I had a spectacularly bad ride a few Wednesdays ago. I really set myself up for failure by planning a lesson the day I got back from five days out of town (with an extra long and stressful drive the night before because of a snowstorm blowing through), less than 24 hours after Speedy had a dental and his annual vaccines.
I know Speedy gets punky and sore after vaccines, and I am aware that five days off isn’t a great setup for a good lesson, and I could tell in the moment that it wasn’t going well. Yet when Speedy told me “I can’t” over and over in the lesson, I bullied him rather than listen to him. Which is a direct route to feeling like peak trash.
I don’t have a lot of straight up Bad Rides these days. Even if we have a hard ride or aren’t on the same page or spend a long time struggling with an exercise, we almost always find some good in it and end on an improved note. This lesson ended with sobbing and lunging on a decidedly not improved note.
Among the things I adore about Speedy is that no matter how rough our ride is, he is always cuddly and sociable in his stall, and doesn’t seem to take it personally. But this go around…. he wasn’t quite as forgiving. The day after my Trash Human performance, Speedy was so sore and miserable that I cancelled my lesson and gave him 250mg of bute. The next day he was fine, but I just turned him out and played liberty games with him in the arena instead of pushing it.
(Which, side quest, I’ve never personally managed a horse who had such a serious reaction to vaccines before! When I got to the barn Speedy looked dull, and was crankily pawing at his alfalfa and then rapidly snatching bites of whatever he pawed up. At first I thought he might be colicking, because this horse not eating alfalfa is a major red flag. But I quickly realized he was uncomfortable lowering his head all the way to the ground to eat, so put his hay up in a net and gave him bute at the advice of my barn manager, and a mashy-grainy water bucket to ensure good hydration. But I was pretty worried there for a second.)
Finally on Saturday, eight days since any kind of consistent or quality work with one shit ride speckled in the middle, we got back to it. My goal for the ride was just to keep it mellow but see if I could get him moving over his back and stretching into the connection a bit. I swung up on Speedy, gave him his traditional standing-at-the-mounting-block treat and he promptly went full pony on me, taking charge of the situation by trotting away from the mounting block. He was positively buzzing during the ride, bouncing off a tiny pony from the other lesson program, pushing his neck back against me, and only very halfheartedly listening to my efforts to chill or woah.
For my next few rides, Speedy was distinctly not buying what I was selling. He’s not automatically the most “submissive” guy anyway, but more often than not he’s willing to try for me. But he fully reverted back to “I go with my head in the air, the steering is marginal, and I have exactly two speeds: fast and faster.” It got better through the week during my lessons with TrJ, but even now — two weeks later — I’ve still not clawed my way back into Speedy’s good graces entirely. It’s like we erased months of progress and are back where we were well before Christmas, which is such an insane bummer because after Christmas we had some of our most amazing flat and jump lessons ever.
It’s possibly more than just my trash human riding a few weeks ago. TrJ’s whole program moved facilities at the beginning of February and we’re right in the thick of winter training right now. And, well, he’s a horse. TrJ has been saying that an awful lot lately, to all of us. “He’s a horse, he’s gonna do horse things.”
But after basically a straight year of what felt like nothing but a magnificent rocketship to the sky of progress, this setback smarts.
With a bit of distance from the event, it’s fine. It’s…. fine. It’sfineit’sfineit’sFINE. I would obviously rather not have massive setbacks with my horse or be an asshole to him. But I’m a human and I’m going to make stupid mistakes, and I’d rather make these discoveries early and at home, when I have plenty of time, space, and resources to come back from them.
So… onward and hopefully upward from here. I know a few more things now about how not to be a trash human to my horse and how much I need to baby him during vaccine week. Plus, building trust is a process and rebuilding is part of that process too.
(Funny enough, it looks like the last time I was an awful human being to my horse [big caveat there since I’m an awful human being to other humans all the time] was right after he was vaccinated last Fall. A pattern. Hmm.)