If it is true that I now have the horse I deserve (see yesterday's post) I think it is also true in a way that Gem has the rider she deserves. I know, I know...I should ride every horse perfectly no matter what is going on, but I am not a professional rider or even a nearly professional amateur rider or even a well trained rider. So I do what I can.
When I first got my Gemmiecakes I was still pretty much a solid passenger. Oh I could steer and what not, but in general my alpha pushy mare figured she could call the shots and get away with it. And in the beginning she could. And did so very often. But as time passed and I grew a set I started to toy with the idea that maybe, just maybe, she could go where, when and how I wanted. Along the way I have learned a ton from her.
What type of rider has she made?
Well, for starters a very attentive one. She pays attention to me. If she feels even for the slightest moment that I am not paying 100% attention to her, she makes sure I begin to. Usually by ducking down and over and depositing me on my feet next to where she had been. The smug look on her face lets me know it was 100% pre-conceived and thought out to prove a point: pay attention or I don't deserve to be on her. So, I do. During the entire ride I am checking and rechecking my status, her status, our trail etc... My legs are solidly on her sides letting her know I am there and ready for anything she sends my way. It does get a little tiring to be so on guard all the time. I can't imagine doing it for an entire 50 miles/10+ hours. I hope my brain doesn't burn out!
Along that same line she has made me a very defensive one. When I first began to jump her (over little 1-2 ft cross rails and verticles) she was a runner. She would get very close to the base of the jump, decide she had no interest in going over it, and run out the side. When I was just learning my own seat and technique, this usually resulted in amusing gymnastics on my part as I tried to stay on her on not go flying over her side. When that failed to work she would try the dirty stop: get as close as possible to the jump, act like she was going to go over and then slam on the brakes. Again, this resulted in either me making it to the other side of the jump sans horse or clinging to her neck. Over time, I have learned how to get her over jumps without these antics and now we can do a small course just fine. But....it has taught me to be very defensive. I tend to stay behind her motion a bit anticipating her not going over the jump. I am also very defensive on the trail. Her past spooky behavior (oh look! a shadow! lets turn around and run away!) has made me very aware of everything on the trail and when we get to something new or that caused a bad reaction in the recent past I get tense and prepare for a spook. If I rode a horse that actually did jump anything put in front of him (like Pete) I would probably annoy the crap out of him with my defensive attitude.
But she has also made me a have a much, much more solid base of support. My legs now wrap around her sides instead of dropping off my waist uselessley as this did before. I can jump without seeing my life flash before me. If she runs out, dirty stops, turns 180 degrees and runs on trail, I am ready and able (for the most part :) to stay with her annd move with her. We are much more a team now instead of two individuals.
She has made me become a braver rider. I do not claim to be brave in general, but through everything I've been through on her my confidence has soared. I am now riding solo without pictures of being flung, trampled and left alone running through my head. I can work her int he arena without just running amok, but in a more orderly way.
I am also more thoughtful when I ride which is the biggest difference she has shown me of all. Instead of just going with the flow, I now plan well ahead of time. "We are going to go to the first fence, turn right, stop, walk a little, then trot again" Or on trail "We will trot to the top of the next hill, then I will get off and run down the other side and get back on to trot the flat section". I plan because if I don't she will take advantage of it. I can't just go around the arena willy nilly or we will end up in the center doing nothing much at all. If I have a definitive plan I will make her do it and not get away with her little tricks. And believe me, she can tell the difference when I'm just hanging out on her versus having a plan.
And last, but not least, she has taught me patience. With Gem, no amount of yelling, getting angry or being forceful will work. She justs gets more tense and then holds a grudge for a long time about it. I can't honestly remember the last time I raised my voice at all with her. If she does something bad, I ignore it and continue on doing what I had wanted to do. If she spooks, I ignore it like it didn't happen or I laugh and pat her and we move on. You can't tell Gem to do anything. You have to ask. And when she answers with a "no" you have to go about it in a different way.
So thank Gem for training me as much as I have trained you. We are in this together and after 4 years we deserve each other. I hope for many, many, many more adventures with her in the future. :)