One year ago today my horse was delivered to me. The picture above is the first picture I took of him. I didn’t know him well enough to try flash photography, hence the blurring, but I also find the blurring quite apt – we didn’t know each other. He was a big blurred black shape to me and I was just another human to him. Now we see each other a lot more clearly. You may also notice the label is still on the rug; I had to try everything I’d bought on him immediately so I had time to get back to the shop before if the rugs didn’t fit, because if they didn’t fit I had nothing to put on him that first December night. Luckily everything fit well enough.
You can see him eating the first feed he had on our yard. He was only given a little feed that first night because it was suspected he might not have been getting any hard food before. He was very skinny. 12 months on he is quite round, and I’m pleased to say that at least some of what he’s put on is muscle.
It took some time for us to connect. We didn’t understand each other. I didn’t understand horse owning. Everything was so much harder than I’d expected, even though he’s a respectful horse with good stable manners. I’d learnt to change rugs, to groom, to tack up, and to ride the school horses but when I put those things together with my horse they became more than the sum of their parts. By the time it came to getting on him I was already exhausted and then he wouldn’t stand at the mounting block or do what I wanted in the saddle. I worried about everything because nothing was habitual and everything was a learning curve and I was responsible for everything.
I didn’t know that tying him up in his stable makes him agitated but he’ll calmly stand still enough for pretty much anything without needing to be tied.
I didn’t know that spending a few pounds on a fluffy girth cover would make girthing less of a battle and so make both of our lives more pleasant.
I didn’t know that he hated his bit and that’s why he wouldn’t halt or put his head down from giraffe-posture.
I didn’t know when to trust my own judgement and when to ask for help.
I didn’t know who to ask for help and whose advice to take with a pinch of salt 😉
I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to ride him the way I’d ridden the school horses.
It’s only been in the last month or two that I felt I could ride my horse, in walk and trot, better than I rode the school horses. Since the Lee Pearson lesson I see that I can ride my horse better in canter than I could the school horses. In terms of what I can do, it’s taken me the full year to get back to about where I started from. But in terms of how I do it, I think it’s a world away. This year I have feel. Last year I didn’t. This year I have some understanding of contact, of rhythm, of how four legs move. I can turn my horse by shifting my weight alone, stick with him through a spook and I’m starting to see how to catch him just before he falls in or out on a circle.
I’ve put together an overview of how the first year went. Looking over the first months it’s no wonder I haven’t found it an easy year. The first three full months were a write off as far as learning to ride him goes, and July was horrendous. I have to say I hope we have better luck in the next 12 months.
Late Dec. 2012: The Purchase & learning to lunge as I have no tack.
Jan. 2013: I have tack, I’m just learning to balance horse & work, getting on board, and then it goes and snows, making absolutely everything virtually impossible to manage.
Feb: The saddle flocking has compacted, so we have issues diagnosing that and then, again, a long period where we can only lunge while it’s sent away to be re-flocked.
March: We have the saddle back but it takes some time to get the noseband back (taken for rebalancing) during which time he mocks my efforts at steering. And then there’s more snow.
April: We finally have a full complement of tack and can really start trying to work under saddle. Which means this is when I really started finding out how difficult he found certain things in the school.
May: We start having adventures. First a little adventure on the track, then out on the lorry for an off-road hack, and in the school with a video with Centaur Biomechanics and our first dressage test. Spring has finally arrived and things start to get a little easier for me.
June: Our first solo hack and the start of summer turnout. He’s out every night so there’s no pressure to ride on any given day because he’s got lots of opportunity to move of his own accord. Everything is so much more relaxed. We change the bit (again) and do another dressage test. We have some lessons on the lunge, during which we confirm just how much difficulty he has getting the correct canter lead (we thought he’d do it right on the lunge, but no such luck). Other livery owners suggest getting the physio to check him over.
July: The physio comes and we get the back much improved, but then D gets conjunctivitis. While work is going ridiculous and my commute is made much worse by epic roadworks, I have a horse that needs eyedrops. And then more eyedrops and more vets visits. He gets quite a lot of schooling because I can’t manage everything and it will help him with that canter lead.
August: I got ill (mostly in self-defence after everything that happened in July) so he gets more schooling. I also spend a few days in Caeiago riding other people’s horses, do our third dressage test and create Drifter-as-Dragon.
September: I have a lot of riding lessons. The month is largely uneventful and I get to concentrate on my riding… until we hear that the riding school is closing and we’ll be moving to another stable. Then I get ill again.
October: We introduce the pessoa-type lungeing aid. I have chiropractic work done. He sees the physio again. I see improvements in both of us. He settles into his new stable.
November: We have a not-so successful lesson with a line-judge and I lose some confidence and don’t believe I’ll be able to help my horse canter.
December: We have an amazing lesson with Lee Pearson and gain loads of confidence in ourselves. We do the Christmas show and join the new beginner jump group.
It has been a tough year. And there have been times when I wondered if it was something I should be doing. If it was something I could cope with. Horse riding is hard. Horse owning is hard. Balancing them with a full time job is really hard. But this is the path I would choose again. It’s taken a year to settle in together and for me to learn the basics of riding him, but from here we have a strong basis to build on. I don’t know what the future holds for us, but I want to find out. I know there’ll be challenges ahead, but having got through this tough first year I know I can meet those challenges.
I think someone told me before I got him that it takes a year for a horse and rider relationship to form. I understand that deeply now. It takes time. It takes getting grumpy with each other as well as having touching moments. It takes enduring the rain and the cold, the heat and the flies. It takes the good times and the bad, the sweet-smelling and the not so sweet. It takes the special days and the humdrum routine.
Have we changed for knowing each other for a year? Physically there are changes in both of us. But in other ways? I think I’m better for having him in my life, and I can only hope that goes both ways. I try to be the owner he needs me to be. He’s already the horse I need him to be.