I have sat down to try to write this for over a week now and am still having trouble articulating my thoughts about the whole sending Phoebe away for full training deal. I am picking her up on Saturday with pretty conflicting feelings. I’m attempting to break this up into more manageable topics both for ease of reading and to hopefully get some clarity for myself by simply writing it all out.
I have now been up there a total of three times for “lessons” and I use the air quotes because they were not at all what I expected. The first time I discussed here. The second time my lesson was scheduled at 8:30am. Since my first lesson I arrived with plenty of time to tack up and lunge, and ended up waiting around for 45 minutes to even start tacking up because J wanted to do it with me (not a problem) I planned to arrive at my scheduled time. Except I received a text at 8:00am saying to get Phoebe tacked up, and considering I live over an hour away it was too late for me to get there any earlier then 8:30. So my lesson was cut short and once again I spent all of my riding time (maybe five minutes) on the lunge line.
The third and final lesson I had with J was last Saturday and I told her that since it was going to be my last lesson I wanted a few minutes to actually talk to J. I felt it would be prudent to have a conversation about where Phoebe was, and what the game plan should be going forward.
Once again my actual riding time was maybe 15 minutes and it was all on the lunge line. It doesn’t give the feeling that J has any confidence in me as a rider or Phoebe’s ability to keep all four on the floor when I was constantly on the lunge. I mean if J feels it necessary to keep me on the lunge line for my lessons then how does that prepare me for taking Phoebe back?
About halfway through her time J had mentioned that my saddle wasn’t fitting super well and was slipping back. I thought that was a little odd, it had never once slipped with me even through all kinds of lunge line antics. But, you know, young horse in work, back will change and all that. So I sent up a few different gullets and didn’t think about it much. J also mentioned that she wasn’t gaining muscle in her topline like she should, so we put her on a supplement and again, I didn’t really dwell on it. Until my second lesson where I tacked her up myself. J is using one of her own girths, one that is actually too big because she prefers it to mine. Ok fine, we all have our tack preferences but don’t you think a too large girth might make the saddle more inclined to slip back? Not only that but my saddle was made for the second and third billets to be the ones used and J uses the first and second. She also sets the saddle much farther forward then I do and farther forward then my saddle fitter recommended. The end result is Phoebe has been working in a saddle that used to fit her and now is pinching her shoulders and too narrow (J made it narrower to prevent the slipping). So of course there was a lack of topline developing and in fact her topline looks much worse then when she left my care and her back was in spasms. Not great. All of this is fixable of course and I already have Auntie Jean coming out for a massage next week but it’s still frustrating and annoying. To send a horse away and have them come back LESS muscled….
For the most part J did keep in touch with me regularly about Phoebe’s progress but looking back it was much more generic “good day/bad day” type stuff instead of spelling out exactly where she was/wasn’t with regards to training progress.
When I originally contacted J about full training I gave a brief overview of Phoebe’s history and included the fact that she had bucked me off three times and that they were very big bucks. I figure it’s best to be up front about what the issue is so J (or any trainer) can decide if this is something they are equipped for/want to deal with. Fast forward to my chat with J last week, I asked her if Phoebe had bucked under saddle and tips to deal with that if/when it happens again. J flat out said that she won’t ride a horse that bucks, that her body can’t handle it anymore and she sees no value in riding through them. That if she felt Phoebe might buck on any given day she would just get off and lunge instead. Which is fine, if that is your personal horse, and it is also fine to know your body’s limits and I very much respect that. However, why did J not tell me the first time I contacted her that bucking is not an issue she is comfortable/able to work through on a horse in training? That was the entire reason I paid for full training, because I wanted a rider who could and would RIDE THROUGH the bucking if needed because I could not! It makes me feel as though part of the reason there was so little progress was because J did not want to deal with/was scared of the bucking. If J had communicated to me in the beginning that a horse that bucks is not something she felt comfortable training then I would have happily found another trainer and had a different outcome, potentially one I would be more satisfied with.
Part of my frustration was due to the fact that J teaches differently then trainers I am used to. By no means am I saying she is a bad trainer/instructor, just that I am not used to her style, and of course she is not used to me as a rider. While I very much like to know the “why” J is more of the belief that the why doesn’t matter and that there is no room for “the horse should know/should behave this way because of x, y, z”. That it only matters what the horse is doing at that moment and how you can either correct the undesired behavior or reward/encourage more good behavior. Now that of course is a totally valid thought process and to be fair, one that has a lot of value in training horses, especially green ones. It’s just very hard for me as a type A person who desperately wants to know the reason behind every behavior but I think it’s an important mindset to have and that I need to let go of my ego about the whys and the shoulds. Just like in life right? Less ruminating about how and why and more being present and dealing with each issue as it happens with no judgment about “this shouldn’t happen” because ultimately that doesn’t matter.
Final thoughts or what did I get out of this?
I am in no way a professional. Not even a little bit. So I respect that someone I hire in a professional capacity has more knowledge then I do, I am putting my trust in their knowledge you know? J has a great reputation, I have had several friends use her and their horses always come back better for it. Her barn is in very safe condition, the care of the horses there is excellent. And yet. Phoebe has been there almost four and a half months and is not solid walk trot canter yet. She has not stepped over a single ground pole and has not been jumped under saddle at all. It has left me wondering a little, what exactly was worked on in that time then? And why did J say that she was ready to come back if she isn’t yet walk trot canter at the minimum? I understand that each horse is an individual and that they all progress on their own timelines, and I know that Phoebe is going to be one of the S-L-O-W ones just because of her anxiety. But I just can’t help these lingering thoughts like… why didn’t I communicate more clearly what I wanted/expected out of training and why didn’t J communicate more clearly about what was reasonable to accomplish in that time frame and what wasn’t? I’m not saying Phoebe isn’t improved or that she didn’t learn new things I’m just having trouble reconciling how much of my frustration is about my own ego and expectations and how much is valid frustration with the lack of progress.
J gave me the contact info of her working student who actually lives close to me and my long long time trainer who owns the lesson barn where I ride Max has also offered to help me when Phoebe comes home. So I have some really good resources and here’s hoping it comes together for me in a way that is productive and reasonably safe.