I knew when I took the gamble to lean forward and grab one rein just inches from the bit that Phoenix would either swerve towards where I was pulling and keep running, fall down, or stop. Lucky for me my gamble paid off and once Phoenix realized he had no where to go he stopped dead and had the panicked heaving breath. I was PISSED at him for being such a naughty pony. I was thinking of nothing then but how I was going kill my Fat Spotted Pony. I swear I would not be surprised if those around me saw steam coming out of my ears because I was MAD! I don’t get mad often, but when I get mad I am PISSED. Everyone in the ring had a look of shock on their face and the woman who organized the saddle fitting asked if I wanted to get off and lunge Phoenix.
In that moment I was livid and so I told her that no, we would work this out under saddle. Unknown to me at the time, every other person in the ring was very concerned about my safety. It was not like Phoenix was a little naughty. He has been out of control and dangerous. I had not realized how scary it must have been to watch until the group decision had come down that I needed to get off of him. The organizer of the saddle fitting decided to lunge him since we were not sure how he was going to be. Ground training is without a doubt a big hole in Phoenix’s training. I had felt no fear with the whole situation until I saw Phoenix on the line. What I had taken for naughtiness was panic. Pure, “Holy Shit”, panic.
That scared me because I have never seen Phoenix be scared before. He can get nervous or surprised sometimes, but he is not a scared horse. Watching him try and bolt at the end of the line had the knot in my tummy growing. I didn’t want to get back on. Screw the saddle fitting. I wanted out of the whole situation at that point. As I stood in the center of the ring I tried to weigh my options and find a good out. Sadly, I could not come up with one. The longer I stood there watching Phoenix loose his brain the more trapped I felt. Clearly, lunging was not helping him mentally. I was hoping that it might at least take some energy out. When the organizer of the fitting said that Phoenix was ready for me to get on I could have cried.
Being nervous around a nervous horse is just not a good combo. Since I had no out I had to do the best that I could. Several deep breaths later I walked over to the mounting block. I took the reins of my baby horse and tried not to let the anger or fear that were swirling around my head take hold. Phoenix is the horse that I have trained all by myself. If I couldn’t trust Phoenix that means that I have failed as a trainer. I gave him a kiss and told him to be good. I swear he was telling me that he was going to try, but he wasn’t so sure. I took a few more deep breaths and put my foot in the stirrup. As I swung over I could already see Phoenix tensing up. When I sat down I felt like a coiled spring was underneath me.
Thankfully Phoenix and I were on the other side of the ring from the fitting at this point. It was just the organizer of the fitting, Phoenix, myself and someone taking a lesson. The organizer helped me out big time by reminding me of all the things I could do to help the situation. If she had not been there I would have done nothing but think about Phoenix’s next bolt. She kept Phoenix and I busy enough with exercises that even though he felt tense at the walk, he didn’t feel explosive anymore. It took all my courage to ask for a trot, and sure enough the first time I did it Phoenix started to feel like a stick of dynamite again. I asked him to walk and tried it again, many more times. Eventually I was able trot around a 20 meter circle a few times before I had to walk. Trotting was good because I could not hold my breath while posting.
I do not know how long we were on the other side of the ring working, but I do know it was a long time because the lesson finished up and left us and a new rider came in. The longer I went on trotting the more I realized that Phoenix was not going to get tired. He clearly has some Thoroughbred in him because once the nerves kicked on he was like an energizer bunny. Once I realized that the tense baby horse I had was all I was going to get I knew I had to just get overmyself and canter him. I didn’t want to. Cantering just seemed so reckless. For the fitting I was going to have to canter so I knew I had to try it out now before everyone was watching.
It took a few tries to not get him to try and take off with me. Unlike before, all of these outbursts were easy enough to stop after a few strides. That gave me courage to keep at it. After a bit I was able to get him to canter without any drama. The problem was that he would do the transition, canter nicely for about a stride, and then he would kickout or buck with his hind end. I was feeling better, but not confident, at this point so I pushed Phoenix for a bigger gait to see if that would help. When I asked for forward he did not give it to me, so instead of loosing his attention completely I would ask for a downward transition. We were only cantering half a circle at a time, but I knew that it was the best I could do at that point.
My ridding had gone to shit and I was hanging on for dear life with my hands. Phoenix was tense and ridged and not coming over his back. It was a total embarrassment. I wanted to crawl into a dark hole and never come out. I could feel the sting of humiliation all over me as I asked Phoenix to walk so he could catch his breath. It was in that moment that I questioned why I was even riding at all. Clearly I sucked at it. I couldn’t even get my stupid horse to canter. Not only that, but Phoenix still felt like he could go off at any time. I was miserable. Of course, just as I was feeling so down and defeated Jochen Schleese came over and told me to come back where he was. He wanted to watch us go so he could assess saddle fit.
As I marched to the other side of the ring the other two woman getting their saddle fit decided it was safer on the side of the ring away from my Fat Spotted Pony and I. That left one scared horse, a rider battling nerves, defeate, and frustration with 4 saddle fitters and a full on peanut gallery to watch them.
To Be Continued…