And so I left off with our trouble... Why was my horse pacing and not trotting like he did all along? I decided that I needed to network with people who could offer advice, and so I found online forums, groups, suggestions of people to chat with on Facebook, and more. The support I got for my networking idea was overwhelming and quite amazing. The only thing that I could think of that would have changed things would have been his farrier visit or maybe his new weight since he matured and grew out of his racehorse look. Maybe he was sore, but he certainly didn't seem it.
Where do I start? A few SPHO (Standardbred Pleasure Horse Organization) people let me know that their guess is that he was sore. From what? Four year old horses don't run around and play or do stupid things in the field... it can't be! I talked with a lot of people about the fit of the saddle, chiropractic work from being out of line, sore muscles from being worked in places that haven't been worked before, and so on. None of those seemed to be what the problem was, but what did I know.
I would lunge him in the round pen to see if he would be as pacey without a rider, and he wasn't. What the heck was going on? I did get a few other suggestions for exercises to do and steps to take to teach him not to pace. The first was poles... trot poles... MAKE him trot. Well gee, if he's already not comfortable trotting, maybe I should make him? The second suggestion was to simply stop him when he does it - stop him and ask for the trot again. I tried this and some days we would get the pace, others the trot would work. One other suggestion was shoes, and I considered it... then I considered the fact that I was crazy for even thinking that was a valid suggestion. Put shoes on a horse that doesn't need them, spend more money when you don't have to, make him more uncomfortable by weighing down his front end, and again, MAKE him trot. I had this same suggestion for the canter.
WELL, I didn't want to make or force my horse into doing anything. I wanted him to learn how to do it. The way I'd be riding him to teach him would be nice - not over poles and not with shoes. I needed to learn how to ask him, how to teach him, how to make him understand, and to slow down with everything I expected of him. I was asking for too much too fast, and I really think that I just ended up confusing him, making him anxious, and getting us both frustrated with each other. Time out!
My time out consisted of calling Dom. Calling Dom meant crisis - nothing else worked, nothing seemed to be progressing, and nothing was more shameful than not being able to figure it out. Dom was beyond helpful in listening to me vent and offering suggestions. She let me know that her schedule was open to come down to the barn to help in the event I wanted to go that route. I was upset and let her know that I really wasn't sure if it would work. It was too much effort and not enough results - I was seeing the little picture. The BIG picture was getting a 4 year old horse to a farm and in less than a year, steering, moving off of leg, starting to canter, doing ground poles, taking him to shows, and going round. REALLY? What should he be doing at this point? He couldn't have been trying harder than he did, and he was just trying to tell me something.
So Dom came out, she checked out the barn before I got there after work and was super happy to have found him happy and healthy in the field. I took him out, and right away she noticed how pushy he was. Yes, I'd had some issues with him being pushy, not respecting myself, and letting him walk all over me. I didn't think of it until Dom pointed it out, but I always dismissed it as him being the alpha horse in the field and being so young. Being young had nothing to do with it because I needed to be teaching him that his behavior was unacceptable... one of the many reasons I appreciate Dom's honesty and criticism.
She got on him to see what the issue may be in mid June since lessons with my trainer slowed down due to her busy summer camp schedule. Issue solved, it was no issue at all. I watched Dom ride him out in the big field where I had ridden him in the dressage ring (yes, it's a ring in a huge jumping ring... I'm spoiled there). Why was it SO easy for her and SO hard for me? I never rode him out to the ring along the track, and she rode him out there and in the open. He did throw his attitude fits, but I watched how she pushed right through them and kept him moving. So I asked her what I was doing wrong... well, nothing too drastic. Since she rode him for the first few times under saddle before I adopted him, she knew his level of training and could see that I had put forth the effort. I was not being firm enough with my discipline and didn't engage his hind end as much as I could be to pick up the pieces and work on balance. So was this a simple balance issue all along?
I worked on being more firm, letting Spyder find his balance, and things started to come together. They were coming together so well so I decided to take him to a despooking clinic with Frank Sweet in July. It was ironic that I was back at SRF with my horse for that clinic because it was one year to the day that I had him. Oh what fun it is in an English saddle getting yelled at by a cowboy, "Go forward, get your horse forward!" ... with no spurs, no cowgirl skills, and no real power behind my leg. Let's just say we trampled a plastic scary bunny, jumped over some fake crows, ran through pool noodles, freaked on a tarp, danced through hanging ropes, looked at our reflection in balloons, and walked over a bridge. It was super fun, and I was so happy that Margaret and Katie were able to join me on their horses (even if we did break down and have to call for rescue on the way home with the trailer). I was happy to know that Spyder being so young wasn't the reason he was scared as so many older horses at the clinic were, and it was great to learn the skills to help me through our fears. I just wasn't assuring him that I was really asking him to do something, but once I did, we got through the obstacles fairly well and had a great day.
This was when things started looking up again...