Web MD for Horsemanship

I now have a reason to fast forward to current events, so this blog is definitely going to derail from chronological order, to more of a stream of consciousness telling of what is important as it arises. I have to do this because the new year brought around some very interesting ideas that go along with my biggest horsemanship issue: direction.

If I’ve noticed one major flaw in my work recently it has been what I call, “Horsemanship Hypochondria”. Here’s a very obvious example.

Over the past year I’ve been working with a 5 year old gelding to head into the entry level endurance direction. One of the things I’ve been focusing on is his topline development. So, I’ve been sending pictures taken throughout the year to my friend/teacher, horsewoman Kathleen Lindley Beckham for discussion.

Her comment on the last picture was, “Getting there! I like that I DON’T see a roach back forming.”

We went on to talk about other things, but all that got stuck in my head was the term, “roach back.” Very shortly I had myself in a tither over Google images of horribly grotesque roach backed horses. Not only that, but I had myself convinced that he did indeed have a roach back and I was riding all wrong and needed to start back at square one.

Now, to be truthful, he does have some chiropractic issues that I am working on. But those are very directly linked to a wreck he had with a stock feeder last summer. We are working those out, but they don’t really have any thing to do with, or look similar to a roach back. It only took me a few hours to convince myself that he did have one though. And, that the roach back MUST be the root of any bump in the road I am having with him training wise. That, my friends, is Horsemanship Hypochondria.

Eventually my panic stricken brain talked it’s self off of the ledge and I tore my eyes away from the computer screen and out to my horse. He was fine.

I’ve been really careful since then to not let perceived problems take away from my time and work with horses. I’ve realized that the precious hours I spent inside, researching something that had nothing to do with my or my horse could have been spent improving my riding or my horse’s understanding of the world. The worst part of it all is that in my panic, I stepped on my horse and started riding him completely different than what I had been. Guess what? In an hour, I had a sore backed horse.

I’m not saying that as knowledgeable horse people, we shouldn’t be as educated as possible. And, I’m NOT advocating riding or using horses that are in pain.  Instead, I am saying two other things.

We probably make up way too many excuses why we shouldn’t ride our horses. I know tack fit, lameness issues, and weather are things to consider. I guess it’s just that we should be careful to not to fall into the Horsemanship Hypochondria mentality. It’s awfully easy to say, “My horse is a little off today, I can’t ride it, work with it, or even get near it.”

It’s dang hard to say, “I’ve hit a wall training wise and I’m not real comfortable riding my horse.”

Yes, I know horses’ performance can be vastly affected by pain. If your horse is in pain and you can fix it, please do! This isn’t a discussion of whether or not horses can feel pain, but rather my observations on some of the excuses we as humans have for not doing our best work.   Ride or work your horse within it’s limitations, but at least do something!

The main horse I ride right now has a huge brace in his right side. He has always had it and it is part of why I ended up with him. Could it be pain related? Maybe, or at least it’s stiffness related. Yes, I’ve had vets look at him.  No, none of them felt like it was a soundness issue.  I always have to work with and sometimes around that brace. After a year, I doubt that the movement I am looking for will ever be as fluid as what I like with that particular horse. It’s not his fault, but it can be frustrating. Still, I don’t stop working with him.

The second thing I need to say is don’t let yourself fall into a panic over something that is completely insignificant in order to avoid taking another step in your horsemanship. That’s what I tend to do, and it’s a bad idea.

Which is why I am incredibly thankful to have been invited to the Northwood Farms 2015 Twelve Week Horsemanship Challenge.

It sounds pretty basic. In the coming weeks I have to log forty horsemanship hours with a single chosen horse. I also have to complete thirty rides on that horse, five of which can be bareback.

Now, from what I’ve seen, this challenge is directed more toward people who live in bad weather climates, to encourage them to get out and work with their horses, no excuses.

As I neither have the time nor weather constraints that most of the riders have, I am using the challenge to fill in things I’ve been avoiding with this particular horse. For instance, I am making sure at least five of those rides are going to be bareback. And, by bareback ride five, I’m going to be sitting the trot.

That doesn’t seem like much, but it means I’d better make the main focus of my saddled rides getting a solid balanced trot, and getting my walk/trot transitions stellar. Which means I’d better go back in my groundwork and see how that trot and transitions are on line and loose in the round pen.

Having said all of that, I don’t know if twelve weeks, or forty hours or thirty rides, or five bareback rides is going to be enough at all!

So, there it is. I’ve been floundering around for direction for almost a year and just like that I have plenty of direction and detail to work on for the next twelve weeks.

I am going to use this blog to record how the challenge is working out for me. I’ll still pepper it with old stories because I feel like I am leaving a huge gap right now. There’s no real idea yet of how I got from her to me. So, I’ll keep adding those stories as they come to mind.

For now, however, I am off to catch my horse and go to work.

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