Have I gotten to the part where I hated this horse yet? The more I rode Raffles the more I discovered and disliked his bad habits. He had a persistent and purposeful spook, he bucked like a slingshot and he gaped his jaw and pulled his reins. The more I tried to correct these behaviors, the more he liked it. Raffles loved getting into a fight and I was stubborn enough to not back down. And Dressage shows! Dressage shows were a study in embarrassment and frustration. Raffles is undeniably talented, athletic and amongst all the the fighting, had become very well schooled and was moving up the levels. As good as he was, it was a struggle for us to get into the 60% range because of the spooking. At each show, he'd pick something and that would be his focus throughout the whole test. It could be the flowers at M (but not at A, C, E, B, or any of the other letters), it could be one particular letter, or the horsey statue by the judge's table, the coil of extra fencing lying just outside the ingate.... It was always something. Raffles wouldn't just spook at something either. He'd spook every time he went by and would prepare for the spook starting at the other end of the arena. He'd come down the long side as if his parking brake were left on, eyes big as saucers, back hollowed and dropped somewhere around his fetlocks, and his neck like a lead pipe. The judge, never being impressed by his display, always gave scores for submission that were abysmally low.
It got to the point where I hated riding this horse. I avoided riding him. Dreaded riding him. Hated it. Which meant that when I did dredge up the ambition to ride him, I had no patience, was irritable and fought right back.
Contemplating the problem, I decided that the only solution was to learn to like the horse. I told myself that I had to learn to get along with him and we needed to start having some fun. Putting Dressage shows on the back-burner for the moment, we started going to some little local pleasure shows, did some jumping and trail riding and tried out some tricks. In doing so, I found out what my HORSE likes to do. He liked to show off. He liked to show off in a crowd of other horses so that he felt safe and he loved the cheering crowds. There isn't a lot of cheering at Dressage shows. Nobody whoops and hollers when we go in extended trot on the diagonal in a Prix St. Georges test. There may be some polite golf-clapping applause at the end of the test, but not always.
Things were still the same at home, he continually spooked down the long side of the ring and bucked if I told him to get his rear in gear, but now we had something to look forward to. I had found a reason to appreciate my horse and a way to have fun again. The clincher was taking him to the big shows put on by the Arab clubs. There are Arabs, Morgans, Saddlebreds, Friesians and an occasional Quarter Horse or Appaloosa, but no Warmbloods. Raffles fit right in with the snorting, fire-breathing, leg-flinging horses at these shows. He won a bunch of classes and developed his own fan club. People would stop by his stall and tell me that they go down to the ring specifically to watch his classes. Raffles loved doing a victory lap and always knew where the photographer was. He was a rock-star.
We've tried going back to Dressage shows and ended up leaving in disgrace, so I have stuck to the pleasure shows. As long as Raffles has a horse in front of him (that any potential monsters would eat first, thereby giving him the opportunity to get away) he was perfectly happy to go around the ring. He still bucks, especially when he gets carried away in Road Hack classes. He still spooks at ridiculous things. The difference is that I have learned to accept that and do not fight him about it. I still try to ride him through it and keep his attention but without having a snarling argument about the issue.
We have had some very memorable moments at the shows and the time spent with him has allowed me to bond with him in a way we don't get to at home. He will always be the same foolish horse that swaggers around the farm, ogling at mares, and threatening to bite the heads off small geldings. He will always spook and buck and pull his reins. The difference is that I have learned to ride him. Sure I may have helped him learn tempi changes and half-pass but only because I learned to train him around his personality, not through it.
At 24, Raffles has settled down a little but not enough. Now, I love him; love riding him and showing him. Do not love the spooking, but we deal with it. The too of us are like an old married couple. We bicker, but don't fight. He puts his ears back, I call him a knucklehead, he tries to step on my foot, I holler at him to knock it off, ... but that's just our routine. I know and he knows that in the end, I'll tell him he's a handsome boy, pat him and give him a cookie.