My Novice Level event horse is cranky and seems ring sour

You probably don’t read these QOTMs to be told you’re all up the creek with horse problems with no solutions. In this case that’s just semi-true. Some problems have better solutions than dressage ones.

I know the horse in question. He has progressed over the years from (pardon) a major league “lump” to a successful Novice level eventer. A very drafty type, he’s quite a stoic. He’ll accept gentle persuasion, but if you try to force him do something he’s not interested in, he’ll take a lot of pain before he’ll consider complying. It’s his owner’s good fortune that Manny gallops enthusiastically and loves to run and jump.

So do what he likes and when you have to do “dressage things,” don’t let him know what you’re up to. My proposal wouldn’t work if he had to do “real” dressage or even upper level eventing dressage, but without disparaging its challenge to some horses, the dressage he has to do amounts to this: Display three clear gaits that cover ground and do the figures with a relaxed countenance, a bendable torso, and a round topline. That’s IT! Manny can do it quite nicely. He isn’t what I’d call real, but he’s real enough in his work to fulfill these simple requirements and get a decent score. So why hassle him more?

If he’s happier in a jumping saddle and his rider with shorter stirrups, so what? Practice your sitting trot on somebody else. He needs to spend time with a round topline, but if he’s happier doing that in the field and in the canter, take what you can get, and do just enough of your formal ring figures to be sure they are available when you need them. Don’t do anything for long. Mix ground poles and little grids to inspire him. Don’t fret about what you can’t change.

Along the lines of un-dressage, it can be a blessing for all dressage horses. I’ve been seeing a fairly messed up one in recent months. He knows a lot of PSG things but he curls behind the bit, grinds his teeth, and runs through the hand. I haven’t held him in much regard as I try to untangle the knots for his owner once a week. I always think of him as one very unhappy camper. One day his owner was absent as I rode, and instead of trying to “fix” things the conventional way, I decided to just ride him like a hunter under saddle. If he didn’t want to accept the contact, if his head was any old place, I didn’t care, Go forward, decontract, and just hack. After about 15 minutes of nonintervention, his whole attitude changed. His worries and anticipations vanished. He began to stretch and trust a light contact. He seemed pleased with the notion of not being micromanaged and carrying himself around this “new” way. If only he could do this for a month in a row before being asked to face harder tasks! Were he mine, that’s what would happen. Owners sometimes can’t be dissuaded from their own agendas. . .

In the short time since this question was submitted and I wrote out the answer, Manny, the first horse above, colicked and much too young crossed over the rainbow bridge. It’s undeniable that if you’re around horses long enough, your heart will be broken. Though clearly he was not my sort of horse, I truly admired his spirit and the bond he and Racheal shared. May he gallop with joy eternally.

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