Lola and I have been busy. We went to our fourth schooling Dressage show at the beginning of the month. Lola has been making great progress in her confidence and relaxation at shows, but she has continued to struggle with wearing a bit for Dressage. She has been checked over with a fine-tooth comb by her Veterinarian and we have tried many different types of bits, but Lola still is the happiest when ridden bitless. Her aversion to bits shows itself through her carrying her head high with tension through her back and wanting to chew/nash the bit. This show she had a hard time finding her focus during her tests and it was clear she was not enjoying herself like she had at her last shows. I decided to take a step back and reevaluate where we were headed. I have written in the past about Lola and I being selected to compete at the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover this coming October. The deadline for choosing the discipline(s) I will be competing in with her is coming up soon. It is very important to me at this stage of a retired racehorse’s retraining that I find a job they can enjoy. I like to have a strong Dressage foundation on my horses because it prepares them for so many different careers down the road. And, just because Lola isn’t liking riding in a bit does not mean we will stop schooling Dressage, we will just do it bitless for a while and skip the Dressage schooling shows (The United States Dressage Federation prohibits bitless riding in Dressage).
One such career I’ve considered is Field Hunting, also known as Fox Hunting. This happens to be a discipline offered at the Makeover and one I thought Lola may enjoy. She has loved trail riding so far and enjoys going over the occasional jump. The best part though, you can ride bitless! I am a member of a hunt here in Michigan so giving her opportunities on the hunt field was available to us. *Disclaimer - The Hunt I reference does not harm/kill animals.
Lola just before leaving for the Champagne ride.
The Hunt Club had a Champagne Ride recently (a fancy name for a group trail ride/mock hunt with no hounds). I decided to take Lola to see what she thought, and it was like she was born for the job. When hunting it is a constant change of pace, scenery and requirements from the horse and rider. It is not uncommon to gallop, walk, trot, stand still and then canter jumps all with in the space of minutes when hunting. The summer weather here in Michigan, USA has been very unpredictable, either very hot or very wet, or both. We had a large amount of rain leading up to the ride which made for some muddy, often slippery trails. Lola wore her Scoots and I was very pleased with how she and they responded to the changing ground. The Scoots were brilliant and really made a positive traction difference for her! On the better ground we did some jumping. Lola did her first line of multiple fences with grace and precision. We have not schooled over many fences, so this was a step up for her. Seeing Lola enjoy herself so much has given me a clear sign that this is a discipline to pursue for her right now. Some horses love this ever changing and demanding job and others don’t. For Lola, the busyness of it was very appealing. She loved the changing pace, jumping and moving with and without a group. I was very proud of her! We may revisit another Dressage schooling show but I’m leaving it up to her. Lola and her friend Arya before heading out on the trails.
As equestrians it is often easy to get focused on one goal or discipline because it is what we want to do. I try to always listen to what my horses are telling me. Sometimes they make their wishes loud and clear by being what we perceive as stubborn or disobedient, but just as often they whisper. That is why it’s our job to make sure we do not talk over our horses and instead give them the confidence to find the job that they can love as much as we love them. Remember this the next time you and your horse have a disagreement about something. Maybe they aren’t being disobedient or lazy, or stubborn or whatever else you want to call it, maybe they are just trying to whisper this isn’t comfortable for me right now can we try something else?