Oberon and I face off, or when I learn how little I know

     Growing up I was always the one that bravely rode the naughty school ponies. I was good at asserting myself and making the horses do what they needed to do so more timid riders might stand a chance. I have built my entire riding career on similar offshoots. Along those same lines, I have avoided most horses that I thought were hotter or had a [few] screws loose. Enter Oberon.

The coolest, most stubborn Haflinger pony

     Now before you say, “poor Oberon, Amanda is mean”, let me preface this a little. I finally got in touch with Oberon’s previous, previous, previous owners, and learned about his upbringing. He was bred at Foxcroft Farm in Conroe, Texas. He grew up in a fairly boring way before being sent to a trainer in Dallas and returning. He never quite made it to beginner/intermediate lessons, so he became an advanced student lesson horse. At many programs, the advanced lesson horses are less needed, and Foxcroft was no exception. Consequently, Oberon spent several years hanging out in the pasture enjoying the scenery. Until, the farm went up for sale. Being one of the less used citizens, Oberon [previously known as Half of That/ Yoo Hoo] was sold near the beginning. And so his journey through several under-educated owners went on, until he was lucky enough to meet Jennifer. Jennifer poured some money into him before selling him to us.

     So Oberon joins our farm, very thin, but on the up and up. We feed him and try to ride him during the nicer days. And then we feed him. And then he eats some more. Now, I don’t know if the feed he gets is necessarily making him hot, in fact I doubt very seriously beet pulp and alfalfa pellets make a horse drastically more energetic. In any case, Oberon has gained several hundred pounds since we got him, and he is starting to feel much better. Not directly correlated, but Oberon is also extremely nervous about many things, including cows, cars, and mobile bags. I have been approaching this situation with extreme annoyance, and a general lack of patience for his nerves.

     You may remember I recently started taking dressage lessons with the awesome Sarah Denham. Well, knowing Oberon had some background in dressage, I thought it might be a great strategy to learn some of Oberon’s buttons and understand his crazy little head. Cue the worst weather. Very windy, chilly, and some kind of cold front moving into the area. It was suggested to me at a few weeks earlier, that Oberon should be worked prior to getting on to focus his energy. So I was trying to run him down a little bit [an aside here… I feel a little bit embarrassed by this, because I am generally a fan of using the lunge to work, not run]. Oberon’s next move was to ignore me and gallop along one side of the “circle” and trot the other side, while spooking at the initial scary thing, as I became more and more annoyed.

     Perfect storm right? Luckily, Sarah managed to step in and take charge, since Oberon and I were just feeding off of each other. Sarah attached the reins as side reins and then demonstrated how to really make him work on the line and focus his energy on her as she gave him confidence. Every move of his hooves should be approved by me, and if he varies from my prescribed course I need to correct him. In reality this was accomplished by lunging with the largest circle where he would pay attention (10-15m).

     At this point, I was emotionally exhausted. This horse and I are not on the same page at all and I could not fathom what else to do to reach him. I was just not used to dealing with a horse that needed such comforting (ironically in the form of ignoring). I mounted and worked at the walk/trot before I had to go (we also started late to add to the storm). This is a very kind rendition of what happened. I suppose its more accurate to say I had a psychological breakdown. Lots of stress combined with not understanding how the horse worked made me out to feel a little bit crazy and exhausted. Lucky for me, we have a fantastic barn family, and while my pride was hurt pretty bad, thats the least of it.

     The moral of this story is that the quarter horse training methodology doesn’t work on every horse, and I need to rethink how I approach Oberon and how I can help him feel safe so he will work for me. Part II is coming soon, in which I achieve some level of success.

A nap in the limited sunshine!

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