Through different eyes

Yesterday I brought Ben along for a lesson with my old trainer. She wanted to ride him this time. The arena we used belongs to a friend whose mare and yearling were running in the paddock beside, tantalising poor Ben who was getting no chance to express himself whilst being ridden.

She started with a lot of work in walk. Ben has a short stride and she worked to get him to lengthen his stride and maintain a rhythm. Ben worked. Being asked to go forward from the leg as never before he worked up a sweat in walk in his emerging winter coat. Lots of firmness, lots of praise. When he did lengthen he could maintain it for only a few strides before looking to jog.

Of course, she had an opinion on going barefoot. “You want my honest opinion?” I didn’t, but I was going to get it anyway. “I think you’re mad.” In trot, Ben was lame. She asked me to sit up to see if it felt different to normal. Definitely lame. (How he sprang forward from the lightest touch of my leg – a good lesson for me!) Of course there is the possibility of being bruised, although no stone bruise was evident, but it felt as if it were coming from his right hip, through his left shoulder. I will give him a couple of days, if he is still lame in trot I will return to the craniosacral therapist who treated him before. She had identified an old injury to his right hip.

My trainer also felt that the kind of training she would do would not be right for Ben. She thought that at his age (13 approx), with no flatwork training behind him, and given his type, it would be too much to ask. Lameness in trot aside, she found him very stiff. Which he is. I will need to find another way to help him here. I see her point and in a way I am relieved as I knew Ben would not enjoy these lessons.

Lesson over, Ben was released for a lovely sandy roll before going over to vent his feelings and assert his dominance on the mare and yearling. My trainer was comical in her astonishment. “But I thought butter wouldn’t melt” she said as we heard loud squeals and watched Ben grow in size as he struck out with his forelegs.

But here’s the thing: watching her riding Ben, I seemed to see him through her eyes, a stiff, non-cooperative, butty little cob with nothing special about him. “He will be fine for hacking, le trec and your daughter can ride him. Would you not get yourself another horse so you can do flatwork and some riding club competitions?”

I won’t, but back home I still saw him through her eyes and I think he knew it, or else he decided that that lesson was definitely bad news, for he wanted nothing to do with me, herding Rosie out of the way when I sat down in the paddock.

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10 Comments

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10 responses to “Through different eyes

  1. This reminds me of when I first brought Keil Bay to the boarding barn after I bought him, and I overheard the owner/ my trainer saying something about him to the farrier. I can’t even remember what it was, and it wasn’t negative so much as it was less than admiring, but it upset me very much.

    I think I blew both their minds when I marched up and told them (the farrier had come to pull his hind shoes and was supposedly going to be our farrier there) that I was very excited about having Keil as my new riding partner, and that I wouldn’t tolerate anything less than supportive encouragement from anyone associated with his care. I ended up hiring a different farrier who loved Keil and found him to be a wonderful horse to work with, and the trainer, who I couldn’t really get away from at that point, figured out quickly that she needed to stay positive if she wanted our business. (we were boarding three horses at the time!)

    Keil Bay never really connected with her at all, and although we did lesson with her while we were there (only about 6 months more after Keil came) I was happier when we moved to our farm and found a new trainer who thought Keil was wonderful – while recognizing his weaknesses, and choosing to focus on the strengths.

    I have seen Keil Bay completely ignore trainers he didn’t like, and the common denominator is they didn’t “get” him from the start – or appreciate his charm. Same trainer that Keil ignored, the pony loved – b/c the trainer adored the pony and clearly saw the potential in him and transmitted that – in the same way she saw the downside to Keil and transmitted THAT.

    I’m rambling here but mostly feel badly for Ben – I hope you find your way back to seeing him from your own eyes. It’s hard to find a trainer that clicks with what we need/want to learn, our personalities, AND the horse in question!

    • So Keil Bay is able to connect with a trainer who genuinely appreciates him but sees through a trainer who does not, even if she puts on a positive front. That would be Ben, too. Very honest. What surprised me so much about that lesson is how I saw Ben. I was looking forward to watching him being ridden and I was expecting him to struggle a bit. I was not expecting to see him so negatively. All the changes that I had seen in him over the past year – how he has opened up in particular – were just not visible.

      We have reconnected again – I just needed some time back at home. I do want to find a way to work with him and I am sure I will. I just need to dig a bit deeper.

  2. I think Ben is a wonderful horse and probably has a lot of potential that can be tapped into with the right exercises and training. I’m wondering if some chiropractic/massage could be helpful for his stiffness. Also maybe some light stretching could help. I’m not a vet but I don’t think some light exercises to help him bend and soften could hurt. But you might want to consult a vet before you started any work with him on a consistent basis. You never know it might help him.

    • Thank you Grey Horse Matters! I am glad you see him like this. I do need to pursue ways of working to supple Ben and, as you say, the right training and exercises have to be able to help.

      Even out hacking (which is what I want to do anyway), suppleness is important and an older, stiffer horse needs the right exercises as much as a younger, more supple horse.

  3. June

    Ben is awesome, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

    We got our Misty (who died last year aged 36) when she was 22. She was arthritic and couldn’t even trot – she could only manage a running walk or a slow canter. We got her on supplements and 24/7 turnout, and after a few years, I took her to a dressage competition. Of course we couldn’t begin to compete with all the young horses – she couldn’t remotely track up, for example – but I was so proud of her – she was really focused and did so well. The judge said “Good job with your older horse.” I learned the value of a very slow warmup – maybe 20 minutes at walk before even attempting a trot, and I learned how much you can do just at a walk. My dressage teacher said she became more correctly muscled than a lot of horses competing at high levels (whatever that means, cos I don’t know!)

    Misty loved to work – she gave it her all – I always let her stop when she was tired – and I felt I had accomplished a lot more getting a 47 on a 26 year old arthritic mare than a 70 on a dashing young warmblood.

  4. June

    Ben probably needs to feel that the work y’all are doing is for his benefit as much as anything – like not judging him, but helping him feel good.

    • June, I know Ben is awesome and we have connected again. It did surprise me how negatively I suddenly saw him. I think he shut down a bit with her. (Not her fault, she is a good rider in a no-nonsense fashion, but she could not see the personality in Ben, she thought he was a little “butter wouldn’t melt” cob, which he most certainly is not.)

      It is encouraging how you brought Misty on. The challenge is definitely for Ben to feel that the work is for his sake – Imke Spilker would manage that easily I know, I have been re-reading her chapter on work, but for me with Ben, not quite so simple.

  5. My point (that I didn’t make clear because I got off on a tangent about Keil Bay – sorry!) is that Ben probably gave your trainer exactly what she expected of him, and that’s what you saw when she rode him.

    What you’ve been getting from Ben at home is (I think, based on what I read here) something very different – a horse who has probably been ridden incorrectly for years, with a saddle that didn’t fit, shoes that were perhaps not the best for his feet, and now he’s got you actively looking to correct these things and I think he’s beginning to open up and to offer his body to you (sounds a little weird but you know what I mean) because he is trusting you to pay attention and not do things that hurt.

    Your trainer didn’t approach him that way so he went back into protective, defensive way of going.

    One more little Keil Bay story because I think it’s funny and it illustrates the above so well – two trainers I have worked with (one was the barn owner mentioned above and the other was one I used mostly for groundwork training) both trained and rode Arabians. I’m not personally fond of Arabians, but I’m not a breed snob – I enjoyed both their horses and seeing what these women did with them. But Keil Bay is nothing like an Arabian in body or personality. The first trainer, who put up the good front, was actually jealous of Keil Bay. She wanted a big warmblood but couldn’t (according to her) afford one. Her way of dealing with that was to look at Keil with a very critical eye. The other one had said in clinics that she thought warmbloods were dumb. I allowed her to work with Keil one day, to address one issue, and he kept looking at me (literally turning his head and looking at me) like “this woman is nuts, get me out of here!” But he sighed and cooperated with her. The funny thing is that when she got on him to ride, he lifted his tail like an Arabian and tried to give her what she wanted. It was hilarious – mostly because she, who considers herself an expert in the language of horses, didn’t even see what he was doing.

    Horses are incredibly sensitive to what we project to them, as you well know. I think what Ben gave was what he wanted to give to the trainer. And it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if he did it so she would write him off and he would never have to deal with her again!

    Trust your own eyes and what you’ve seen of Ben at home. I’ve seen it in the photos and in your descriptions. He is opening up, and I would be he supples more than you can imagine along the way.

    • Billie, I love that story about Keil Bay! I am sure you are right, that Ben showed the trainer what she expected to see and very possibly he did want her to write him off. He is such a clever boy and has tons of personality which he shrouded so completely that it became hidden from me as I watched them together.

      Thank you for your encouraging words. I do like that you have seen Ben opening up in his photographs here.

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