuses to do it when I ask by putting my leg on.

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I am not having fun. I know that getting this is hard, and isn’t going to be fun, but 6 sessions on…I am not having fun. I am paying to not enjoy riding a horse (though it feels more like fighting with a toddler and losing).

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I have considered whether I should continue riding past my next session (sessions of 5 lessons, which I just paid for the next 5 taking me through to December. Christmas/New Years I am not riding because of the holidays and being with family.) I’ve wondered if I should switch to riding Western, where you still need to have the horse listen, but it is a different set of things to ask for.

My goal as I wrote it on my ‘get to know your goals’ sheet when I signed up for lessons was to learn to jump. Initially, I chose English because it has a more refined/classy look to it and so many more barns here teach/focus on English style. I have three questions to answer before Friday:

  1. Do I want to keep riding, period?
  2. Do I want to stick with Joy and English?
  3. Do I want to work towards jumping, or just learn enough to go hacking and switch to Western?

I have no idea how exactly to come up with the answers but I definitely don’t want to go to the barn on Friday and leave feeling like I did last week (and it’s ZERO reflection on my trainer; she is fabulous and gives me lots of positive feedback {though she can’t possibly be telling the truth!}, and instructions to help me).

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I love horses. I do not want to give them up, but I don’t won’t to pay for something that leaves me feeling defeated.

to be continued…

3 thoughts on “To horse? Or not horse?

  1. I think you will get some insights from my horse blog. Some horse situations just aren’t fun — so I would recommend switching it up a bit. I, also, went NUTS over every horse I ever saw as a kid. So you, like me, are definitely a horse girl. But I am a trail rider. I ride Western/Australian saddles and Arabian cross endurance horses. Over the years, I discovered that I don’t care for English, and I don’t care to jump. But I LOVE to FLY across the trails in unison with my fantastic, light, responsive horse.

    Maybe you could either 1) sign up for five more rides, and see if you could switch horses to a more responsive mount. or 2) wait til springtime when the weather improves (save money up for this over the next many months) and look for a stable where you can learn to trail ride. Spend the winter reading blogs and horse books and setting goals and looking for cool horse people in your area to learn trail riding from.

    Here are a couple of my posts that you might enjoy. :)) Remember, it’s supposed to be FUN!!!!!! Yes, it takes work to learn to ride. But if you aren’t smiling and HIGH from the experience, I don’t think you’ve found your niche in the horse world yet. Keep on movin on and trying different disciplines, horses, trainers and approaches, until you find your dream. Hope that helps!!! Dawn :))

    Here are some of my posts that might inspire you :))

    https://soulhorseride.wordpress.com/2014/01/03/my-horses-my-art/
    https://soulhorseride.wordpress.com/2017/10/10/horse-human-ultimate-unity/
    https://soulhorseride.wordpress.com/2013/05/08/my-horse-is-a-river/
    https://soulhorseride.wordpress.com/virtual-rides/
    https://soulhorseride.wordpress.com/2013/03/25/finding-faes-dream/

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    • Thank you for the thoughtful comment. I love horses, and the barn I’m at is so nice and I love my trainer – and the most important part, I can afford to ride there. Most places around here are English and very few offer trail rides, and those that do are way out of my budget ($80 + a lesson). I’ll check out the posts you linked. If I had my own horse, I would probably ride western because trail rides and hacking are all I’m really after. I ride again tomorrow so we’ll see how it goes.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m saying don’t give up on horses just yet! I had so many lessons, when I was paying to ride school horses and I would actually end up yelling back at my instructor because I was so frustrated. I would cry in the car on the way home. Which is mental- crying over something you do for fun. But there are goals, right- to ride well whatever your discipline be. And to be honest, I’ve never worked hard towards a goal without tears. Even marathon training…sooo many tears, let downs, and questions why am I doing this, putting myself through hell?! Hell, I got Hamish, first time I got on him fell off and then wasn’t allowed on him for 4 more months- super defeating. I bought a horse and was stuck on school horses! So I think you need to decide what your goals are. Is it just to spend time with a horse? Then just volunteer at the stables to tack up, groom, cuddle etc. Is it to jump or look like an elegant Charlotte Dujardin? Then ya gotta suck it up and put in the work. Do you really just enjoy a nice hack out? Then you should drop the lessons and find a way to do that. Horsing is weird in that, before I had a horse, I didn’t know any liveries well enough that they would trust me to ride their horse. Now that I have my own- I have the opportunity to ride almost every horse at the yard. Um- where was this when I had to pay every time I wanted to get on a horse?! Maybe it’s just volunteering and focusing on making new friendships with horsey people to trust you to take their horse out on hacks. Or maybe you can just find a semi-retired horse for full or partial loan to just hack out (generally the cost commitment is low). Before I got Hamish I was trying out an ex-eventer that just liked hacking but I then realized that wasn’t my goal. I do think generally speaking, school horses, each and every frustrating one of them has something to teach you. That being said, they teach you in very frustrating ways. Is it possible that you don’t get assigned to just one horse? I know it helps build a bond, but school horses can be proper a-holes…if you rotated between 3-4 of them, you wouldn’t feel stuck in the exact same situation every time. Sure, maybe one really needs to be cracked with the whip, but another one might need to be held back because it’s so lively. That way you’re not always dealing with/getting frustrated with the same horse same situation left that you’re feeling like you’re not progressing. There are a few at my yard that need a hell of a lot of whip and I totally hate that…I hate feeling like I’m beating on a horse…that in itself would wear me down if I had to do that every, single session. And then I would be put on a fast moving little super star, that definitely had it’s issues (running through the trot instead of cantering, head up like giraffe) but that I felt i was actually riding (not beating). So if you’re able to alternate, sure they’d all have their own quirks and napping traits you’d have to deal with- but you probably wouldn’t get so discouraged. Also- maybe take some time to watch some lessons- particularly on horses you ride, of people your ability or greater to see how they cope. To be reassured it’s not only you. Give it some thought….

    Liked by 1 person

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