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Joined: Wed Mar 26th, 2014
Posts: 87
Status:  Offline
Posted: Thu Feb 17th, 2022 09:14 pm
Hello Dr. Deb - I'm hoping you might have some guidance to offer regarding my roan gelding, the same one I've written in a few times about. We've established over several conversations on this forum that this gelding is quite a complex horse in terms of his "layers". I'm afraid I'm pretty perplexed as to what is going on, so I apologize if some of this isn't clear...

Harry Whitney has helped me understand quite a few things about this horse. Namely, he is very, very worried about the leg, i.e. he flees it instead of taking comfort from it: you and I talked about this horse's issues around understanding and being okay with the leg a while back: he used to be very boggy and sucked back, we worked through it and I thought we came out the other side. However, I'm not sure I ever truly got him from boggy --> responsive but relaxed. I think I unfortunately unknowingly left him in a responsive state but never got him fully to the "responsive but relaxed". Instead, he is now "apprehensive and worried" all the time.

Currently, there is a LOT of flee. We're rehabbing from a move to a barn that he was very unhappy at and did a lot of fence pacing, which really wore on his body and left him quite a mess. He's in a better set-up now and much happier but it's been a process to bring him back to decent physical health. I've been doing a lot of rubbing him with my leg: take one foot out of the stirrup at the walk, rub his shoulder, girth line, take my leg way back and rub on his rear ribs, let my leg dangle loose, etc. If he can't handle this and wants to squirt off or run sideways, we do it at the halt. This is all to help him understand that the leg will move, breathe, shift, etc and he needn't worry about it. I can't honestly say it's gotten much better, and most days it feels like we're starting over.

I worry I have made him more concerned about the leg by shutting him down/blocking him too vigorously over a period of time when I'd ask for an upward transition of some kind and he'd dump on his forehand and rush off. We've worked a lot on backing from the leg and the difference between a leg that invites him forward versus a leg that asks him to come back. He now defaults to backing up off the slightest feel of my leg. I don't think I've been consistently clear enough in my leg aids BUT, this is certainly not the only horse I ride, nor the only horse I'm working with around responsiveness and understanding of the leg, yet he's the only one I'm struggling this much with.

I do sometimes wonder how far down the rabbit hole I want to go with this gelding: I think I say it every thread about him that he's always been a mystery wrapped in an enigma and by far the toughest horse I've worked with because of all his layers. At almost 19 with many chronic physical issues from years of poor posture, he's come a long way but I wonder if I've finally gotten to the layer that will prove to be the one he can't overcome.
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Joined: Fri Mar 30th, 2007
Posts: 3316
Status:  Offline
Posted: Mon Feb 21st, 2022 09:44 pm
Redmare, sorry it's taken me a few days to get back to you on this. I've been very busy with work.

I think in all honesty that you've answered your own question here. You already have the answer but you're not quite able at this point to get it down precisely in words. I think I can help you there. You're a little bit younger and so I am not sure whether you ever knew the comic strip that used to run in the Sunday funnies -- it was called "Pogo", written & drawn by Walt Kelly. Pogo was a little animal of some sort (go see in Wikipedia), quite the philosopher and social commentator, and his most famous line is:


Now I am also going to agree with you, that I have long ago already suggested to you that the "enemy" you are up against is your own tendency to push, push, push -- in other words, the Great Enemy named by the Buddha, which is


And the antidote to that, or one good one anyway, is to read every day the comic strip written and drawn by Brian Bassett that is called "Red and Rover." I attach one of his strips in B/W for your contemplation, because it speaks directly to the attitude that is the correct attitude; what Tom Dorrance used to say was "like a little kid and a puppy playing -- together." I'm a bit frustrated because I had another "Red and Rover" clipping but can't seem to find it in my files. What it has is this:

Red says to Rover while they're lounging together in the shade of a tree on a lazy summer afternoon:


I'm glad to hear you're continuing to work with Harry. He's telling you the same thing I am, in different ways. When you are able to hear what we've been saying, then I think you'll know what to do with this particular horse, and it will also undoubtedly benefit all of your other horses as well. Cheers -- Dr. Deb

Attachment: Red and Rover Marco Polo sm Forum.jpg


Joined: Wed Mar 26th, 2014
Posts: 87
Status:  Offline
Posted: Mon Mar 14th, 2022 07:33 pm
Hi Dr. Deb - no apologies needed, I am sorry for not having checked the forum before today. Usually I get an email that someone has replied but it seems they go to my spam folder these days.

Yes, you're right. And I knew this. I think I knew it before you said it, and it is an endless source of frustration for me because as much as I try and let it go, shut it off, etc...I come back to this place. You are correct, we have talked about this before, as well as the tendency of riders with a decent amount of skill to push and prod their mounts because they know how to get things to happen.

I think I've probably unintentionally avoided the bottom-line answer to this question because I'm very good at technical skills. I'm much less good at larger, less tangible ideas like letting go of ambition. Harry and I had a conversation last summer about the "curse" of being a lifelong learner, that we will always know more in theory than we can do in actuality (but that this is much better than the inverse!) and that the biggest breakthroughs in our ability to "do" is often not a particular thing we learn to "do" at all, but a shift in how we feel about what we're doing. It feels endlessly frustrating to KNOW this, and yet still be caught up in one's own inability to make that shift internally.

No pity party here, just pondering aloud as I'm sure I'm not the only one caught in this web.

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