Riding a new horse

If you’ve followed this blog for a time, you know that Tristan has been slowly evolving over the last ~2 years into a different kind of ride.

I’ve owned him for 15 years, and actually ridden him for a smidge longer than that. I put the very first rides on him in the summer of 2005, right after I graduated from college. He became my horse in January 2006. So – I know him pretty darn well. And for 75% of those years, he has been darn well unflappable.

here, have the first picture I ever took of Tristan from that summer

I really do mean unflappable. His fifth and sixth rides were in an open field in a hackamore. (God, to be 22 and stupid and fearless again!)

Which is not to say he could not be an ass at times. He spent weeks and weeks bolting and rearing on the longe line. He had a bolt in him that took me for many an adrenaline-pumping ride. But generally speaking he was a kick ride, observed everything but reacted to hardly any of it, steady good citizen. He just did not really have a spook in him. When he spooked, it was calculated – he would pick a spot in the indoor halfway through winter, just to spice things up. He would get pissy when I asked him to go more forward, so he’d seek out something and fake-spook at it.

(Please note that generally I think horses are honest when they spook. I have known this horse intimately for many, many years. He watches, he does his mental calculus, and he goes through the motions of a spook.)

Well, joke’s on me. We’ve been doing such good work over the last few months that two things have happened: even on a lighter schedule, he’s as fit as he has been in years, and he has learned whole new ways for his body to work and move.

what 95% of our rides look like right now: bareback, quarter sheet, big thick coat, insulated Dublin boots

After so many years of knowing what I’d get every time I swing a leg over the saddle, I suddenly have a reactive horse.

Let’s be clear: “reactive” Tristan is still pretty darn chill. I’ve ridden nuttier horses. But there’s a reason I enjoyed my kick ride straightforward horse! I don’t love riding hot horses. But I do love Tristan. So, I’m working on it.

An example: when I got on him again after 3 months off from his surgery, it was a non-event. I was back out hacking him on roads within a week. Last night, after 10 days off from weather, I got on bareback and I swear to you his ears were so pricked forward and focused at everything that I thought he would sprain something. Everything was pretext for a high-headed snort, or a scoot sideways, or a little bit of striking out with his front legs. Someone sweeping in the back aisle. The hay cart in the main aisle. The door to the hay shed opening. The door to the hay shed closing. The velcro on my gloves.

When we’re actually schooling, it means I’m constantly riding a fine line between forward and out of control. I get a lovely, big, powerful trot, he’s sitting more and more, and it’s 50/50 whether I can count on a nice light soft rein or whether two seconds later I’ll be hauling his head up out of a crow hop. And of course, a few weeks ago he dumped me fast and hard and dirty. So I’ve got that in my brain.

I’m ashamed to admit that for little things – like last night’s ride – my reaction is to mostly get pissed off. The snotty little leap and buck when we got closer to the person sweeping earned him a hauling around on the reins and a couple of harsh words. I’m sure that’s not ideal. My instinct at least is to go hard, fast, and then release just as fast, and as soon as he gave even the slightest hint of easing up he got a ton of praise and pets.

I’m working on it. It doesn’t make me terribly inclined to ride during my usual time, at night after everyone else is gone. It does, however, make me a little more keen on riding, because I can’t resist a challenge.

Has anyone else had their horse change under them? Especially after so many years?

(I do want to clarify up front that this is not pain. He is regularly, obsessively examined and is sound as a bell and in great condition.)

7 thoughts on “Riding a new horse

  1. Last January/February I noticed my horse was less enthusiastic about life in general. He was so so on the trail but didn’t want to do anything in the ring. Some thing just didn’t feel right. A horse who HATED blankets was shivering in mildly cold temperatures and was much happier blanketed. I talk to my vet about it, she knows I tend toward hypochondria when it comes to the red pony but agreed to do a lyme test. It came back with high titters – chronic lyme disease. A round of doxi did the trick. He’s back to himself, although this winter, he still is fond of being blanketed when it drops to the teens. At 18, he is entitled.

    Have you had him tested for lyme? It can be hard to diagnose and some of the behaviors you describe can be symptom of it.


  2. Just sounds like a solid case of winter sucks. Lol! Eros has gotten a lot spookier this year… or so it seems. It’s possible I just notice it more now that I actually got spun off? Or maybe it’s that he’s always been hurt for half the winter so I never had to ride him this time of year?
    I don’t have helpful tips, but I commiserate!


  3. I’m in the same boat with my mare. Owned her for 7 years now and she was absolutely awful for being behind your leg and just shutting down over very small asks – super quiet and safe though. I moved barns a few years ago from the competitive show place we were at to a very laid back space. Since then she’s come out of her shell in a huge way. I’m starting to think the quiet ‘lazy’ pony I bought probably just lacked confidence and was a bit ring sour. She’s pretty spicy and sassy now, and absolutely loves getting to work. She’s still recognizably ‘her’, just the personality is x1000 what it was. If I didn’t know her so well I’d probably be a little nervous about riding her – my ‘kid safe’ pony has dumped me a couple of times now this winter!


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