I shan’t say back to basics since a) Speedy is in a pretty deep basics bootcamp with MIL right now but also b) we obviously never left the basics, right?
I’ve seen a whole bunch of new horses come into TrJ’s program this year through a bizarre convergence of all the people looking for a new horse. And a funny thing I noticed with all of them was a massive backslide in their training after they arrived at the new barn. I even joked about it to one of my friends, “isn’t it funny how all these horses arrived and just…. forget how to horse?” One promptly went lame, one started bolting, one started voicing (and kicking) his opinions, one stopped going forward at all.
Most of the “new horse!”s I’d met in the past had a honeymoon period where they stayed pretty perfect for a while, then their behavior started to unravel. I always assumed it was the old trainer’s buttprint finally coming off them, and the horse realizing that they really did live in this new place with all these new rules. So it kinda cracked me up that all those horses at TrJs had that happen so much faster. I think it was actually because of TrJ though — she has a knack of finding those holes in the basics and shoving her thumb right in ouchiest one.
We threw Speedy into a totally different program when he got here, with a pretty big focus on basics, so I expected a fair bit of embracing the suck for our first few months together. Some part of my brain still thought, though, that even though we are pretty fundamentally changing the way this horse goes, I’d just be able to bop him around 2’6″-3′ fences the whole time — even if I had to ride him “the old way”. Oh I knew — imagine dismissive hand flapping here — that there was a lot of grid work in our future as we helped him realize a new shape all the way to the base of the fences. But I figured we’d start with little Xs and work our way up to a fun, bigger oxer that would make me blush and swoon and fan my hands at my face all the while quietly demurring “Oh, it’s all him really, Speedy is just so talented.”
I did not figure that we’d trot him through a set of canter poles and he would go “what in the actual fuck is this shit on the ground I’m going to stomp on it”.
And then do a variety of different interpretive dances over the poles.
To his credit, he did actually try to solve the problem, and he didn’t panic. Unfortunately, his range of solutions ranged from “canter bigger” to “go faster” at various points before or during the poles. We set them on a 12 foot stride, and what Speedy really needed to do was compress his stride a bit to get through them properly, an absolutely bizarre feeling for someone who came from a horse with a preferred canter size of about 3.7 feet.
Speedy would go from calmly walking to pulling to the poles pretty quickly as we approached them, and my half halts were utterly ineffective. The next day, we got serious about the half halt (something we got to explore more with our groundwork trainer also!) and threw a halt in before the poles. The first time I tried that I got nothing, and just hauled on Speedy’s mouth through the grid. Next time around MIL reminded me to actually get the halt. Make it ugly if I needed to, but get the halt and then release right away.
We clobbered our way through the little bounces a few times until Speedy and I found a much more settled canter on a circle. It is tempting to let him just pound down to the fences in whatever size canter he wants, because it’s a very pleasant canter at all the sizes. I also really didn’t have enough space, or spatial awareness, to help manage his canter to the placement pole so we could get a smoother ride through the grid. That will come, though!
Speedy definitely has some basics-shaped holes we need to fill in. And to be abundantly clear, I don’t think this reflects poorly on his trainers at all. They — one of them being a 16 year old — took a green-broke 4 year old and got him to Bundeschampionate finals as a 5 year old less than 18 months later without frying his brain, destroying his personality, or shutting down those amazing gaits of his. Speedy also deserves some of the credit. He’s a pretty reasonable and biddable fellow and is naturally quite clever and careful over the fences. So it was probably easy to skip some of those basics in favor of moving him up to the more impressive heights that were most likely to sell him. And some of those holes are definitely just “I don’t speak American!” issues, as well.
So yeah. There’s going to be some hanging around in basics-land for a while. I forsee alot of grids in our future. I am soooo excited about how super he’s going to be over the fences after we shore up this basics foundation a bit!