It’s been a couple of months since I updated my blog, mostly because I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching over young Scarlet. My last post covered the amazing clinic we did at Firle with Francis Whittington in September, where for the first hour she behaved appallingly and it was only due to the fact that I have a life threatening amount of pride that I didn’t just get off and go home.
It’s true that when she’s on side she’s the best horse I’ve ever ridden, but when she’s not, and that’s like, 95% of the time, she scares the heck out of me. I’m only an amateur rider, I don’t have the skills or the courage to keep getting on a horse that might decide to ditch me at the slightest provocation. I ride for fun, and because I love the adrenaline buzz of a cross country round, and the thrill of clearing a course of show jumps, and the sheer pleasure of a nice hack out on the South Downs. I love to potter around the yard on a sunny Saturday, cleaning tack, weeding the yard, poo picking. But that stuff is only enjoyable (to me, anyway) if you have a horse that loves his or her job, and I don’t think Scarlet does enjoy her job. It breaks my heart to think that, because I know what a talented beastie she is, and she certainly feels like she’s enjoying herself when she gets going, but the amount of strength, bravery and determination it takes for me to get her there is draining my enjoyment.
I’m not a naturally bold rider, but I am pretty brave and a decent enough jockey, so if I still, after 4 years (3 if you count the fact that she spent 2013 off sick) can’t get her to jump round a 2’9” cross country course without dumping me (twice), what is the point of carrying on? We went to a show jumping clinic recently and it was all I could do to get her over a 1’9” cross pole. I can’t keep spending my time and money on a horse who won’t play ball. Scarlet’s a sweetheart, and she has scope to burn - even her paces are pretty good when she relaxes and works properly - but I think ultimately she’s too much of a stress head to cope with what I’m asking of her. I took her to Blue Anchor Farm to do the 2’9” hunter trial and we got to fence 16 and she whipped round at a simple palisade and dumped me. She hightailed it off round the fields, with me and Mum trailing after her. We caught her, I got back on and Mum re-entered me, HC. Off we went, and this time got to fence 17, a straightforward sleeper fence and she repeated the trick. Off we went after her, I got back on, jumped her over the warm up fence and threw her back in the lorry. AND MY BACK STILL HURTS.
She’s been at our new yard since August - it’s a two stable private yard, with 6 acres of grazing and a school, and it’s on the same lane as she’s been on for the last 4 years - with Comet and Blue for company, but instead of thriving on the grass as we had expected her to, she’s reverted back to her old habits of box walking and eating her bedding at night. We’ve tried dozens of different calmers and feed, and she’s been scoped for ulcers, but the scope showed she was clear. There’s no reason that I or any number of experienced horsey people can see for her to be such a stressy, worried little mare, but she continues to drop condition and behave idiotically. I’ve even had a professional rider out to ride her, and although he rode her beautifully, she was a moron for him as well, and was very stressy both times he rode her. If he can’t get her to calm down, what chance do I stand? I’ve read through my older blog posts and see how each time we’ve gone out to a clinic or a competition we have to start at the very beginning each time, and that’s so depressing. I can’t go to a one day event and ask if they’ll let us have a bash at the show jumping and only count our second round! It’s also kind of depressing to scroll through my Facebook and Twitter feeds and see how much fun everyone else is having with their nice, sane horses...
She’s a lamb to handle on the ground, and she’s an excellent hack when in company, so ideally I’ll find someone who just wants to hack and does so with another horse. If I can’t find that person, I’ll just retire her, because it’s just too depressing (and expensive) to keep her going as a riding horse for me. The farrier took her shoes off this week, so she’s now happily lording it over the other two out in the field, and being lunged twice a week to stop her going feral and keep her muscles and joints in good working order. It’s so crushing to see her loafing around in the field, her talent and gorgeousness totally wasted simply because she’s got a crazy brain. We’ve come up with any number of theories and new ideas about why she’s nuts and how we can fix her - did the clinic at Firle blow her mind? was she badly treated when she was racing? - but I would rather accept that I’ve failed with her and move on than continue in the same vein for another 4 years.
A very nice friend of mine has offered me her own lovely event horse to ride a couple of times during the week as she is very busy with work, and even though I’ve only ridden him a few times, he’s already hugely bolstered my confidence in my own riding. Scarlet makes me feel a bit useless, because it often doesn’t matter what I do, if she wants to be a prat then she will be. Riding Sailor has been great, because when I ride well, he goes well. If I do something wrong, like lean forward, let my reins get too long, etc then he responds in kind. I’m hoping to start jumping soon, and that will be a huge test for me, but I know he’s such a genuine, honest horse that he’ll look after me. I’ve had some fab lessons with Sailor, and am so grateful to him and his lovely owner Polly and yard owner Beverley that I can still ride and enjoy my hobby. Isn’t that what it’s all about?
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Written by Laura Paine of Dragonfly Saddlery