Anyone who knows me knows I don’t shy away from a challenge. I’m also a work addict, and love a project. I really enjoy working with difficult horses, but I hate to admit sometimes when they’re mine, it’s harder to keep it objective. Geronimo has been difficult, and anyone who knows him knows he is strong willed, intelligent to a creepy level, and impossible to coerce into anything. If he’s going to do it, there’s going to be a reason that he understands and he’s going to have to get behind that reason first. I appreciate that about him, and I understand it, because I’m very similar. We have a mutual distaste for fluff or anything that wastes our time, and we don’t like to socialize with people who have agendas. That’s one of the reasons why I love my Goliath-in-a-tiny-package, but when it comes to our relationship, he eyes me with the same scrutiny as he does others, which I have a hard time not taking personally.
I’ve tried to relay to him that cantering is a valuable exercise, and after a summer of exploding, refusing, bucking, cross cantering, and shutting down completely when asked, he finally did canter both leads. But he didn’t put his heart in it, and my gorgeous, athletic and nice-moving little devil gave me the worst, most uncomfortable canter every time I asked. All 14.2 hands of him would stiffen, his neck would tighten and his hind end would sort of drop and scoot, rather than engage to lift his shoulders. It felt like riding in a truck with no shocks going 60 mph down a rocky gravel road. And then I’d turn him loose and watch him canter off to his friends, neck beautifully arched, hind end lowered, at a lovely, rhythmic gait. If I were a cartoon, I think steam would have come out my ears. I’d agonize over what I was doing wrong, I’d try harder the next time and make it worse, then I’d ease up on him thinking I had gone overboard, and that would make it worse than ever. I had a hard time finding the balance between pushing him to try, because he rarely did, and being too easy on him at a level he was comfortable with.
So the other day we’re going through our normal routine – bracey groundwork followed by a warm up of alternating between lurching behind the bit, grabbing the bit and straining his neck, and an occasional, delightfully soft moment. Some transitions, and then right to the canter like Jec Ballou suggested – “don’t avoid it because it’s ugly,” she said, “he’s got to learn to go through it to get to the other side.” UGh. I would much rather avoid it forever, and maybe wake up one day and find him magically perfect, but here goes nothing – so I ask him to canter left lead, his harder one. He goes for his choppy trot, I ask him to soften and slow and try again. Left lead, giraffe neck, stiff, choppy, irregular rhythm, I’m trying to fix it, and bam – he goes a** over teakettle, launching me forward where I promptly fill my mouth, front of my shirt and pants with sand. I roll over and look up and I can see him roll toward me, thankfully missing me, and stand up.
Geronimo is of the pensive sort, and he stood there looking down at me as I looked up at him. Normal horses would have been scared, maybe, or worried about what had just happened, but he just looked down at me, not even breathing hard. I brushed the sand off the exterior of my clothes, spat out the bulk of what was in my mouth and gritted the rest while I put my foot back in the stirrup and got back on.
I asked for left lead canter again, and this time, Geronimo placed each foot carefully, thoughtfully, and lowered his croup for an uphill transition. He sneezed and blowed in his canter whereas before he had held his breath, huffing and puffing like he was an obese person waddling after a donut. I could have cried, and I think I might have – at this point I couldn’t tell because I was covered in dirt and horse hair and sweat with my hair matted under my helmet, and I was sitting on my incredible horse who was cantering and it was comfortable and I was so happy.
What’s really interesting about this whole deal is that I had considered laying him down and just hadn’t for a myriad of reasons, but I guess it was time for him to be laid down and he was, and it worked. Since then Geronimo still isn’t perfect, but he’s trying, and I feel like I went up a bit in the food chain in his mind. I guess we both needed a little change of perspective