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Cantering Calamity Image
Look into my crystal ball... 
- kindly written for World of Horses by Karry Gardner

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Dear Readers

Well, so THAT was Christmas and New Year done with once again and now I can get into the much more serious business of improving my horse and more importantly, improving me.

I did a really stupid thing back on October. I went on holiday, fell over and broke my shoulder in a few places. No, I wasn’t drunk, I fell over on a marble floor that was wet.

It was a bit swollen but not bruised and so I ignored it for several weeks until the Boss remarked that it could possibly be broken as he had done the same thing a few times (but possibly not the marble floor bit).
Eventually I went to the doctor and the bone surgeon thingy man and after X Rays and scans I found out that just maybe I shouldn’t have been riding at all. There are those people out there, probably dressage judges who would agree wholeheartedly although not for the same reasons.

Anyway, I have been on a bit of box rest and finally got back on MTM the other day and you could just tell by the look on her face that she wasn’t impressed that Mrs Fat Bum had the cheek (or two) to place herself on MTM’s back after MTM has been schooled diligently on a daily basis by Small Boss whose weight and bottom and ability are much more to MTM’s liking although not quite as much as food.

In fact, we were both on box rest because MTM also did a really stupid thing and reared up in her box and fell over backwards. The reason being, she does not like noises that she can’t identify and someone was cleaning out the gutters at the back of the loose boxes and MTM took umbrage.

It took us several days to find out why she did this daft thing and in the meantime, we thought that she may have had a fit (I know that I did) and Small Boss was wary of getting on her because we thought she might have a brain tumour. Which would have at least proved that she HAD a brain which some days is debatable.

I watched quite an interesting programme on SKY 280 about the Parelli method of training and how you can put a horse into four distinct categories (only FOUR!) and that horses were right brain dominant, left brain dominant or right brain submissive, left brain submissive etc and I am still trying to work out which category my horse falls into.

After mulling over the problem I find that she is right brain dominant most of the time except when she is being left brain submissive every second Tuesday except when there is a full moon and at that point she becomes left brain dominant with right brain submissiveness every fourth stride in canter and then only when you bend her to the inside on the left rein! Or possibly she is schizophrenic.

Anyway, I am now concentrating on walking in a long and low frame on a contact with in a relaxed manner and every now and then I get on MTM and try to make her do the same with varying degrees of success.

Unlike my beloved and much missed MGB who was really good off my leg aids and whom I never had to kick very hard at all, MTM seems completely numb especially down the right side. I can kick her really hard, dig my spur into her on a semi permanent basis and still she gives me no response. (That’s when the moon is in Virgo obviously) and yet somewhere in the far distance, she can hear a newt slip into a pond and jump three metres sideways in the air and land neatly in the viewing gallery  - it really makes no sense.

When she is being worked in, usually by Small Boss, as I am still confined to the mounting block for the fast stuff, she will not give in her mouth but becomes wooden and obstinate and generally stroppy whilst Charlotte gets annoyed with her. Charlotte only gets annoyed because she knows that MTM WILL give in eventually (20 minutes tops) and work fluently and usually very well so why do we have to mess around for 20 minutes each day whilst MTM tackles her internal demons. Is it, I ask myself, because MTM is an Aquarius with Aries rising and her moon in Scorpio and Charlotte is also an Aquarius too and the two of them create some kind of planetary collision? It’s a bafflement!

I had a question from a lady called Julie who didn’t give me her email but who should contact me again with it because her problem sounded like mine.

She’s been given various instructions and information from several different trainers (some of which should possibly know better), which conflicted and didn’t feel at all right.

Should we resort to smacking a horse in the teeth with a bit when it doesn’t do what we want? Well, the short answer to that is not actually a very short answer at all because we all have to learn to ride by feel and no-one can teach you feel, you have to learn it by doing it and from a general osmosis of being around people who know what it is and can point you in the general direction (but only when Jupiter is on the horizon) and who tell you that you’ve done the right thing. What works on one horse may not work on another and sometimes we have to use trail and error to get what we want. That includes finding a trainer who suits us.

Sometimes I have raised the bit in the corner of the horses mouth to make it stop leaning and to lighten the shoulder and some people may call that smacking the horse in the teeth. Sometimes I have given a half halt that may have been slightly stronger than the half halt I gave two seconds previously to reinforce the first one, which the horse totally ignored. I call that reinforcing the aid others call it smacking the horse in the teeth.. It’s a very grey area isn’t it?

One person’s interpretation of another persons instructions or actions can be very different which is why some people can teach and others, despite being grand prix level riders, cannot. I know of one ex-Olympic rider who charges an arm and a leg for her wisdom, who can spend twenty minutes saying nothing at all but just watching you ride and the next 20 minutes giving instruction that makes no sense anyway.

Good teachers may fire a lot of information at you very quickly, some of which you can assimilate and other bits that you cannot and a good teacher will really know how much you can take on board at any one moment in time but getting to that stage requires a good relationship between all three of you (that’s including the horse) and like all good relationships, it takes time to build.

For instance, Boss and Small Boss have tolerated me for so long they know that when I am having an off day I am a wuss and don’t like doing brave things. When I am on form, I am still a wuss but I can be cajoled into doing scarier things. Because Small Boss rides my horse on a regular basis, she knows MTM’s foibles and she can assure me that if I dig my left spur in, that MTM won’t shoot into the stratosphere of the indoor school (except that on occasions, MTM proves her wrong and we have to be peeled of the X marker). If the horse does do something unexpected, then I usually cope with it and get quite proud of myself because I DID cope with it and didn’t fall off.

Riding is risky and dangerous. No really sane person should attempt to do it and why we continue to do it is a mystery, especially to those people with tame hobbies like flinging themselves out of aeroplanes without a parachute and Super Bike riders.

Who in their right mind would entrust their lives to half a ton of thinking and breathing flight animal who can feel a fly land on him yet ignore someone digging a spur into him or whacking him with a long thin stick. Who can hear a very dangerous and scary paper bag rustling two miles away, so dangerous that you have to have five nervous breakdowns and yet totally ignore a sonic boom?

Much as I love MTM, I wish that she would read the Sylvia Loch books I leave in her stable rather than eating them.

So what does it all mean then?

I don’t really know the answer and will have to consult my crystal ball but to all those people suffering from a crisis of confidence like poor Julie out there, I can only say that we all do and on a much more regular basis than most of us care to admit. And for those of you contemplating giving up and selling your horse onto “someone who can do him justice” I would say that as your horse has made you tear your hair out, lose sleep, lose money etc. your horse really doesn’t care much about anything other than eating, sleeping and in the case of mares and stallions, reproducing, that it is your duty to humankind to not let him or her get away with it after all the effort you have put in. It doesn’t care about winning dressage points and competing for Britain at the next Olympic games so it won’t sulk in the stable longing for a rider who will take it onto International glory but only where the next feed is coming from: giving up is not an option, just a way of letting your horse get away with it.

As for justice! Bah- Humbug!!

Until next time...
Karry Gardner
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