Instead of posting tidbits of our live over various discussions, I decided to move into a separate thread to tell our story.
Where to start! I guess I will just split this into several parts, so that the novel doesn't get TOO big.
Here I am - This is me!
About me first - I'm 26 years old, living in Latvia (that's in Eastern Europe), riding since 2010 and dividing all my free time among my three cats and my horse. I'm also an aspie, for all you fellow aspies out there to know. Horsemanship is my passion and I strive to live my dream ever since it started. I used to dream about horses as a little girl, but was never allowed to take up riding as my mother was extremely afraid of them. Later in life, I tried out different hobbies, but none really caught my attention for long, and everything seemed to be too expensive, too far from home, too demanding. One day, I was chatting with a friend who mentioned that she had been riding for a while and it all came back to me. I found a local lesson barn where I started my lessons and, although it realistically was more expensive, farther from home and demanding than anything else, I was happy at last.
Now for my brave steed - as some of you may know, Snickers is a carriage type Latvian Warmblood gelding, now a 7yo and spunky as ever. He's an extroverted, very dominant and joyful character, who values fun and games over anything else. However, beneath the carefree surface, he's extremely intelligent and demands lots of respect to even consider turning his attention to a person. Gets bored easily, can be very food motivated, enjoys galloping, jumping, playing, destroying stuff and exploring new trails. He's always up to an adventure and, as he's an imaginative one, he'll make an adventure himself, if I fail to provide him with one!
And what would be a journal introduction without at least one picture.
Yesterday evening turned out to be a very busy one, but now - on to the next part.
When I decided to take up riding I did a lot of reading to understand, what style I'd enjoy the most. We don't have any Western riding in Latvia, which is a shame, because I'm really interested in cutting, so it was English all the same, but exploring the equestrian sports field in my country left me disappointed. All I saw around was just gaping mouths, sore horses, human ambitions above horse needs. I also thought back then that bits are evil by default - yeah, I knew no better as a complete newbie. So I found a local NH barn, the only one here at that time, and thought it was paradise, although I later learned of how bad my riding habits from those times actually were.
But NH was not the only thing why I chose to go to this barn. It has a homepage with pictures of their horses, and this is where I first saw Him.
Snickers was described as a freshly backed 4yo with a unique, cheeky and intelligent character. I fell in love instantly, although I even hadn't touched a horse for years at that time, and I fancied myself by fantasizing of meeting - or even calling this little guy my own. Funny, though, as I had always thought, that I'd dream of an impressive, flashy horse, a Friesian, a Trakhener or an Arab at least, and DEFINITELY not a bay.
The first months, however, I didn't meet him, as he was sent to a pasture boarding place far in the countryside to grow and mature a bit. After that, he was given me to learn groundwork with. I was ecstatic. And it was a disaster. I was uncoordinated, lacking timing and body language. He was dominant, pushy, easily distracted and easily annoyed. We were too green for each other and I didn't get him for lessons for several more months. In the meantime, I petted him in the pastures, visited him in the barn and generally speaking, continued on dreaming. Others didn't understand me - you see, Snickers wasn't really his owners' favorite horse. They hated his curiousness, called him "the Jerk", chained him in a small standing stall for nights to make more room for more favored horses, fed less, ignored minor health problems and considered him worthless, although they still kept his price unreasonably high. Snickers wasn't doing good in this atmosphere and gradually gained the fame of a horse "who always walks with his eyes closed". He was apathetic, got slower and slower, and his character was getting broken day by day.
Later, as my skills grew, he was again assigned to me for several riding lessons and we met more often in groundwork. My dreams grew bigger, although I didn't even hope for ever buying him. Getting and keeping a horse seemed like a seriously expensive business, out of my limits. Then, rumors started that he could be sold soon to a riding school in Sweden, and for that summer Snickers was sent to a riding camp far away from the barn. I tried my best to oppress my emotions for him, as I believed it would be worse for me if I get attached to a horse I could not hope to afford...
The camp eventually ended. Snickers came back. And my heart leaped, all the emotions, the dreams, the hopes were still there. After a few days potential buyers were booked to come and try him. I spent that time almost frozen in fear that he could leave. He didn't get bought, though, and I, knowing I have to take at least SOME action, made a full lease agreement with the barn owner.
The morning we were going to sign the contract, I went to the pastures and met Snickers, who was just standing there as always, with his head low, eyes closed, completely uninterested in what the day could bring. I told him what I was going to do and that he is going to be mine, at least, for a while. Although he was a "hard" horse, he seemed to enjoy my company nonetheless.
This is what he mostly looked like at that time, October 2011:
When I came back to the pastures after signing the contract, a completely different Snickers was waiting there for me by the gates, away from all the other horses, the Snickers I always believed in and waited for to emerge from behind the thick walls he had built around himself. His head was up, his posture was proud, his eyes were wide open and bright, and he neighed his heart out. At that same moment I realized I'd regret and suffer for the remaining life, if I ever let this horse go again.
Two months later, I had arranged a loan, made the necessary payments and Snickers, then a scruffy 5yo, was finally mine. I moved him instantly to a temporary barn, and not long after to a very nice, private, strictly NH place where we spent a happy year. He started opening up and soon the horse who always had his eyes closed looked like this:
This April we were forced to move again due to an increased boarding fee and reside in a more traditional showjumping barn, but are happy nonetheless and have learned tons an heaps of valuable skills.
So, this is our "Black Stallion" tale, which I would not believe in if I hadn't experienced myself. :) From the next post on, I'll just tell about our daily progress and, of course, adventures, because a day with Snickers does not go with at least one new thing to explore. :)
Thanks, TL! You seem to be much more confident in my riding than I am.
This, I hope, will be the last part of our introduction.
What we do.
Snickers was backed as a fresh four year old. Quite soon after that he was put into 2h daily work as the trail guides' horse for guided trail rides and, as a 5yo, he started working as a lesson horse. His dominant character proved to be a challenge, as he soon learned that, if he persists in not doing anything, the human on his back will soon cease - that applied to the riding students. If the rider was persistent enough or if the saddle fit badly, he'd try out bucking. I was told that in trails he first was very eager to go first and fast, and, if the way home was what we wanted, try spinning, but it was taught out of him, in process losing lots of his natural forwards movement, in my opinion.
When I bought him, he could:
* Do WTC, basic steering, stopping in a rope halter - that was all he was ever ridden in -, stand to a mounting block.
* Go in trails as a fearless leading horse or anywhere in the line - first preferred, though.
* Jump small obstacles. He also went through a beginner jumping course once.
* Do all the 7 basic Parelli games in a basic level.
I had been riding for 2 years at that point and my equation was not that good, to be honest. My seat was clumsy, I tended to lean forwards a lot, I held my hands mostly straight, my feet were always up and I seemed to make horses crazy in canter. When I bought Snickers, I was mostly lazy and didn't want to address my problems, until it was pointed out to me and until I understood it myself, how my riding affects our partnership. Since then, I've been taking every lesson I can (though not as often I'd like to) from several instructors, a Dressage trainer and now - a jumping instructor. From just steering lazily around the arena or, more often, out in the trails, we, in our almost 2 years of partnership, now:
* Working seriously on our rhythm, impulsion and balance - I believe, I've regained much of his forwards movement at last.
* Working on my seat and overall position as well. Slowly improving, but lots of space for further improvement!
* Riding bitless and sometimes tackless, or with a cordeo.
* Jumping grids, bounces and, since two weeks, simple courses.
* Working on the basics of lateral movements.
We also spend lots of time by just taking walks in-hand in the trails, doing NH based groundwork and learning some tricks for the sake of fun. Snickers knows how to do Spanish walk, bow, lie down, sit, stretch, climb on different objects, carry an object in his mouth, self-load a trailer and rear.
This Sunday, we're participating in our first showjumping competition together - we'll be jumping the small jumps along with kids, but hey, it should be fun! :)
Here's a small video of some things we've done this summer:
So, it was the big day yesterday - our first show! We entered a basic equation course (I don't know the correct name for these in English, but it's basically being able to show WTC, stopping, steering and jumping a couple of cross rails, and it is evaluated by the seat, by how you handle the horse, etc.) and a ~2ft showjumping course.
A teenage friend of mine volunteered to be my groom and did a fantastic job on grooming Snickers' tail and mane. Soon it was time to enter the warmup area for the equation course. Snickers was baffled about why I'm not letting him to go and say hi to all those new horses, but he soon settled and then it was our turn to enter the arena. Snicks continued being a champ, was calm and responsive and we had a great time! In the end, the judge gave us an "Excellent" evaluation (the scale was "Fine", "Good", "Very Good", "Excellent") and complimented our partnership. She said that, no matter if the rider is a low level hobby rider or pursues high competitive goals, she is always looking first and foremost for a harmonious understanding between the rider and the horse. That warmed my heart! Of course, my seat and cues are not ideal, I see lots and lots yet to improve, but it was nice for a first-time competition.
Not too long after that we had to enter the warmup area again to get ready for the showjumping course. The area was now swarmed by more anxious riders who often jumped the warmup jumps without calling them out or just rode around without really thinking about others, but we somehow managed not to get in anyone's way.
We were then to enter the arena and trot a little along the fence to get used to the setup, while the rider before us would run the course, but, unfortunately, the rider hadn't arrived at all and hadn't warned the judges about it! So I was suddenly called to the start line without being able to take a good last look at the course. The first jump was a bit clumsy and I certainly didn't know what to do with my hands, but then we went on just fine, until the fifth jump, where I understood that I have completely forgotten where to look for it and did a lazy canter around the course until I spotted it. From there on, it was fine again, and I let Snickers canter slowly on purpose, so that I could just get used to the atmosphere. He continued being a champ and did whatever I asked in a very well mannered style, so, although we finished within 130.5 seconds and with 4 penalty points (for messing up at the fifth jump), I was very content of him and of our first results.