My Horse Will Just Never
Training is a funny thing, a constant balancing act of keeping the broad result in mind and not sweating the small stuff yet also taking your horse’s progress one day, one ride, one session at a time.
By Blanche Schaefer, February 14, 2018
Well, I guess he’ll just never be one of those horses that pick its feet up automatically when you run a hand down his leg.
He’ll never load easily into the trailer, I should just get used to this.
Turning to the right will always be a struggle for him; he’ll probably never soften in this direction.
I don’t think he’ll ever just walk into the wash rack without a fight.
My horse may never back up softly like everyone else’s.
He will never get over his fear of plastic bags and zippers on jackets.
As ridiculous as it sounds, I have thought all of these phrases to myself at least once since I got my first 2-year-old prospect, Winchester, in May of last year. He’s now a coming 3-year-old, and none of this is true anymore—obviously. Nevertheless, I often lost sight of the big picture throughout the process and got bogged down in what my horse couldn’t do rather than visualizing what he could do with a little more time and patience. Training is a funny thing, a constant balancing act of keeping the broad result in mind and not sweating the small stuff yet also taking your horse’s progress one day, one ride, one session at a time. A healthy dose of both is a happy medium that I consciously strive toward mentally every day I work with my horse. Instead of dooming myself with thoughts of ‘he can’t’ and ‘he will never,’ I try to celebrate the ‘he did’ and ‘he eventually will’ moments.
Having no prior experience starting a colt, every day is a learning process for both my horse and myself. It’s hard not having any benchmarks to which I can compare. I’d often get so concerned that Winchester wasn’t where he needed to be compared to other colts, and it didn’t help that I wasn’t even sure exactly how far along a horse should be at his age. I didn’t know what I should worry about and what was no big deal. I’d make myself sick when I focused on the “he can’t,” which evolved in my head to the “he will never.” When that happened, I’d take a step back, a deep breath, and envision the future—six months from now, one year, five years.
For example, six months from now, will Winchester be able to travel in a soft, fluid, circle to the right if I continue to work with him a little each day? Absolutely. Here we are six months later in February 2018, and he’s loping perfect circles and no longer has a ‘problem direction.’ I wish I could have told that to myself in August 2017 when late-night sessions ended in frustration and misty-eyed drives home from the barn as I fretted that I had to be doing something wrong and maybe he’d just never ride as well to the right as he did to the left.
I had a lot of mental discussions with myself about how to better handle the entire training process, and it all boiled down to one theme—always look for the progress. Even if it’s just one task, one maneuver, one breakthrough, if you’re progressing in some way each day with your horse, there’s no need to worry. The big picture will all fall into place. On some of those challenging nights six months ago trying to no avail to get Winchester moving on a circle with forward momentum, I’d ask myself at the end of the evening, ‘Well, what did he improve on?’ Maybe he picked his hoof up a little quicker when I asked instead of leaning into me and refusing. Maybe it only took 3 minutes to coax him into the wash rack this time instead of 5. Maybe he didn’t set back when I unzipped my jacket in front of him, or I only needed two tries to load him onto the trailer instead of three or four. Or, after 30 minutes of patient work, maybe I got one forward-moving, complete circle out of him.
In the end, little bits of progress are the building blocks to a finished horse. In the meantime, try to find the positives each day and remember that your horse is doing his best to understand what you want. Just because he can’t figure it out today doesn’t mean he won’t ever figure it out. In five years, these training frustrations probably won’t even be a blip on your radar. Don’t get too distraught over the daily struggles, recognize the daily improvements, and never say your horse will never.
What Do We Do Now?" is a blog series written by BHN's managing editor Kailey Sullins and associate editor Blanche Schaefer, where they discuss the struggles, joys, and rewards of training young barrel prospects as amateurs juggling full-time jobs, all from a real-life perspective. Read more at barrelhorsenews.com under the "Blogs" tab."
Blanche Schaefer is associate editor of Barrel Horse News. She joined the team in August 2016 after graduating from The University of Texas at Austin with a public relations degree and a business minor. She found herself right at home in Fort Worth, Texas, at the BHN office, combining her love of horses, journalism, rodeo and barrel racing.
A Texas native, Blanche was raised on a ranch in the small town of Vanderpool until she moved to Austin for college. She grew up riding and competing in 4-H and youth rodeos with her two geldings, Amigo and Petey, and then local amateur and open pro rodeos throughout high school and college with her now-retired mare, Angel Flipper (“Red Molly”). She also rode English for the Texas Equestrian Team in college, competing in equitation through the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association and in the hunters on the local show circuit in Austin. She is now focusing on her first futurity prospect, 2015 gelding Dashaway Ta Fame (Firewater Ta Fame x Dashawayawinner x Runaway Winner), the topic of her "What Do We Do Now?" blog series.
Outside of horses, Blanche is an avid college football fan and music aficionado. She can usually be found at the barn, on the road to a barrel race or rodeo, out on the town seeing live Texas music or in the stands at DKR watching Longhorn football.
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