Sports psychology fascinates me, and often inspires a new line of approach on how to think about a horse, a situation, a competition ride. Proponent of positive thinking, Martin Seligmann’s definition of ‘being-in-the-zone’ has proven accurate beyond measure, and recently Robert Holden’s revoltingly titled book “Be Happy” has enough mental exercises to keep a Zen Buddhist master’s frontal brain cortex lighting up happily for centuries!
I’ve been fiddling mentally how to use Holden’s perceptions for teaching lessons. One task demands you focus on how good your life – I’m translating into clients with horses they ask, ask, ask questions of and perhaps don’t really enjoy very much at the end of the day – was last week and then remember, recall ten specific occasions. Holden was spot on too describing people’s instinctive reactions too, essentially total absolute horror at having to remember not just one but ten episodes.
I’m working four, five horses at different levels right now and they all super accurately picked up that I was way off par last week. My mother died after suffering a monumental stroke, massively changing family dynamics and how my elderly 93-year-old father living on the Island will adapt to his new lifestyle; he is very determined to cope somehow. With really lousy timing, my own accident-pain levels ricocheted with madly fluctuating weather pressure changes along these western Alberta foothills, and another cousin’s heading for long-term care with more family decisions.
The Challenge youngster indicated I wasn’t concentrating, I certainly wasn’t grounded, and that most unattractive stubborn lip curl re-surfaced as we started working with throwing saddle blankets everywhere (even the most feared striped version), surcingles and then driving lines where a bit of bend would have been nice. (I’m sighing just remembering those corral hours and which any decent psychiatrist will tell you is a sign of stress. Oops.)
The Apache, after one sleepless, joint-pained night of four in a row, took one look at me, flung himself through the hot wiring and took the home herd into the front pastures, then pulling apart the wrapped round bale (wrapped no longer!), before trotting briskly up to the front gate and with Houdini skill-sets, opening two climbing carabiners around the chain and galloping away with the home herd. I’d just run out of oats too, can you believe it?!
Eventually carrots lured alpha mare, The Best back, the others followed. The fencing got re-hot wired before cold wet dank rain started to slice down and I decamped to bed, rattled, pained and in a monumental level overwhelmed sulk. Pathetic, I know. The next morning, sunshine, heat (no pain at all which is always in the end my defining factor), the four-leggeds looked at me with calm relieved eyes. Thank God, you could almost hear them exclaiming between themselves, then generously putting on their very best performances at demo levels for free, Liberty, groundwork and foundation training.
Mops-horse, though, is throwing up a different, very real problem and after five decades of competing, buying, selling, training, dealing horses, really, where was my brain cell? I always think of him as a horse, although in fact he’s not tall and perhaps, just, 14.2hh at the very wither top, now filling out, muscling up, and a ribcage that’s incredibly well-sprung, a huge lung capacity in fact.
I’m aware horses with withers can be devils to saddle-fit. But, as my friendly saddlefitter remarked a few days back – very aware my backcountry and mountain horses are short-coupled – pulled out a measuring tape, “Pam, this horse really is short-backed!” There is absolutely no way a Western saddle is going to fit this boy, there’s no room, and the back cinch, most interestingly when we plonked a lovely Billy Richards barrel racing number on board, is right over the stifle area – he’s a gelding now but still, that’s a bit of a big imposition! With the rider’s weight slap bang over the loin and kidney areas too.
Ever since way more education crept into my saddlefitting and horse conformation angles a decade back, it’s a major point I’ve banged on to clients and students when buying and working a new four-legged. And, right now, I’ve a horse where I’ve ignored all my own advice.
Oops again, eh?! Mind, this horse moves with a true extended trot in a style that nods, perhaps, somewhere, at a small injection of Friesian bloodlines way back. I’d secretly been wondering about whether we need to be heading toward combined driving as his métier, those three-day events where challenges indeed come up fast and furious. For now, the home team’s getting grounded again, awareness all around of very different bird migrations this year and the horses shedding summer coats out hard and early (climate change, has to be), summer heat and sunshine. And…see what decisions the horses, the land answer up with these next few days. Then this human needs to take on responsibility for what-happens-next.
If any of you can suggest a make of Western saddle for us to try, please let me know. We’re trying a Sharon Saare (endurance) saddle tomorrow, wonderful saddles that tend to fit many different shapes – plus I need to be looking at the rule books…for what’s allowed in the Challenge.