bullying your pony 101

Post AECs Speedy and I both took a bit of time off. Speedy had some training rides with TrJ while I was away at a a hazelnut conference (sponsored by Ferrero, so the swag bags were delicious) and then we had a light week while TrJ was away at another show. We did some TrJ-assigned homework (stretchy everything), went out on the trails, and generally took it easy.

so even and square and tight and *adorable*

We’ve got a long list of homework items that have been accumulating this season. Showing is training in its own right (and untraining, if you’re me, lawl) but there are some problems that you don’t want to dig into until you know you have a long time to figure out the causes and consequences. I decided that this was the time to start addressing some of those problems, since we have no shows on the horizon.

So I did it in the most Nicole way possible, which was to focus on one thing to the exclusion of all others and aggressively attack it from all angles while somehow simultaneously avoiding any consistency in method of attack. Yes, it does take talent to assault your problems in just such a fashion and no I can’t share the techniques with you. You need a PhD to be this stupid (but sure, if you have a doctorate of some kind hit me up and I’ll give you the step by step run down).

I very really do not understand how we scored in the low 30s all season with this much clearly apparent tension

The problem I exerted my energy on was Speedy’s right nose-tilt. I’m not going to pretend I really understand the underlying causes of this issue or why it even cropped up. But it showed up in May, has stuck around with varying degrees of tipsiness, and bugs the ever loving shit out of me. At one point this summer I was riding Speedy around to the left and I felt like he was looking at me with his right eye and judging me. (Logic. I has it.)

So I bullied the ever-loving shit out of my very kind, very tolerant pony until he said nothankyou. TrJ watched me struggle with basic flatwork for half an hour before asking me wtf I had done to Speedy. After I explained my, uh, predilection for bullying, she suggested that I stop that and my homework that week was to be a kind and compassionate partner to my horse.

shorty on the podium

The ironic thing about all of this is that one of my other big goals was to work with Speedy on developing a sense of joy and fun when I ask him to solve problems on the flat. At the moment, Speedy doesn’t really think of problem solving on the flat as fun. He thinks of it as… well, I’m not entirely sure. But it’s not a fun puzzle for him. And while problem solving — especially in dressage — and learning are work, I think they can be fun work….. right?

obsessed with this photo

It has now been 18 days since I bullied my horse.

It’s going pretty well. I took five days and just did silly, fun clicker games with him in the arena to re-establish our relationship and remind Speedy that arena times can be fun. I kept it all low key, incorporated all the behaviors I know Speedy likes, and made sure my treat pouch was filled with all the best treats. We’re still not entirely on the same page again. But we’re able to work on things in the arena again, and have productive lessons, which is a start.

In the mean time, there are a lot of other things I can work on with Speedy. Lots of them will probably even help us eliminate that nose tilt as he gets stronger on both sides of his body.

pony says no thank you to cantering four abreast

So that’s how I came off my best week and best riding all year and bullied my horse into low key hating me. I do not recommend. Luckily for me, Speedy is as forgiving as he is cute, and he’s back to snuggling me delightedly when I get to the barn. Thank goodness for kind ponies.

8 thoughts on “bullying your pony 101”

  1. Long-time reader, very infrequent commenter. I adore Speedy and the relationship you’re developing with him! He reminds me of my own very intelligent bay pony…funny enough, my first name is also Nicole. My guy does the same thing with his head, except he tilts to the left…I addressed it from a bodywork point of view: if a horse is one-sided, something is bothering them somewhere physically. He had points on some of his molars on the left, and a very tight poll. He has been much better after we sorted this out. 🙂 You inspired me to give R+ training a whirl with my horses and it has been a game-changer!


    1. Yes, good point!! Our favorite body worker fell off our schedule once shows started as we were both so busy but you’ve reminded me that Speedy was going best when we saw him regularly. So we should get back on that.


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