The end of May brought my first sessions back around a horse! I took two lessons in groundwork with one of my trainer’s lesson horses, Loki, before then taking my first swing at bat back with Sully this past Sunday.
While my trainer found my desire to start with groundwork refreshing, I saw it as necessary. I haven’t had a refresher on proper groundwork since I was a teen, and it showed badly in Sully’s manners.
With my trainer’s guidance I have been able to gain a huge boost in confidence on the ground around him and any horse. All her horses are trained to not put a toe out of line unless asked. My lessons start from the minute I put that halter on. If I am leading back from a paddock, the horse must step with me, stop with me, back up with me, and respect my space. Back in the stall, I arrange him standing against a wall, untied, and groom one side at a time – pivot to another wall, then groom the other side. If I step away, he has to stay still, and if he doesn’t, then I have to make sure he steps back to where I put him. These fundamentals continue as we work on leading around the arena from the left and right onto lunging to the left and right. Respect space, honor cues, and keep me at the shoulder.
Before sending Sully off for training, grooming tacking leading and lunging were all nightmare tasks. His tendency to constantly ignore me and disobey really shattered my confidence and made me think that surely I was asking incorrectly, leading to inconsistencies as I tried different things, leading to increased disobedience from him. Having these ground lessons make me feel more assured that I am asking the right questions and cannot allow myself to be ignored – ask politely, then louder, then louder still – at which point he usually gets extremely “offended” but then will begin to listen for at least five minutes before testing again 😂. He may not be a typical thoroughbred in speed, but he certainly is typical in sassiness, and his baby brain is still present although he has made huge progress. He is going (albeit like a lazy train) in a lovely frame and right before Reed was born he even attended an off site clinic and looked like a dressage horse! Look at that neck muscle development! Look at that frame! Slow and steady with youngsters really DOES pay off.
Being back around him brings up the question: what is next for us? Will I keep him or sell him? What discipline suits him? And what discipline suits me? And do those align?
My trainer and I both agree that beyond the lower levels, it is unlikely he will enjoy a job in dressage nor will his balance and temperament (aka absolute couch potato laziness) allow for much success beyond first level movements. This is fine with me for now, as I can’t say I have upper level aspirations in any discipline at the present moment. Eventing is probably not in his future once challenges like water and ditches begin to present themselves in cross country – he could surprise me, but I know from experience what heart and drive feels like when it comes to event horses and I don’t feel that in him (again, he is young and could still surprise). The one thing I have always sensed from him and my trainer does also (without my prompting) – success as a hunter on the flat and over fences. He has wonderful gaits, a nice plod along tempo, and given more experience over fences I believe his natural cute jump could clean up. He is also uncomplicated under saddle, so the eventuality of him being a perfect mount for the weekend warrior adult ammy hunter seems very likely. Even as a three year old I could leave him in the pasture for a week, hop back on and not fear for my life.
So, as his full immersion in professional boot camp comes to a close at the end of next month, we have a lot to look forward to! I plan to continue on with my dressage trainer, because I enjoy dressage and find rebuilding a more classical position after years of intercollegiate hunters and eventing challenging and rewarding – as well as useful. I also enjoy her methods of teaching which are rooted in traditional German military methods. At home, I am going to reintroduce over fences work and have my delightful hubs help me build a hunter course – and get some shows under his belt this winter! Although I am not sure if I will keep Sully long term, I do see at least another year with him while we see what he’d enjoy being “when he grows up”.
I have been speaking super positively in this post but we are not without our obstacles as we analyze his training and look forward. Stay tuned next Sully Saturday when I reflect on the problems we’ve encountered and how we plan to tackle them before our work as a team begins!