Just a Western Girl in a Hunter World

As I lay here this morning plagued by sore muscles that are seriously impeding my ability to start my day I can’t help but wonder if I have completely lost my ever loving mind.  You see, I’m no quitter.  I’ve never been a quitter.  When I set my mind to something nothing can deter me from my goal.  But today, lucky to be able to move my fingers enough to type I can’t help but wonder if my stubborn will to succeed will be my undoing.

Nearly two years ago I purchased Keno to be my show horse.  I already had a horse, so I was able to pull off the second horse by convincing my husband that “he needed a horse so we could ride together.”  You see, he likes the horses…ok, so maybe he merely tolerates them.  He simply does not understand what drives a otherwise normal person to sacrifice so much time and money for a giant bag of hair that does nothing but drain the bank account.  Even though he does not understand why, he does know that they fill a spot in my soul that has otherwise been vacant since saying good bye to horses when I left the ranch so many years ago.  Even though he saw right through my “you need a horse too” scam, he agreed that Keno should join our family and my two spotties became a little herd.

Keno was a challenge from the start.  He was very insecure and at times overwhelmingly scared of life.  I picked him a trainer I thought could see us through to the show ring while making him “husband safe”.  Long story short, after 10 months of training, Keno was not ready for the show ring any more than he was husband safe.  I took him to Melinda Corigliano, owner of Dream Meadow Arabians, a show trainer who had done wonders with my daughter in hopes that she could teach me to ride this horse whom I had placed all my Western Pleasure hopes and dreams.

It didn’t take real long to realize that my hopes and dreams with Keno as I knew them would have to change.  He was not a western horse.  Keno is very forward and “go-ey”.  Not exactly a quality among those who do well in western pleasure.  I had a decision to make.  Keep Keno and school him as the hunter he is, sell him, or relagate him to the ranks of pasture pet that gets ridden occasionally.

It was not a decision that I took lightly, and frankly it wasn’t a decision I wanted to make at all.  Why couldn’t he just be trained to carry himself western?  Couldn’t I just learn to ride that big floaty trot and make it look like a western jog? 

Aside from not being the western horse I had hoped he would be, he also has a big giant personality.  He is so funny and quirky.  It is really hard not to love him…most of the time.  But then there is what I call his assaloosa side.  He isn’t dangerous, but he is a jerk.  He is smart as a whip and figures things out very quickly.  But, unlike many smart horses who learn so they can be left alone, Keno learns so that he can then try to figure out his own way of doing things. 

We have been with our new trainer for a year now.  In that time Keno went from a stressed out mess who was so unpredictable under saddle that he was scary to a Keno who is so predictable it is scary.  Our typical day with Keno involves him fighting through his warm up (a series of exercises to warm up his body and get his mind right for the lesson ahead), about 10 to 15 minutes of NO.  If you have much experience with Appaloosa’s then you know how expressive their eyes are, Keno’s eyes during this time are basically flipping off the world.  He goes through a few minutes of screw you just about every day.  Once he is warmed up and his screw you switch is turned off then you can get to the task at hand for the day.  

Knowing this about him makes the idea of riding hunt seat all the more terrifying! I mean, I am reasonably secure and balanced in the safety of a big old western saddle with a nice horn to hang on to if his “screw you” takes a drastic turn.  A hunt saddle is nothing more than few small pieces of leather sewn together over a bit of padding.  There are two stirrups (called irons…don’t call them stirrups English riders are always quick to correct you on that mistake) that are attached to the sewn together leather by a small strap of leather.

If I know the peril that I face in making the transition from western to English on a horse who is predictably a jerk for 20-30 minutes of each ride then why in the hell would I, a relitively sane person, put themselves into that position.  I have always said that horse people are a very special brand of crazy and I am no exception.  You see, I had plans for Keno.  I bamboozled my husband to get him.  I dreamed of all the blue ribbons we would win.  And like I said in the very beginning, I am no quitter!

So, here I am.  A western girl trying desperately to find her way in an english world.  I have to admit that the obligatory attitude that Keno has to work through at the beginning of every ride has made for some serious nerves.  I am not necessarily afraid of him.  You see, his attitude is just that….attitude.  He isn’t dangerous or unpredictable.  He does what is asked of him.  He just needs to check your level of commitment to being his leader.  He likes being the leader and each time he hopes that you will decided that today is the day that he gets to make all the decisions.  Sadly, that day has never come for Keno and if I have anything to do with it, it never will.  He may be my partner, but I will always be in charge.

While I know that I am in charge, I do admit that the idea of going toe to toe with him in an English saddle is enough to make me lose sleep!  How can I school him in those moments of “screw you I am doing this my way” when I feel like I can barely keep him between me and the ground.  

Have you ever been in the grocery store with your child and they begin to throw a temper tantrum?  Did you immediately feel as though you couldn’t actually discipline them for their completely outrageous behavior because you didn’t want to be judged by your fellow shoppers?  So instead you try and reason with the unreasonable human you created when what you really want to do is scoop them up and give them a big swat on the behind?  Well, Keno is that unreasonable child and my English saddle is the judgy fellow shoppers.  The thing stopping me from setting firm boundaries with my temper tantrum throwing toddler.

I am not sure if it was the single beer I drank before stepping foot into those irons, or the fact that I was already tired from a long day or that I am finally finding balance and confidence in that teeny tiny little saddle. No matter what the reason, last night I scooped up my rotten toddler and whooped him right on the bare ass….metaphorically speaking of course!  

While I was trying my best to find the correct diagonal and control his direction and speed, I became increasingly frustrated.  Why does he do so good with the trainer and then acts like I am speaking to him in a foreign language?  It was 5 little words that I have heard over and over, but last night I actually “heard them”.  He’s taking advantage of you. Wait, it isn’t that he doesn’t know what I am asking…he is actively avoiding doing it?  That bastard!!  I thought we had this relationship of you take care of me and I’ll be sweet to you?  Just like the toddler in the grocery store knows that mom won’t blister his hide in front of witnesses.  Keno knew that as long as I was unsure of my ability to handle the twists and turns that come from schooling a horse who wants to make his own rules in an English saddle that he could basically do what he wanted and I was along for the ride no matter how frustrated I was…he was in charge.

When it sunk in that he was actively defying me, I decided right then and there that riding this horse with all his quirks meant that I had to buck up.  I had to realize that each ride in that little piece of leather is better than the last.  I had to take comfort in the fact that I didn’t nearly fall off one time…yet.  I had to decide.  I can either find a way to get comfortable schooling Mr. Tantrum Throwing Toddler or I needed to find a horse who could at least meet me half way in this journey to be a better rider.

Have I mentioned that I am no quitter?  Nope, all it took was to realize that just like my toddlers throwing a public temper tantrum thinking they can get away with it, Keno was going to meet a new confident rider in me that night.  The schooling was on.  I’d ask for softness and collection and then I would expect that he keep it.  If he couldn’t keep it then we would circle until he would soften and then back on the rail.  It was a very long process of mere moments of beauty followed by a lot of rounding and softening.  The one thing I can say about this big spotted toddler is that he doesn’t like to give up a fight!  He and I continued in this dance until I was cramped from my lower back to the tips of my toes!  

When we were done, he had a complete change of attitude.  He was soft and relaxed and it was a great time to call it a night.  I don’t for a second believe that this one time will change his approach to arena work, but I certainly know that he will no longer be taking advantage of me in my English saddle!

They say, “Some horse will test you, some horses will teach you and some horses will bring out the best in you.”  I believe Keno is the horse to do all three.  He is not an easy horse, he often won’t even meet his rider half way, he has to have an opinion about every single thing, but he is a great horse.  I believe with all that I have that one day I will look back on how far we have come and know that it was all worth it.  I don’t know if we will win any blue ribbons, or if we will just be content to hack out on the trail (see that fancy English riding term I used there?). What ever the future hold for Keno and me, I know that I am up to the challenge and because he isn’t one to back down from a challenge either I know we will make it.

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4 thoughts on “Just a Western Girl in a Hunter World

  1. I really enjoyed reading this entry. I rode for many years as a hunter. My dream horse has turned out to be a cutting bred paint that ain’t. We started her in a western saddle that turned out to be more comfortable than any dressage saddle. I don’t know if I can ride out her energetic expressions (aka bucking) in my Stubben allpurpose saddle so Western it is. I call my self an English rider in my western saddle. Reinventing myself as a rider has given me a new purpose. And the colors are more fun.

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  2. I just found your blog. I LOVE IT. As a woman who was horsecrazy and who still is, I have been back into my horses since 2005. I have struggled to find my place and finally did with my TWH Jack. In 2013,Jack got progressively sicker with chronic heaves and I began to suffer from back issues. This really worked on my confidence and 4 back surgeries later, I decided that I could not ride anymore. I just couldn’t risk the injuries at my age (63). Sooooooo I bought a pony and cart and don’t you know that the new pony Frank has a mind of his own. I started out with the “I take great care of you and you should take care of me” mindset, which did not work at all. Boy was my confidence rocked. Not only was I a shadow of my former strong self, this pony was kicking my ass. Finally I had the same revelation you did while trying to drive him and I thought, “ok, this is it. We are lunging until you succumb to MY will. I AM THE BOSS!

    Sorry for the long post. You just touched a place inside of me and and I had to let you know. Thanks and I’ll be following your blog.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Vicky, thank you very much for your response. Not only have I experienced it, but other friends who grew up with horses are the same. Maybe it is the curse of youth where we don’t struggle with fear and simultaneously believe that we are really good riders/horsemen. When we grow we hold on to that memory of it being so natural and easy to keep your balance/seat and the communication part doesn’t seem as easy either. I almost think it is easier to simply start in horses at a later age then to start over. You can never really shake that younger you wondering what the heck happened. Good for you to be the boss! I hope that you and Frank find a nice groove and have many fun drives for years to come!

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