The Iberian Experience

February 21, 2010

The Day I Wanted to Give Up

Filed under: Uncategorized — iberianexperience @ 7:49 pm

If I only told you about the successful days of working with DoubleShot I would be doing you a disservice because you truly would only be hearing half the story.  As I mentioned before,  my work with this young warmblood was challenging, ridiculously challenging. It had to be one of not the hardest things I had ever done.

If you will allow me, let me take you back to the round pin. One day in particular stands out in my memory. It was a warm day, sunny and rather late in the afternoon. At this point, I was still working on the attention-getting process and the moving her feet process which coincide completely.

At the start of the work outs, we would enter the round-pin together without too many upsets.  Then, immediately after I would remove the halter, she would take off! Running round and round, calling to other horses, looking in every other direction except at me, jumping over objects in the pin, kicking up her back feet, exploring the divots in the ground, exploring the fence rails, exploring the scent the breeze was carrying through the air, exploring everything else she possibly could except me.

 In response to this behavior, I would move the whip through the air while positioning my body in a way as to communicate a direction change. With the whip, I would also point, in the hope that eventually the basics of classical conditioning would hold true and that one day the pointing would be enough to change her direction without the accompaniment of the whip.

But for now, the whip was necessary. The heavy sound it would create as it moved through the air was often the only stimulus that could successfully convince DoubleShot that I was in fact in the round pin with her. At this point my existence was not important to her and the only time she had to acknowledge my existence was when I, with the help of the dressage whip, would prevent her from continuing on in her chosen direction, forcing her to turn around and go the other way.

And that is exactly what I would do, constantly. Often I would only let her go four or five strides before I would ask for another direction change. The belief was that with enough encounters of being forced to deal with me, she would grow to watch me and pay more attention.

But the process of direction changing could go on seemingly forever and this day in particular I wholeheartedly wanted to give up.  Nothing seemed to work. The afternoon was winding down, the sun light was softening and the air was growing colder. Most of the other riders and trainers were cooling down their horses and turning them out for the night, and there I was, stuck in that round pin, unable to even get DoubleShot to stop long enough for me to throw a halter on her.

Thus, I had to stay. I had to get to the point where she would turn for just a few seconds and look at me. But I couldn’t. Feeling so overwhelmed I hung my head and bent over in frustration. In that moment, there was no reason I wanted to be there. I began thinking ‘there’s no way I can do this’ and what’s more, I said to myself ‘I don’t even want to do this’.

Eventually yes, DoubleShot did turn and look, but I didn’t have a breakthrough that day. There was no moment of accomplishment or success at all.  I cooled her down and turn her out and literally ran to my car. I drove away with music playing shaking my head, trying desperately to forget about the afternoon.  I finally breathed deep and finally reached my release.

Just as I would award DoubleShot with a release when she gave me an appropriate response, my release for that day was driving away. That entire afternoon, I felt that I had been pushing her, but in truth she was pushing me. And to be frank, she was much better at it than I was. By the time our work out was over, I was far more exhausted than she.

Not in that moment, but much later, I was able to see once again, how connected we truly were. If I wanted her to work, I was going to have to work. If I was ever going to get her to the point of commitment, I had to be willing to go there first. If I was going to push her, I had to fully expect her to push me. I finally realized the effort I had gotten by with in the past wasn’t going to cut it with this horse. I needed to find a deeper desire and stronger commitment if we were ever going to succeed.

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