Putting in the Hard Rides

I’ve never had a “made” horse. Every horse I’ve ridden from the age of eight through forty has been some version of green, rescue, difficult, or combination of those attributes. I spent the years between age five and eight riding my sister’s pony, Mitzy, which is probably the brokest horse I’ve ever been on, and then went straight from one green horse to the next. I wouldn’t even know what to do with a “made” horse. For me, the thrill of being an equestrian is taking an animal that is nothing special and seeing how far you can take it. So naturally when we purchased the GHLHF, I didn’t run to a trainer to find the perfect combination of pedigree and finish. I shopped classified ads and drug home skin and bone wrecks of horses that Darling Husband didn’t think would survive the trailer ride to our house. I fed them, vetted them, taught them a few things, and then started competing with them. Sometimes we’re hopelessly outclassed, but sometimes, sometimes we place above those 5 figure horses with their pedigrees, in full time work with a professional trainer.

After a few years together, I really know my horses. I trust them. We’ve been in some hairy situations and lived to tell the tale. Then at some point, I needed more of a challenge than taking two rescues up the eventing levels or to the occasional breed show. That’s when I adopted Johnny Cash from the BLM two short months after he was gathered in an emergency round up. Johnny Cash and I had a rough start. I’m not going to go into the gory details, that you can read in some of my other posts, but let’s just say I was bit, kicked, and struck more during his first few months on the farm than all of my years of riding combined. I realized the limitations of my abilities and the finite amount of available training time, ultimately deciding it was best if the first few months under saddle were done by a professional. Due to his difficult personality, five months in Johnny Cash knew the basics, but he was no where near finished.

Johnny Cash’s trainer felt it would take the better part of a year if not longer before Johnny Cash behaved more like a domestic and not some wild animal roaming the Nevada desert. He’s a quirky horse, but I made the commitment to him when I adopted him that I would see this thing through. There are other trainers that might say I’m naïve and maybe a lil crazy for wasting time on one of the tough ones, but I’ve got nothing but time. Right? Its not like I have world champion ambitions. I can’t even focus on any one discipline enough to even be competitive at the top levels. I get bored very quickly, so we cross train disciplines ALOT! So here we are, Johnny Cash and I.

I brought him home from the trainer after five months knowing full well he still needed alot of work. Despite competing my two rescue appaloosas and preparing them to go Beginner Novice level in 2022, I made sure that Johnny Cash stayed in work. I may not have improved much on what his trainer accomplished, but I would like to think I haven’t allowed him to back slide. Some days he is downright awesome, and one of the nicest horses I’ve ridden ever. Other days Johnny Cash throws a temper tantrum, and I wonder what I’m even doing with this snorty mustang, when there are so many that settle down in half the time.

There are good days and bad days with every horse, but when working with green/difficult horses bad days mean you better be able to ride more than a crow hop and anticipate behavior before it gets that far. Devotion to the horse even through the rough rides is what sets a true equestrian apart from the hobbyists. There are lots of people that just like to sit on horses, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting a lazy uncomplicated ride. But the people I admire don’t sit on someone else’s work. They make the horse better, and sometimes start from the ground up. When there’s a problem, they work through it, strengthening the partnership they developed with the horse. Its more than riding tough horses, its about striving to improve your own horsemanship every single day. I have zero respect for people that give up on a perfectly good horse because they’ve had a rough patch, and they don’t want to put the work in on themselves to get better. Don’t get me started on the people that can’t even ride their own horse until the trainer has warmed it up and prepped it for them. Its my number one pet peeve about breed shows.

I personally feel the difficult cases end up being the best horses. The amount of satisfaction in a good ride on a quirky horse far surpasses a good ride on a “made” or finished horse any day, but you have to be willing to put in the hard rides. I’d be lying through omission if I didn’t admit that some days it takes every ounce of will power I have to tack up Johnny Cash instead of Odessa. Conversely, there are days I can’t wait to get out there and ride my gorgeous little mustang. We can have a week of perfectly wonderful rides, followed by a day or two that I just can’t get Johnny Cash to settle down to work and focus. On these days he actively looks for things to spook at. It requires absolute focus on my part, and lots of redirecting his attention from his surroundings to the rider on his back.

In order to get better, me or the horse, we have to put in the hard rides. The rides just outside of our comfort zone, are the rides that develop new skills. Sure I can go hop on Odessa in a rope halter bareback, and lope through the field zoning out, but neither of us is really learning anything in the process. Those leisurely rides are important to relax, but they can’t be my only riding activity. I owe the hard rides to Johnny Cash to ensure that he becomes a safe, consistent mount. If I were to throw my hands up and quit every time there was a tantrum on his part, Johnny Cash would be completely un-rideable in only a few days. I would be responsible for contributing to his dangerous behaviors by teaching him that spooking and bolting get him out of work. All of the hard work the trainer put in during those first five months would have been wasted.

2021 was the year for my appaloosas. They developed and progressed a great deal. My ambitions for them were ever only to have fun mounts that occasionally place at shows, and that is exactly what they accomplished. This year Odessa and Comanche get to maintain and relax, while Johnny puts in the work to reach the potential he has. Johnny Cash is going to cross train, trail ride, work on obstacles, and of course compete. I’m sitting down working on a training, clinic, and 2022 show schedule for him. There is a saying “long rides and wet saddle blankets make good horses,”and Johnny Cash will have plenty of those god willing this year!

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