My horse is the sterotypical sensitive Thoroughbred. He picks up on your moods, and feels every single muscle in your body when riding. These qualities can make him reactive, but because he’s such a good egg and so amateur friendly it’s rarely a problem. Still, I’ve learned over the years that less is more and if I get a little over zealous with my leg on course that he’s going to shoot out from me like a rocket. I’ve learned to be lighter, and also Simon has learned that his mom is fat & floppy and not always together so he ignores a lot of my mistakes for the greater good of our partnership. This is one of the reasons why I love him.
Because of this sensitivity, I never rode Simon with any extra aids. No spurs and the only person who ever tried a dressage whip with him was my trainer when she was working on lead changes (rest assured – she’s soft with these things).
When he was full leased out last fall, his lessee started riding him with spurs. She’s an excellent rider, so I didn’t question the decision. Simon is actually pretty lazy when there are no jumps in front of him, and especially on hot days he can start behind your leg. His girl loved him with spurs, and that made my little brain go ‘hmmm’.
One day he came out SUPER lazy warming up for a lesson, so I picked up a dressage whip and literally touched his flank with it while trotting. He scooted a few steps forward like, “RUDE MOM, RUDE!” but stayed super in front of my leg after that. I put it down, and thought “hmmmm.”
Then last week, I rode him in my Sprenger roller ball spurs. They’re probably a little longer than I would normally want (got them for my draft cross eons ago), but we had a lovely warmup. He was forward and responsive without being fast or frantic, and I was super pleased.
After flatting, we hopped over a few jumps. The first four or so were great, and I took him around our grass ring over the natural jumps in big, loopy courses. Then we headed towards the barrels, and I saw a closish distance. I thought to myself, okay I’ll sit and wait, just steady with my leg here to keep him together which really was a good plan… however my “steady with my leg” with the spur on turned into “accidentally hit Simon’s side with my spur and have him super happily launch over the barrels from a stride out because I told him to.”
Simon wasn’t offended by me asking him to leave from outer space, he was delighted. He cantered after the barrels doing his happy head shake, but I told myself that spurs were a great aid for the flat but not for jumping right now. My leg is still too wibbly wobbly for me to fairly ride my horse over fences with that particular aid.
Where am I going with all of this? At what point does Simon get offended? Well, that was my lesson Sunday…
Saturday night I was up with a stomach flu, but woke up feeling okay-but-not-normal in the morning. I thought about cancelling my lesson, but hadn’t ridden since Monday and really wanted to jump around on my beloved nerd horse. I figured I could power through, and when I got to the barn asked trainer for a gymnastic lesson since I thought I could just sit up and leg him through it.
Welll….. here’s the thing. Simon and I used to be captain struggle bus when it came to gymnastics. I think the only time my trainer has truly yelled at me was during a gymnastic lesson, where she screamed “WHAT ARE YOU DOING YOU ARE GOING TO DIE!”
She was not wrong.
Since then, we’ve gotten a ton better. Simon and I were going through gymnastics great before I leased him out. He did them great (up to 3’9″!) with his full leaser. He’s done them recently with his half leaser. I thought I had this lesson in the bag.
I thought wrong. It was like we had never done a gymnastic in our life. Even though I was legging him a lot forward, he kept wanting to suck back. By the time it was built up to bounce – bounce – one stride, he died over the first bounce and we had to hop out of the second bounce to avoid death. Now I’m not saying I was being perfect here, because I felt weak & woozy from throwing up all night – but I was pushing him with my leg at the base of every part of that combination. So I asked a rider in my lesson if I could borrow her crop.
I have never ridden Simon over fences with a crop of any kind.
In the past when I carry a crop, I have a short jump bat. The kind you can just snap your wrist and tap them on the shoulder with. As I trotted towards the combination, the crop I borrowed was longer and more narrow at the end. At the base of the first crossrail, I snapped my wrist and tapped him with it… only the tap felt like more of a pop and I could hear it smack against his neck.
Now I probably could have ended with just this one smack, but getting in the middle of a gymnastic and petering out/crashing/death is not something I generally like to do. So every time Simon landed from a bounce I tapped his shoulder again with the crop to keep him moving forward. Except the “tap” sounded more like a “pop” and all Simon heard going through this gymnastic was WHACK WHACK WHACK WHACK!
He cantered out of that thing with the angriest, HUMPIEST back I’ve ever felt on this horse. He dolphin leaped, pinned his ears, shook his head and told me, I DARE YOU TO HIT ME ONE MORE TIME MOTHER! ONE. MORE. TIME!
I did not, and I gave the crop back.
We got through the combination one more time in a normal fashion with 0 beatings, and then my trainer told me I was demoted to courses for the rest of the lesson. We ended on a normal course with no unhappiness from Simon and no external aids from his mother, and after lots of pats & treats I think he’s forgiven me.