I fairly shocked that my 17 year old gelding who has been a wonderful partner for 9 years is the herd member currently giving me the most trouble, by far.
It all started about 3 weeks ago.
I had taken my girth home to clean it and ended up forgetting it there. It was a beautiful evening and I really wanted to ride outside. I don't usually ride bareback outside but I have a few times and it hasn't been an issue. There isn't a proper mounting block outside, so having stirrups just makes life easier. Usually I mount up from either a plastic chair or these large wooden boxes that I believe were meant to go underneath jumps but haven't moved in years.
I threw my bareback pad on Apollo while thinking "It's so nice to have a 17 year old horse that I can ride outside bareback and not worry about." HA!
Let me back up a little -
I have always felt a little nervous at the mounting block. It's a vulnerable place to be - in between horse and solid ground. I read somewhere that like 80% of horse-related accidents happen at the mounting block.
I have seen two very bad wrecks that happened at the mounting block or shortly after (one person got bucked off into a wall the moment after mounting and another tripped and was dragged/stepped on from the mounting block).
Because the universe likes to fuck with me I have had two small incidents myself at the mounting block, both with Apollo. In both situations he proved that he is worth his weight in gold (and he weighs a lot). The first time I was using a small plastic chair to mount him outside. As I swung my leg over the chair broke and got stuck to my foot. So I was sitting on my horse with an entire chair stuck to my foot. Apollo didn't care (although I sensed he was rolling his eyes at me). The next time I hadn't attached the stirrups properly on my weird treeless saddle. As soon as I put weight on it the stirrup snapped off. I fell backwards and the stirrup iron flew off and hit me in the chest. Apollo didn't move a muscle (except for eye-rolling muscles).
In the last year I have finally stopped (after 8+ years) having to give myself a mounting block pep talk that consists of me chanting "I trust my horse" over and over again in my mind. I was genuinely no longer afraid at the mounting block. I owe to this Coach D helping my confidence and for wonderful horses who haven't pulled anything silly with me reinforcing that everything is fine.
So when I mounted my sweet older gelding three weeks ago and he bolted into a frantic gallop before I was all the way on... I got kind of angry. I was angry because he knew better. I was angry because my weird mounting block nervousness is something I've worked really hard to get over.
And so as I was clutching onto his mane for dear life. I started swearing. I held on for a very long time (across the entire front lawn). Eventually I realized that I wasn't in a position to pull myself all the way on and I needed to bail. So I did. I almost landed on my feet but my right foot got twisted. I landed in a surprised/angry heap. Apollo tentatively walked over to check on me. I yelled at him to fuck off, so he ran away.
Anger gets so many things accomplished. Not.
So I found some random girth in my collection and put his saddle on. I lunged him in the indoor arena and then rode him outside. He was fine. His usual self. I figured that something must have frightened him outside. It was a one time thing.
So the next week when I went to hop on in the indoor ring in my bareback pad I was not expecting him to bolt. But he did. And this time I landed on my head.
This time in my state of being in a surprised/angry heap I decided that I needed to drop the anger. He probably genuinely was frightened the first time he bolted but now he was just afraid of me. When I fell off this time he didn't come to check on me, he ran to the other side of the arena because he knew he was in trouble.
I decided that my 17 year old horse being a turd was actually kind of hilarious. And I started laughing. And I started thinking about how grateful I am that he's sound. There were a few times last year when I was genuinely unsure if he would be sound.
I re-approached our work together with a sense of humor and kindness. I put his saddle on but this time I ground-mounted him. We went for a long ride, with lots of trotting. And then I got on and off from the mounting block three times. He was fine.
After my recent humbling falls from my senior citizen horse I realized that we're renegotiating our relationship.
For years I was so scared all the time, and he took care of me. I also spent a lot of time riding him very tentatively, trying to determine if there were any soundness issues (there often were). Now I'm not scared and he's very sound. I'm asking him to do a lot more (jump things, go into the contact etc). I didn't truly appreciate how hot of a ride he can be. After treating his ulcers and finding a saddle that fits him like a glove - he wants to GO! We are getting to know each other again.
Here are the new "terms" for me:
1) Ride him 4 (or more) times a week. No excuses. He needs consistency. This has been a weak spot for me and I know I can do better. Riding my super hot horse once or twice a week doesn't cut it, that doesn't set either of us up for success.
2) Don't check out mentally, be present. Do not go on auto-pilot. You are training or un-training all your horses all the time, no matter how old they are.
3) Listen to him. Be tuned into your horse, he will give you clues if something is bothering him.
4) Approach all rides with a sense of humor and kindness. Anger accomplishes nothing with horses. I likely created a bigger problem by getting angry the first time he bolted.
So that's the new plan for the big guy. We will be spending some time at the mounting block for sure. I know that it's not okay with me that he bolted, but I know that I could have handled it a lot better. He has been a really solid citizen for me for these past nine years, I should be paying attention and not taking him for granted.
We are working on arranging some lessons with Coach D soon too, so far scheduling has been a bit tricky. In the meantime I will be digesting Apollo's humbling lesson of "pull your head out of your ass".
Horses keep us humble!