Things have been going great with Puzzle since his human came to the yard and showed me the appropriate way to put him in his place, and I have been really humbled by the care with which she has overseen my growing confidence in handling him. My concern when I began having difficulties was that she would feel that my not being able to deal with it without her intervention would defeat the object of there even being a part-loan agreement, as I think I had expressed previously, but she has shown great empathy, saying that she was happy to come down to the yard for as long as it took for me to feel confident with him – on the grounds that she’d been through it all with him herself and knew what it was like. Thankfully, however, all the groundwork and my sticking to my guns during the spats he and I have had in the intervening period (both on the ground and in the saddle) have led to my first evening alone with him last night, being a resounding success, in that there were no dramas at all and he behaved beautifully for me, even sticking close to me when he thought he might be in mortal peril (at the hands of the man who comes to the farm to shoot rabbits).
I wish I could say the same for my lessons at the riding school. I feel like since I’ve been loaning Puzzle, my lessons – which I wanted to keep up for liking my regular instructor, and feeling like I had made friends with some of the horses who reside there – have served only to knock the confidence that Puzzle instils in me, and consequently I don’t feel like they are really doing anything to progress my riding ability. I’m fully aware of the factors at play here: Puzzle is relatively unspoiled by only having two regular riders, and hasn’t had the spark beaten out of him by riding school work, for one thing; in my lessons, I ride in a group of mixed ability, and it’s often hard not to take feedback in the context of how much, how little or what kind other people are getting at the same time as you; and sometimes, especially with riding, things get worse (or plateau) before they get better.
Nevertheless, even on a Wednesday night when we’re alone and just practising things in the little school on the farm, I feel like I get far more out of Puzzle – both in terms of cooperation and us helping each other to work better – than I do out of Ben, for example who I’d previously thought to be the confidence-giving schoolmaster. Take Monday’s lesson, for instance: all we did in the structured part of the lesson was circle work with walthroughk-trot transitions, and Ben didn’t want to go forwards; as a result of my instructor shouting at me to ‘sharpen him up with a tap from [my] whip’ over and over, I began to feel like my aids had crossed the line into animal abuse of this poor, usually-hard-working creature that just didn’t want to play that evening. It broke my heart, and left me dispirited. Contrast that to my free practice with Puzzle two days later, in which we didn’t end up doing what I’d intended (a cross between pole work and bend work, incorporating shallow loops) because he was in a very nervous, spooky mood, but he worked willingly for me as I slowly worked him up through transitions and circles to walking and then trotting right into the scary corners, and finishing by cantering large around the school to release some tension. Took some building up to, and some thinking outside of the box to get there, but he was switched on nevertheless, and I got something out of it.
Added to this is the fact that Soapy, the horse at the riding school I had the greatest fondness for, is now gone. They told me she would be leaving this week, but when I arrived with her retirement gift of a packet of Polos, I was told she had already been taken away. Disappointed, I resolved to give them to the staff member who I thought was taking her to pass on, only for her to tell me that having promised her she could have her, they’d given her to one of the clients. Aghast, I expressed my regret and my sympathy, and she said that she was disappointed (understandably), but not surprised, and went on to tell me things I won’t disclose here but that shocked me. Which may have, in addition to how my riding lessons have been making me feel, contributed to my growing feelings that maybe it’s time to be moving on.
(I gave the Polos to Ben, incidentally, to say sorry for hitting him with my whip so many times.)
Puzzle’s human, and the other human with whom I tend to hack out on weekends, have a freelance instructor who comes to the farm to teach them. Both of them speak very highly of her, and have recommended I have a lesson with her on Puzzle, each for different reasons. I’m certainly up for giving her a go to see how we get on. There are things I think she could help me with – helping Puzzle canter on the left rein first time, for example – because she knows him, as well. This would also be a considerable financial saving as her lesson fees are pretty cheap.
My reluctance doesn’t really stem from any feelings of disloyalty to my current instructor or the riding school as much as from not having the excuse to go and see the horses with whom I consider myself to be friends at the riding school, and having three opportunities per week to ride as opposed to the two I get with Puzzle. Having said that, though, with Soapy gone, none of the other horses seem as exciting to me any more. Ben tolerates me. I haven’t seen Bramble in months. Dan and Elvis are both funny, but can take or leave me regardless of any feelings I have for them. That only really leaves Paddy, who is as daft as a brush and as loveable as anything, but my relationship with him doesn’t extend beyond giving his lips a rub once a week until he gets bored. Suffice to say, I don’t think he would miss me as much as I would miss him.
And so I’m toying with the idea of quitting my riding school lessons to have lessons on Puzzle, and focus on building a partnership with a willing pony ‘who will turn his hoof to anything’ (as stated on his advert) – at least after his initial, Oh all right, if I must. There seem to be more advantages than disadvantages, and I feel like I am learning far more about both horses and riding from my continued association with him than I am at the school. I just can’t shake my reluctance to let go of what I have in my regular lessons, still. Thoughts from other riders would be appreciated.
In less pensive news, at the weekend Damian paid us a visit, and was able to get this amusing video footage of me turning Puzzle out after riding him: