Saturday, June 18, 2011

Slamming a Door Shut

Well, thank goodness that's over with. My Husband has replaced my laptop and spent yesterday setting it up for me. I think he likes me. :-)

The last week has been a roller coaster of emotions for me. In general, I am a Steady Eddie. What you see is what you get. I like everyone to be happy, I believe in positive reinforcement and I try to approach things with a smile first. Not last week.

Tuesday before last's lesson was awful. Not awful technically....actually, I did pretty well....but awful personally. I didn't go for Burgers and Beers because I thought the top of my head was going to blow off and I would come across the table at someone. This was the first time I didn't go. At the end of lesson, I was telling LA that another boarder was going to show me some pleasure driving exercises for Gem. LA came down hard with discouraging this approach. Unfortunately, this conversation was taking place in front of my classmates. As LA finished telling me how Gem was going to turn into a fire breathing dragon and rip my arms off (my interpretation of her safety talk), CA contributed to the conversation by stating that SHE thought that Gem showed signs of disrespect towards me when we had free lunged him and he could be a problem in an unfamiliar situation. It was at this point, the top of my head was getting ready to blow off. I don't remember much after that. I felt like I had been ganged up on. I felt that the excitement that I felt for Gem's new found talent had been sucked out of me. I felt incompetent and a bit betrayed by LA and CA. I think it took me 5 minutes to untack Gem and water him and get the heck out of there.

Now granted, my stress level lately (Board Meeting, Dad's illness and surgery) has made my skin very thin. And, CA has always provided comments because we ride on Sundays, so there is that level of familiarity. But something that happens on a regular basis is that, when we go for Burger and Beers after lesson, Gem ends up being made an example of. Yep, because he's not a robot school horse he is considered a "challenge", according to some of my classmates. Usually, I just remind them in a smiley way that he's not a robot horse and we move on. But, the negativity has been percolating for a while now and has started to boil over. There would have been no way I could have sat through yet another conversation at Burger and Beers focused on how Gem could be improved or how he could kill me if I teach him to drive. It wouldn't have been pretty.

CA did reach out via email that night. She knew I was upset with her. I have a "sleep on it" rule, so I responded to her the next day. We met on Sunday to talk about it. It was not a satisfactory conversation really. She became defensive and so did I. According to CA, training and the environment at a stables is always negative. You learn by being told what you are doing wrong. I agree with that to a point (LA's teaching is positive and negative balanced, which I like). She did apologize for jumping in the conversation with LA, but she did tell me that I would have to accept that barn environment was negative in general and the comments she makes are "constructive criticism". I explained that if advice is asked for, yes, it's "constructive". But if it's unsolicited, then it's just rude and discouraging....for me, anyway. I pointed out that I would never initiate a negative conversation about her horse in front of others, so why wouldn't the same courtesy be extended to me? We walked away still friends, but I don't think our relationship will be the same.

I spoke to LA about it. She did agree that the conversation about driving could have been taken off-line, but she did reiterate that she was against having a non-professional person showing me how to do something that could potentially be dangerous if not handled properly. I totally agreed with her. We talked about barn environment and how I was finding that it was chipping away at my confidence. She had an excellent point; she told me that she overhears our conversations when CA and I ride in the arena on Sundays. She hears CA making comments, giving advice, telling me how to do things. LA pointed out that I had opened the door to negative feedback and familiarity by accepting it initially and then allowing it to continue. If I wanted things to change, then perhaps it was time to shut the door. She said that she would be more than willing to take 10 minutes out of her Sunday routine to show me how to do something or if I had a question about something I could always talk to her. She was very supportive and encouraging. She told me that my skill level is right on par with ALL other classmates and congratulated me (again) because I have to work twice as hard as they do because Gem is big and is not a school horse! I started to cry. :-)

So, I have closed a door. No more negative feedback for this girl. I will not allow myself to be sucked in to the negativity of those around me and I will not allow others to chip away at my confidence. Usually, I make arrangements to ride with CA or someone else on Fridays and Sundays because that's my comfort zone. Not last week. I tacked Gem up and rode BY MYSELF in the front paddock. I had my Nano shuffle, the sun was shining, it was quiet around the stables and it was amazing. I was quite pleased with myself.

So you see, one door shuts but another opens. There was a positive that came out of all the negativity that I have been experiencing with riding lately. I sort of feel that I am entering a new stage in my riding experience. It was confirmed that I am as good a rider as my other classmates! Yay! I can ride BY MYSELF! Yay! This new-found confidence that I have was evident in my lesson on Tuesday....I loped Gem in a SMALL circle twice! Yay! Everyone did really well, in fact. BTW, I went for Burgers and Beers after. We were happy and pumped and congratulated each other on how well we did.... positivity is contagious!!


  1. Good deal that you were able to come through that with a positive outcome. There's nothing worse than unsolicited advice - it can be poisonous as well as downright useless. Mark Rashid has a rule - he never offers advice or help unless a horseperson directly asks for it. I also disagree that progress comes from criticism or being told what you're doing is wrong - progress comes from suggestions on how to do something differently to produce a better outcome and by building on the good and mostly just letting the bad drop away, as it will. Same thing really for how we work with our horses.

  2. Agreed, Kate! Poisonous is an excellent description. Building on the good is the motivator and that is how I have tried to approach life in general. Hope your recovery is going well!

  3. Glad to hear you came out of this experience with more confidence and positive thinking. I've been at many barns and there is always someone who thinks they know everything about how to ride and they have no problem telling you how awful you or your horse is. Good for you for shutting the door on that sort of commentary. Not everyone realizes how hard it is to ride a big horse who isn't a robot. It's nice that you are able to remain friends and have beer and burgers still.

    It's usually true that when one door shuts another one opens. Good riding this week with or without company.

  4. I agree also, Kate. And add that there are people in all walks of life who will leach the pleasure out of a bowl of ice cream.

  5. Really excellent post on a way too familar topic. The comments you've had so far are awesome too. As for Gem, I always go back to what a friend of mine once said: if we wanted to ride horses that were perfect all the time we'd all be riding ATVs instead.

  6. I my experiences I have noticed that the people who speak negatively to you or about you may well be envious of your happy spprit and positive attitude and chooses to focus on the negative. It can be horribly contagious if you let it. Good for you for recognizing it and moving on with a nod and a smile. Gem's a lucky guy. You've come a long way and I'm glad it was recognized. Positive feed back is wonderful!

  7. Thanks everyone for YOUR positive feedback! :-)

    GHM - Thanks! I know you appreciate how difficult it can be sometimes motivating a big horse! Your beautiful Erik.... :-)

    Barbara - You are so right....there are people out there that can suck the joy out of anything!

    Story - "if we wanted to ride horses that were perfect all the time we'd all be riding ATVs instead" Love it and I am going to use it!!

    Mary - Hmmm, maybe they ARE envious... :-)

  8. I had a big lesson on "boundaries" with my horse last weekend. Be very clear and consistent about them. It's unproductive (and unfair) to accept behaviors sometimes but not always. Horses teach us so much don't they!

    Great job riding on your own!! And great job recognizing the positive side of a seemingly negative situation.

  9. Wolfie, I can relate, and I admire how you kept your focus on you and Gem, the horse you know, not the horse others might want him to be, think him to be, assume him to be, blah, blah, blah. When unsolicited advice comes my way, I always look for the agenda. My horses keep me so busy, I don't have time to tell anybody what to do with theirs, you know? Now if only I had the discipline to practice your "sleep on it" rule. You are so right about that. I will try harder to nail that rule down.

  10. The barn I used to be at was full of this kind of thing - and I have to agree, non-professionals giving advice is as dangerous as back yard brain surgery. There is one woman who tells everyone that they need to:

    Ride in a tom thumb (the worst bit for a horse)
    Cinch up super tight all at once (hmm, maybe this is why all her horses are cinchy)
    Buy saddles for their bling (no idea about trees and saddle fit)

    When we're new we try to get information from everywhere. At least I did. If we're lucky we find good teachers. If not, we learn plenty we have to undo as time goes on.

    Sounds like you are on a good path.

    The idea that a barn is where all advice is negative sure makes it sound like she had one messed up childhood.

  11. Wolfie, I know absolutely nothing about horses; what I know about is greyhounds. But what we all have in common is that we are all living beings. What I like about your relationship with Gem is that you acknowledge and respect Gem's living breathing self. You have a great relationship with your horse, and truly want to discover more about yourself and about Gem.

    Keep it all positive, Wolfie! Trust your gut. :-)

  12. I didn't go into as much detail as you, but that is the problem we've been having with other people and Jimmy. It's difficult being surrounded by "push-button" ponies when yours is not. I'm extremely lucky in that my barn owners know Jimmy's history and his issues, and are very supportive and understanding of what we are trying to do with him. We can go to them for help, but if we don't ask and we're not doing anything dangerous, they don't jump in.

    Back when I first got Socks, someone told me I was lucky to have a challenging horse, because she would teach me how to truly ride. I truly believe that in the long run, Gem will help you to become a much better rider. He teaches you to pay attention and constantly be aware of him, and psuhes you to ride better. And what else could you ask for from a perfect riding partner?

  13. I have to admit I've made the same mistake CA made, I had to apologize to someone last week for making a comment I shouldn't have. You really want to be helpful but don't realize that you're really just being annoying. Maybe the difference is that I realized that on my own...

    I can see where LA is coming from about the driving, it's really easy to go too quickly too soon and get in a really nasty situation, but I don't see why you'd have to permanently table it.

    Your barn should NOT be negative! That's the number one reason why I left my old barn. All that passive-aggressiveness directed at me made me too uncomfortable.

  14. My trainer and I have been together a long time. We've been through 4 horses and I think it's about 17 years now.

    We don't always agree and the irony she's the one who taught me to listen to my horse and to know my horse. She has always encouraged me to think independently and make up my own mind.

    For a long time I thought I'd *never* get it and lessons could be very stressful sometimes.

    Having thought it over some time ago I decided I pay my trainer to help me be better at this and that's how I would assess the relationship.

    I don't take lessons very often. I tend to be sloppy by nature and I need to be tuned up now and then. I basically pay my trainer to yell at me for an hour.

    She really does help me be better at this and everyone agrees I'm lucky I have a good horse.

  15. Yes... we have definitely all been there. I think that people believe they are being helpful when the offer unsolicited advice, but it often has the effect of making us feel incompetent or judged. It's a good rule not to offer advice unless specifically asked for it, and in general I expect my barn mates to be sympathetic and supportive and not to critique me unless I say, "what do you think?" or "what would you do?" It sounds like you handled the situation like an adult which is always the most important part and sometimes harder than it sounds. I think your trainer was looking out for your safety, and I agree that working with a non-pro on a new skill can be problematic, but hopefully in the future she will be more aware of having these discussions in front of others. And so glad that you turned it around and had a lovely ride on your own! I am sure Gem could tell you were in a good mood and was a good boy for you as a result. So nice when our horses cheer us up like that!

  16. You know, I hate to say it, but how much of this could be a little bit of jealousy?? Gem is a big, beautiful hunk of horse. He may not be push button, but how much fun is that anyway? :) I think you're doing a great job-you love your horse, and you are making progress while maintaining a positive, lovely relationship with him. What more could you ask for? Trying new things with horses (like driving) rarely happen without bumps and growing pains, but that's OK. Horses forgive our mistakes and we forgive theirs:)

  17. Wow, thank you everyone for your kind and supportive comments! I feel rejuvenated!

    Calm – You are absolutely correct about maintaining boundaries. I think I am pretty good at this when it comes to ground manners. Convincing Gem to work as a team when we ride is still a work in progress. :-) I am quite pleased for riding on my own!

    Muddy K – The focus really is on Gem and our quality of life together. I will tell you, the “sleep on it” rule is hard, but it is one that I have to do. It wouldn’t be pretty otherwise!

    Breathe – When you are a newbie it seems everyone wants to participate in your experience. Sometimes that’s good if it’s a validation of something you did. I do research and I pretty much end up doing what I think is best based on my research. Constantly defending my actions and my horse’s personality is exhausting.

    Detroit Dog – I have 3 dogs as you know, and in some ways I approach my horse and dogs the same way. I do respect them and I appreciate their personalities and work towards mutual respect and courtesy for each other. I want them to want to be with me because they want to, not because they don’t have a choice. So far, so good! :-)

    Cjay – I am glad that you are in a supportive environment with Jimmy. I believe that I am lucky that Gem is a bit of a challenge; that’s one of the reasons why I chose him. He will make me a better rider and when we finally are riding as a real team, it will be that much sweeter!

    Shannon – Good for you for apologizing. :-) Just to be clear, I totally agree with LA re the safety aspects of re-familiarizing Gem to driving, but I have not permanently walked away from it. We talked about finding a professional and I have located a stables not far from where I am that gives driving lessons. I am going to give it a go. And, I agree; a barn should not be so negative - it's supposed to be fun.

    ltd – What a wonderful relation you must have with your trainer – 17 years! Wow. You bring up an interesting point. Thinking independently. I need to work on this area. Perhaps I have been too dependent on others. Now that you mention it, I believe that CA approaches her training as she pays someone to tell her what she’s doing wrong, not what she’s doing right.

    Marissa – LA was absolutely looking out for what was best for Gem and for me. Safety first. You know, he was a good boy when we rode on our own! We were chilling out to some great tunes (The Stones, Roy Orbison, Lady Gaga, Janet Jackson, Chris Isaac, to name a few). :-)

    Sarah – Jealousy? Maybe. But, if I were someone else looking at me and my horse, I would be happy for me. :-) One of the things I love about Gem is that he isn’t push-button. He keeps me on my toes. I love my Terrors – I mean, Terriers – for the same reason. :-)

  18. I love how you changed all that negativity to come up shining with so much positive energy! And all the comments you've had are just fab, what a great bunch of people!

    Being shy & quiet, I tend to be on the receiving end of a lot of supposedly 'helpful' comments but am practising being more assertive (at 47, about time too!) -- shall remember your 'one door shuts & another opens' post when I'm dithering about being assertive!

    And get you, riding ON YOUR OWN!! And loping TWICE! Go Wolfie!! I'm so pleased for you & so glad for what LA said about your riding abilities & how you handle Gem {BIG HUGS} Joy xx

  19. Joy - All of my blogger friends rock. They/you are simply great. :-) You know, I think I smiled all the way home after I rode on my own. Good luck with your assertiveness training - the first few times you walk away or say "no thank you" are tough, but if you remind yourself it's for the sake of your sanity, it gets easier. :-) Thanks for the virtual hugs!

  20. Wolfie

    P.S. - I wasn't clear in my comment, but I meant to say that the boundaries thing helps with humans too, re: unsolicited advice ;)

  21. Calm - Thanks for the clarification! ;-)

  22. Dear Wolfie:
    I've written you before as my dad trains horses for driving and he owns a champion driving Canadian stallion (top in Oregon in several classifications).
    Two thoughts:
    1. Opinions are like bottoms. Everyone has one but it doesn't mean they are worth much.
    2. Driving is absolutely wonderful and Canadians have a long history with it. Having said that, if you become serious about it, it might be worth finding a trainer that knows something about the techniques for teaching/refreshing a horse to do it. You should also take lessons. It is harder than it looks (but sooo very fun!).
    Either way, I enjoy reading about your journey with your boy.

  23. I didn't really put it together until after reading your post, but it was the same for me. When I was at a barn I started to become almost dependent on others and afraid of a million "what ifs" with my horses. I believed I had to have a trainer to do anything. I even sent my horses to the trainer each spring for a tune-up. Now that I think about it, that may have been why I was so under-confident when I came back to horses because when I was younger I was on my own and didn't know if I was making mistakes...who knows, maybe I wasn't. It's a unique process.

    Beautiful Mustang

  24. Hello Colleen! Of course, I remember you! :-) Would love to see pictures of your dad's horse... I appreciate your "thoughts". I have seen some training videos and it certainly is harder than it looks! I bought a beautiful leather harness from a local person who drives Canadians and I have found a place that gives lessons. I am going to give it a don't know until you try, right? Thanks for your support.

    You know, Linda, I didn't realize it until I rode by myself how dependent I had become on my buddies! I understand completely what you are saying. At my age, Gem will be my only horse. I need to get over it and fast-track my confidence so that I get the most out of our relationship over the 20 years we have together. ;-) Hope your beautiful Wolfhound Riagan is well!

  25. Wolfie,
    This is what a Canadian can do with a cart...

    It is a lot of fun and you can take your friends!

  26. Ack. forgot to add that you need to click on the Luca folder.

  27. Hi Colleen! Thanks! I tried, but it says I need to log in with my Apple ID. :-( I'd be delighted to see your picture if you want to send it to me via email at

  28. I disagree that training and advice atmosphere in barns is always negative. At BOTH of my barns, the atmosphere is very relaxed, and might I add that I compete at both. I think that all it takes to have a tension-free, calm, relaxed atmosphere is a good relationship with everyone. And even when I had TJ (an old "friend" now, but back then she was an enemy) competing with me at one of my barns, I still had loads of fun and wasn't too pressured. The way I see it is that no one but you and your trainer needs to tell you how to train your horse. And even then, your gut is more important than anyone else's advice about your horse, especially if their advice is negative.

    Because no one knows your horse better than you!

  29. Excellent observations, Gabriella. And, you are correct - no one knows my horse better than me! :-) Nice to hear from you.