Day #21 - How my horse responds to different environments
For the most part, all three of my horses respond calmly to new environments. I am lucky to own horses with good minds. Sparky was always pretty chill when I took her somewhere new and I never had to worry much about her. We showed all over the place and she was normally the same horse at home as she was at a show or on the trail.
Dreamy is very calm too, but the transition from the dressage warm up ring to the competition ring used to be a problem for her. I think much of it was because I would get tense. We would sometimes leave our best ride in the warm up. But we have not had an issue with that for the last two years. Dreamy has been all over the place with me, from the quiet Acadia National Park trails, to the electric atmosphere at WEG 2010, to horse shows all over New England, to the harness racing tracks, to the Maine beaches. She might look around in a new environment but stays smart and I have had few problems. She used to "lose her halt" during the first year I marshaled at the track with her, but we have been able to successfully work through that. (See below.)
Reva is very laid back in new environments for her age. She disliked the covered ring at Skowhegan, so the two shows we did there presented more of a challenge than shows we did in an open ring. But Dreamy never liked that ring either, nor do many other horses. For her first year out and about, I am very pleased with her mature and calm response to new places. She was stabled overnight with strange horses as well and never made a peep.
I think the key to having horses stay calm in any environment is to stay calm yourself. Horses pick up on so much from their rider/handler. If I am apprehensive, they figure they ought to be as well. I have always approached new environments as though we have done it 100 times already. And normally the horse will follow my brave lead. I much rather work through something than give up. For example, when Dreamy used to be unable to halt when we first started marshaling at the tracks, instead of fighting with her or giving up on marshaling, I worked her through it. I would make her halt for two seconds and allow her to move off MY LEG, not when she figured it was time. I would do this 164686903 times in the course of one afternoon on the track...by the fifth race or so, Dreamy would get bored with me and just stand still. LOL! I wouldn't fight with her, I would just outwit her. And instead of whining about it and saying, "My horse is bad at the track", I just brought her there as much as I could. DISCLAIMER: Dreamy was never dangerous at the track. She just felt she needed to be in motion rather than stand still. Obviously, I would not have ridden a dangerous horse who put me or any of the drivers/racers in jeopardy. So now Dreamy is completely laid back at the track and loves to stand along the fence greeting the fans. :-D
I think there are times when I have done things with my horses that other people think I am crazy for doing. I am not saying I do anything dumb, because I certainly don't, but I really don't get all caught up in worry about new situations. I know I have a trusting relationship with them before I ask them to do something. And I think I am sometimes braver than I realize...something that doesn't make me nervous might make another rider VERY nervous. I figure I might as well try something out and see what happens. I know my horses are not dangerous and I am able to be brave for them. I am pretty sure that I would have never been so successful with Reva this year at shows if I had not been brave for her. She follows my lead and has come to the conclusion that if I say something is OK, it probably is. I hope that never changes. There is a great line here from a clinic with Reva in 2010. The clinician, Chris Lombard, "admitted to me that he did not believe me in the beginning when I said Reva was confident. He figured she would be timid, just from seeing her in the first few moments in the ring, spooking at the crossrail in front of the audience. He was happy to say he was wrong. He said that she was confident because I was confident. He said that with a nervous or timid rider/handler, he was not sure that Reva would be so calm. That was pretty cool to hear as well." Reva has not doubted me yet and for that I am thankful. Of course I was nervous the first time I showed her, but I made deliberate decisions regarding that show to set us both up for success. And it paid off! :-)