Saturday, October 11, 2014

What I Learned From: Rave

Flashback about 10 years...Rave was a horse donated to my college equine program.  He was an 11 year old, 16.3/17h Trakehner gelding.  Story goes that he was a failed dressage horse; immature, spooky, possibly not worth on the sale market what they could get for him in tax write offs as a donation...Allegedly.  He spent his first year bouncing between the dressage program and the hunter program.  He was too spooky for the dressage shows, but didn't know anything about jumping, so he was marginally useful and the school needed to figure out where his place would be.  I was asked to take him for the summer, so we loaded him up and drove the 7 hours home to see what I could do with a horse who didn't seem to have a role in life.

Ravenous enjoying down time at home
He taught me how to have a plan.  I planned everything with this horse - he worked four days in a row with two days off.  We had cavaletti days, two days of dressage schooling, and a hill work/trail ride day.  I learned to slow things down and listen better to what the horse was telling me.  I learned that the planning and slow, systematic approach can result in massive gains.  Patience was the most important thing.  No emotion in the saddle.  That some horses just need their "one person" to bring out great things.

Our breakthrough moment was when we were riding down in the big outdoor ring for the first time.  It was well removed from the barn and it was "fun" getting him to walk down there by himself.  We spent the first 25 minutes of that ride spinning, popping up/rearing, more spinning and just bullshit shenanigans.  I suspect he played this game with previous owners, and that's how he ended up donated.  I just sat there, repeatedly told him that forward was the only correct answer, that backwards/spinning/rearing would not be tolerated and it was just wearing him out, and eventually he caught the drift.  He was a horse with a poor work ethic and the mind of a bad three or four year old - he would quit and throw a fit. Didn't want to ride in the outdoor?  Big fit.  Didn't want to horse show?  Bigger fit.  Riding him through his little temper tantrum early on in the summer actually paved the way to some great development.  He learned forward.  He learned that just doing what I asked was way easier and faster than throwing hissy fits.  That hissy fits didn't get him anywhere, because I didn't get off and I didn't give up.  And he came around very quickly after that.

 We got proficient at first level, schooled some second level, and got him more confident in his jumping.  At home we went bush wacking in the woods, hacked out in the field, jumped up and down banks, and got him to think more for himself and trust what the rider was asking.  Probably the coolest moment was one of our lessons at my trainer's farm - we were jumping a solid wall for the first time, and despite his being very backed off to it, he jumped it.  I remember my trainer saying "He did that because you asked him to, not because he wanted to!"  I think that was a big thing for him.  He thrived in a regular routine, I enjoyed my time with him very much, and when it came time to bring him back to school, he had finally found his place.  I remember several of the riding instructors coming up to me and saying thank you, that he was a totally different horse and they trusted him more.  He became a more valuable member of the college's string, and even participated in the dressage shows for the first time.

I don't think I'll ever forget that following school year either, I was extremely fortunate to have the ride on him regularly, working under an amazing dressage instructor who also was an accomplished eventer an fox hunter.  I was very honored to be asked by the dressage team to be his warm up rider in the intercollegiate dressage shows. 

I learned that sometimes a favorite horse's place isn't with you.  He needed to be a part of that program for his own sake, and I am very thankful to have had the opportunity to help him grow into that role.  He was still there years and years later, working hard helping to teach others. 

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