Adult Camp 2016 was interesting for many reasons.
This was Murray’s third adult camp. I took him to his first one as a measly five year old, only six months into our relationship, and we haven’t missed one since.
At five, I didn’t have high expectations of Murray at camp. I don’t remember my exact plans, though I do remember that I conceived of this blog during that time when I was watching my friends deal with delightful baby horse antics that required plenty of zen. Back to the horsey side of things, I know that Murray was as good as I could have expected him to be at that camp, impressing me with some adorable baby horse jumps and even letting me relax enough to goof off a bit on the XC course.
But Murray also absolutely melted. down. During our cross country school, which was in a group of friend horses and friend people and was a mix of elementary and BN fences, Murray quit about 15 minutes before the end of our lesson. He wouldn’t walk forward, only backward, and when I tried to employ a technique that I learned reading a Chrono of the Horse article about backing Murray all the way to our next fence he practically sat down. So that was a no-go. So for a quarter hour I dealt with a horse tossing his head and spinning and deciding he could only do things in one direction — ass first — unless pointed directly at a fence and about three strides away from said fence. B had to walk us right up to several fences and Murray jumped them from practically on top of her.
Adult camp 2015 was also an epic success. We did many things. We jumped many things. We didn’t even totally suck at dressage. Murray had come full circle by camp 2015 — after camp 2014 he had lost the ability to school cross country in groups at all, and sometimes even just melted down and went backwards for no reason in the arena at home. One day a fifteen year old had to walk us back and forth through the middle of the arena so Murray could get back to the gate. Fun times.
This year, I watched several of my friends struggle with their horses — not necessarily SERIOUS struggles, but there were horses that were fresh and leaping and throwing out all kinds of antics — one poor guy totally melted down on XC for no reason and ended up nearly kicking his own hind boots off, and walked back to the stables in a froth with one boot off and one boot partially on.
In response to this, some of my friends were understandably perturbed. Their normally sensible, reasonable, rational, and in some cases campaigner horses, were going completely off the rails for apparently no reason — especially since almost everyone had visited Camelot and schooled there before. And the whole time I was like “don’t worry, it will get better.”
I know, I know. Rich coming from me.
But I do know it gets better. I do know that horses get more sensible and dressage court shenanigans get more grounded, and cross country celebrations get more rideable. It’s not necessarily easy or quick or fun, but if your horse doesn’t hate cross country (and isn’t in legitimate pain and and and possibly a whole host of other things), every calm, stress-limited outing translates into more sensible future outings.
I was lucky, because Murray frontloaded all the bullshit. Pretty much anything he felt like throwing at me, he threw at me at home. He didn’t save it for special occasions, saving up his bucks and kicks and freakouts for trips away from home or presentations in front of a clinician. He let me know any and all of his feelings any and all of the times that he felt them. There was no quiet, reasonable horse at home, replaced by a wild, spooky, exuberant demon away from home. The spooky, exuberant demon let himself be seen whenever so much as an errant jump standard was in the wrong place in the arena. So I really do have a very solid foundation suggesting that the bullshit that comes during outings really does go away. It went away at home, so that seems to suggest it will go away from home, right?? I mean, it’s the only a priori evidence I’ve got, so I gotta run with it.
If my horse, my completely insensible, ridiculous, idiotic, sometimes total moron of a horse can learn to be quiet and reasonable on cross country? Well, there’s hope for all of them then.
(Honestly, Murray wasn’t even that unreasonable. He wasn’t dangerous, didn’t rear, didn’t actually, legitimately threaten my life. He just let everybody know, in no uncertain terms, that he was having feelings. But on the other hand, I don’t think any of the horses I know are so far from “average” that they really fall into a different learning curve than he did.)
So don’t worry. It gets better. Most things do!