Friday, June 22, 2012


I started this post Wednesday night, finished it Thursday, and am editing it Friday.  I'm a lot calmer and more rational now, but figured I'd keep the majority of what I originally wrote, to document my feelings at the time.

SweetPea and VH and I were going to ride on the trails tonight (Wednesday).  VH was kind enough to trailer two of her horses out (one for SweetPea to ride, since Flash is off after the endurance ride).  I got there a little before they did, got Trigger out, took him to the arena but he didn't feel like running or rolling, so I took him down to the tree, groomed him, and tacked him up.  The gals showed up and got their horses ready.  I took Trigger to the mounting block and got on.  He felt fine, and I actually felt fairly good, too.  A few butterflies, but I was ready to DO this thing.  I walked him toward the barn to meet the gals and their horses, and as we approached the barn, he sped up a little.  I went to turn him so we'd be perpendicular to the barn instead of headed right INTO it, and he got pissy.  At first I figured he was just evading, like the night before when we were trying to get him to go back into the roundpen.  But then there was no mistaking it--he crowhopped.

I was worried about coming off in an unplanned way, plus worried his saddle wasn't fitting right (when we moved it forward before, he didn't buck anymore after), so I hopped off and moved his saddle forward.  SweetPea didn't believe me that he crowhopped, and thought I was just being paranoid.

With the saddle fixed, I took him back down to the mounting block and got on him again.  This time, he hardly waited before he started getting pissy.  I stayed on for a bit, and even had a brief moment of "I can stay on through this" but then the hops got a little bigger and I really panicked.  It didn't help that SweetPea was telling me to get off, and VH was telling me to stay on.  I bailed...if I'm gonna hit the ground, I want it to be feet-first and on purpose.

Of course, now I've taught him that if he acts up enough, I get off.  So VH took him to the round pen and got on and walked and trotted him around in circles without much (if any?) fuss.  I was in tears, and trying to fight them, but just so frustrated with him and the troubles I've been having, with myself for not having the balls to just stay on him and ride it out, with the barn for completely unrelated reasons (more on that later, plus more I haven't really written about in here), and had a ton of thoughts racing through my head.  The tears just kept flooding out.  SweetPea and I chatted and I wept while VH rode.  I suggested they trail ride without me.  VH offered to let me ride one of her horses, but I honestly didn't feel like I should be getting on a horse in the state I was in.  So they left, DW (the horse) went crazy, and I felt overwhelmed all over again.  He seemed like he just might trample me while going insane when his buddy left.  I managed to get him into the roundpen and took the "bit" portion of the bridle off (it's a hackamore, but I undid the "bit hangers" from the convertible halter/bridle), and let him go be crazy.  VH had said it was fine to leave his saddle on and that he wouldn't roll, but I worried.  I settled in to a lawnchair nearby to watch the fireworks.  He paced and called, and even bucked and reared a time or two, but then seemed to settle in. 

I needed to pick up the poop DW had deposited on the lawn, so I got out the poop rake and a wheelbarrow, and took care of it, then decided a little physical labor might do me some good, and if nothing else, I could cry while I scooped poop just as well as I could cry sitting in a chair, so I went to clean Trigger's paddock.  I don't know how long it had been since it had last been cleaned, but this is how it looked when I started:

This is how many wheelbarrows full of poop I removed (luckily it was sun-baked and lightweight, but unfortunately, it didn't provide the physical labor aspect I was kind of hoping for):

Yes, FIVE wheelbarrows full.  Well, not SUPER full, because the poop was so light it would have bounced out if I'd heaped it really high.  The final load was way too full, but then I piled wet gross hay on top of it, so it mostly stayed put while I wheeled it down the bumpy trail to the manure pile.  Here's the paddock when it was done:

And this is the pile of crappy hay that was in front of his feeding tub.  It's quite a ways from his water, so I don't think he got it wet on his own, or that it got wet when they dumped the water (though I guess it's possible, if it was FULL when they dumped it and it traveled that far before soaking in).  I haven't had him long, but I know Trigger well enough to know he wouldn't pee in his food.  The other option is the hay was already like that and they tried to feed it to him but he wouldn't touch it.

You can't really tell in these photos that it was completely soggy, and much yellower than the fresh clean hay in his bucket.

But it was BLACK under it--I don't know how long it had been there.  I hadn't noticed it the night before, but might have just assumed it was with his good hay (or it might have been under good hay, and he picked the good stuff off and/or the good stuff got ruined by the bad stuff).
Anyway, my mind is racing with anxiety, frustration, sadness, and anger (the anger is directed solely at the barn manager, don't worry).

My mind is reeling with thoughts and options.  The way I see it, I have a few options:

  • Sell him and turn around and buy a plodder of a horse I can build my confidence with.  Does this just delay the inevitable, since I do want to do endurance, and will eventually want an Arab, which will likely come with "issues" that will need confidence?  I don't WANT to sell Trigger--I really like his personality, and he's great on the ground, I'm just afraid to ride him at this point.
  • Sell him and focus on losing weight and taking lessons.  This is a tempting option.  Not that I want to sell Trigger--I'm not one to back out of a commitment, and as I mention above, I love HIM, I'm just too afraid of hitting the ground.  But if I spent board money on a gym membership and lessons, I would be better prepared to buy a horse in the fall, when everyone's trying to sell so they don't have to feed a horse through the winter.  I can still help my friends at their endurance rides to get my "fix," and would probably be able to ride their dead-broke horses once in a while.  Or maybe even join up with that riding program again to get occasional riding in on dead-heads.
  • Keep him, and get lessons and/or training.  I'm thinking a combination of a trainer who is willing to get on him and teach him what's what (and maybe even start him in a bit and refine his bending and lateral cues, etc.) and an instructor who will teach me how to work with Trigger (first on the ground, then riding) as well as improving my riding on one of their own horses, if such qualities exist all in one person in this area.  This is likely an expensive proposition, doesn't solve my boarding problems, but means I get to keep working with a horse I like, and don't have to go back to the drawing board on searching for a horse.
I'm honestly concerned I'm too big for him, hence leaning toward the middle of those three options--losing weight before getting back into horses.  CAN a horse carry my weight?  Yes.  Should it have to?  Not really.  And I'll feel better and be a better rider if I drop 50 pounds or so.

Well, now it's Friday, and I'm leaning toward keeping him, and working with a trainer.  Yep, the most expensive option.  Ugh.  But I do love HIM, just need to build MY confidence and ride through it.  AND lose weight.  Hmm...

Anyone recommend a trainer/instructor who works with human and and horse and has good school horses I can regain confidence on?


  1. My opinion is that you should not say "I will do X once I lose weight." If there's any way for you to X now, you should do X.

    You mentioned a gym membership; and while conventional wisdom says that exercising leads to weight loss, research studies suggest that even when exercise is enough to greatly increase physical fitness, weight loss doesn't usually result. (Also, of the the people in the national weight control who lost weight and kept it off one year, only 1% lost weight via exercise alone.)

    I would probably pick the third option or the first option.

    1. Your first paragraph is why I went ahead and bought a horse even though I weigh more than I should. However, I do need to lose weight. For me, for my health, so I can stand to look at myself in the mirror, and also so I can feel confident riding my horse, that I'm not hurting him.

  2. Hi Shawna, I'm Melissa, and I think we're living the same life. :-)

    I was born horse crazy. I had horses as a teen, and then had to sell them when I went to college. That began a long period without horses -- and of weight gain. In my mid 30s I jumped back into horses again, and I hoped to someday do endurance. I was probably 75lbs overweight, and I had forgotten everything I used to know. I had the horses for three or four years, but I rarely rode. I came off soon after I got them and broke a finger, and after that I was really scared.

    Zoom forward to the present. I'm starting over, but I'm doing it right. I'm on a three-year plan.

    * I'm losing weight via Paleo -- 50lbs so far, but right now I'm down to where I was 8 years ago when I got my horses. The diet is what results in weight loss, but I'm also getting in shape. I'm in MUCH better shape now than I was 8 years ago.

    * I'm starting riding lessons (from the beginning, even though I technically know more than that). In 2013 when I've lost more weight and have more horses "open" to me, I want lessons on different horses that will challenge me. By the way, I am not scared any longer, probably because I'm more physically fit.

    * I'm actually studying the USPC Manual of Horsemanship books. I'm going to have my instructor make me pass the different riding AND written tests.

    * In 2013 I'm also going to start working with some of the safer horses my instructor gets in for training, so I can relearn my handling skills.

    * In 2014, the lessons will continue, but I'll see about having my instructor let me do some of the rehabbing of horses at my place. They'll still be her horses and her financial responsibility, but I can provide space for one or two, and I would take over the care.

    * In 2015, I either get my own horse or lease one. At this point I will have EARNED it, and I will know I have the knowledge and experience to handle it. If anything happens before this, I can stop without having made the huge financial commitment of horse ownership.

    1. Hi, Melissa. Thanks for your detailed response! You sound very organized and committed. Since I do already own the horse, and at this point, am planning to keep him, I don't think I'll space my goals out quite that much, but will definitely need to take my time improving my skills and working with him on the ground before trying to ride again.

    2. My plan is that long for financial reasons. Believe me -- I'd get back into horses much sooner, if I could.

      But let me say this. It took me a long time to admit it, but I made a MISTAKE jumping into horses the way I did. Even if money were not an issue, I wouldn't do it again until I had lost the weight, gotten fit, and taken lessons for at least a year.

      I got hurt and scared because I made bad choices. After I got hurt, I sent that horse to a trainer. Even when I trusted his trainer, I couldn't ride because *I* wasn't in shape for it. I lacked balance and strength, because I was so top heavy.

      That horse is with a dear friend, so I can still see him. He's happier, because he's doing work he enjoys, which he'd have never done with me.

      Listen to your fear. It's trying to keep you safe. At the very least, take lessons.

  3. Shawna AND Melissa: I have been through this too. You are not alone! I have done medifast to get rid of the worst of the chub, but mostly I just try to avoid a lot of white carbs and sugar these days. I will never be thin, but I joined our local community center's yoga and pilates group so I can be stronger, flexible and balanced, regardless of my body type. There are ladies a lot bigger than me in that class who can do the moves I haven't worked up to yet. Do not despair!

    Shawna: REpeat after me— You don't HAVE to have an Arabian to do endurance. I started riding endurance on a chunky solid paint. He was a great horse, and I'd buy him right back if the people who own him would consider it. He was too slow and lazy to win at endurance, but he was rock-solid no matter where I took him. He was trustworthy, and I understand now why that matters so much.

    Anyway, because he was slow and lazy, but also a four-legged angel, I sold him for a small fortune so I could buy a faster horse for endurance. That horse was Otto, who I mention on my blog sometimes and who now belongs to my [much fitter] friend, Laurie. He is a very talented endurance horse, just as I knew he would be. But he wasn't right for me.

    Otto is an arab cross. Fast and tireless, and also spooky and unpredictable. I am chubby and top-heavy, and every crow-hop and side spook forced me off-center and many of them resulted in falls or bailing off. These were moves my fitter friends could probably sit through.

    That horse made me consider quitting riding. I NEVER wanted to ride him. I dreaded every ride. I put money into his training, which improved him, and I took lessons, which improved me... but still, at a basic gut level, I didn't trust him. And I still don't. He has made great strides in his behavior with his new owner, but I have zero desire to ride him. When I see him at rides, I like to pet him and talk to him, but I don't consider getting on.

    I finally made peace with that fact. He was my third arab cross in my 30 years, and he will be my last. They were all too sensitive for the kind of rider that I am, and for a long time I WAS TOO PROUD to admit I couldn't handle them.

    So now I have Blue, the mustang. And yes, he frustrates me sometimes. And he will probably never be a top 10 50-mile horse. But I am not coming in dead last either. And I'm not afraid of him. He's older than any other horse I've owned since I was a kid. I had a whole run of young stock for a while there. I realize now there is nothing wrong with owning a horse whose age is in the double digits. That was just my pride again.

    I don't think you need a plodder. But I do think that if you want to be able to get into endurance right now with where you are mentally and fitness-wise, my experience would say that you need to dial back your pride and find something you connect with. My friend Heather has a wonderful standardbred who is big enough to carry a heavyweight and absolutely BENT on pleasing her rider. It is her mission in life to be a good girl. As a breed they are just as fast or faster than arabs, and a heck of a lot more sensible. Just ask Aarene!

    You see all kinds of horses at the rides. Have you seen the appy drafter yet? That horse is 1800lbs if he's an ounce, and he's completing 50s.

    Ask yourself why you want a young horse, and why you want a breed known for a hot/sensitive temperament. Really dig down. IF the reason is pride or wanting to fit in, I suggest discarding that toxic thought process and start looking for a horse that you can honestly said "I'd rather be ridin'!"

    (Like right now for instance I would like to be riding Blue instead of working on the blasted PNER newsletter. That's why I'm reading horse blogs!!)

  4. Hi Shawna, North Horse here! I totally agree with Ruth.

    Two years ago, I bought an Arabian cross that was just right for endurance. He had the right conformation, the right energy, the right trot, everything. He had great ground manners and was pretty well broke. He crossed water and was okay with traffic. In short, he was perfect. And I absolutely DREADED riding him.

    He wanted to move out, to push, to challenge me, and as a result, every ride felt like a test of wills. Even when he started out pretty calm, I was still nervous because of previous rides, and that made HIM nervous, which made ME more nervous... it was a horrible cycle. Our personalities completely clashed. I felt miserable, and eventually had to force myself to ride. I questioned my horsemanship abilities, my willpower, my weight, everything. I thought, "Dear God, this horse would be perfect for endurance and I am a giant unskilled chicken-shit who is screwing this up."

    After a year, I got so damned tired of being afraid and self-doubting that I finally sold him. It was one of the hardest things I'd ever done, because it felt like I wasn't just selling a horse, I was giving up on myself and my dreams of endurance.

    In the meantime, I got Annie trained up. Annie, of course, is a massive 1,200 pound tank of a QH, long-backed and cow-hocked. I started riding her...
    ...and fell back in love with riding.

    It was like waking up from a terrible nightmare. It was like being free from a year-long migraine. I no longer made excuses to go to the barn. I actually WANTED to try new things in the saddle, because I knew Annie and I couldn't handle it, or at least muddle through without dying. I regained a ton of confidence, because on THIS horse, my horsemanship skills worked great. On THIS horse, I didn't have to worry about every tiny trail obstacle. On THIS horse, I could finally have FUN!

    No amount of training or willpower or weight loss or lessons will make you feel good on a horse that you don't click with. It's like a relationship; if you don't fit, it's no one's fault, but don't try to stay together! Trigger is a good horse, and you are a good person, but it really sounds like you aren't good together.

    I vote for selling Trigger and finding a new horse that makes you happy. Yeah, MAYBE someday you and I will magically be skinny and better riders and less chicken, and we will somehow come to like horses with "stronger" personalities...but why make our lives miserable until then?

    Ruth has also got it ride about breeds. Yeah, Arabians are "the thing to have" for endurance, but ANY horse breed CAN do it. And if you DO happen to get a slower plodder with less "go" (like Annie) there's always Limited Distance and Competitive Distance events, where speed isn't such a big deal. Personally, I have never met an Arabian that I clicked with, and I should have realized that long before I bought that gelding.

    I know exactly what you're going through, and I wish you the best of luck!

    ~North Horse