Gem and I celebrated our 3rd anniversary last week. I wish I could say that we celebrated with a great lesson. :-( I have been in weekly lesson for almost 4 years now, and have been riding Gem for 3 of those years. The first couple of years, I was concentrating on myself really....trying to learn how to sit and stay in the saddle. :-) When it comes to lesson, Gem has moments where he is a delight to be around and I can really feel the magic of a partnership. But, regularly he has moments of rudeness and pushiness and wants nothing to do with the task at hand. I can tell what kind of ride it's going to be like from how mouthy he is when we tack up. :-)
Well, the last 2 lessons sucked. Gem pinned his ears more often than not at the other riders if they got within 6 feet of his personal space. Trotting and loping were not on his agenda. Head tossing was a regular occurrence. Last week's lesson was so horrible, in fact, that I seriously considered quitting lessons right then and there.
I admit that I am a push-over when it comes to disciplining Gem because I am not comfortable with some of the methods used by other riders at my barn. I am not into aggressive kicking, smacking or pulling of reins. I know people roll their eyes when they see me trying to convince Gem to work with me. I am not adverse to a swift kick if necessary or the use of my crop on his shoulder to keep him focused. But, bottom line is I would like him to want to do what I ask.
I steamed about last week's lesson for days. Yep, it was that bad. I replayed our usual lesson routine in my in my head trying to figure out what the heck was going on. Yes, Gem suffers from the spring grumpies, but I realized that his behaviour is nothing new; he has always acted this way. Why hasn't he improved in this area??! Why is it regularly a test of wills when we are in lesson? It's a hard pill to swallow when you can see improvements in so many other areas, but he still has a tendency to act in a discourteous manner towards me when it comes to lesson. As I racked my brain, my inadequacies as a rider started to bubble to the top and I felt my confidence start to diminish. Yep, I must be the worst rider ever. My horse doesn't want to ride with me. Just as I started to sink into the depths of my pity party, I started to think of the great trail rides we have had together over the last 8 months. It doesn't matter what the weather is, he loves going out in -12C or 28C. He loves watching the wildlife and the golfers and I love watching him. Truly in that area we have grown more and more in our relationship. And, that's when the penny dropped.....
Gem doesn't like lessons. Period. When I push rewind and think about our lessons in general, I see a horse that is trying hard to tolerate a repetitive situation, but sometimes he just can't. I believe his rude attitude is one of boredom. When we warm up or are in the loping part of our lesson, I can almost feel him thinking, “what the heck is the point of this?” He knows the lesson routine too well and will anticipate what is up next without me cuing him. If poles are part of lesson, he is a different horse. He enjoys the change and it shows in his willingness to participate. He has fun trotting and loping over the poles or weaving through them. Gem needs a purpose and to feel accomplishment. Running around in circles doesn't quite do it for him.
One of my blogger friends (sorry, I can't remember who!) mentioned a while back that he might be bored. Up until now, I didn't understand. I assumed that horses didn't mind being in an arena or in lesson. When they aren't out with the herd, the horses that Gem rides with in our lesson are trained lesson or ex-reining horses who have spent many years in an arena environment. Their calm work attitude is what I based my assumption on. But, in his first life, Gem was out 24/7 and when he was ridden, it was out on the trails. He only started spending time in an arena when he partnered up with me.
The vet who gave Gem is pre-purchase exam and the vet that I use here both said that Gem is really smart and would need to be challenged. My job was to make sure he used his powers for good instead of evil. :-) I thought being in lesson would be challenge enough for him, because it sure was for me! :-) I can see now that I was mistaken. But what to do? I want to continue taking lessons because I do believe they serve a purpose for both of us. I will continue to ask LA if we can include poles in our lessons to add some variety. But what do I do to keep him interested and focused during those lessons when poles are not included?? I am frustrated that I can't convince Gem that if he does homework with me, our rides, inside and out, will be soooooo much better.....Any ideas??!