On Struggle and Perseverance

I knew when I bought Duncan that it would be a challenge for a multitude of reasons. I also knew that if I didn’t buy Duncan, I was seconds away from packing it in and calling this whole venture of coming back to riding a failed experiment. Two-ish months in and I can say that I was right, it has been a challenge, but there have been rewarding moments along the way too.

All things considered, Duncan is actually a pretty cool guy. He’s a forward ride and likes to work. While he is a worrier, hes not an overreactor and generally comes around to things pretty quickly. He’s a horse that really wants to do a good job though building his (and mine) confidence has been a slow process.

The first few weeks were rough. His already worried personality coupled with a change in environment/routine and coming from a place where he was stalled the majority of the time made it difficult for us to even have a conversation. His frantic energy kept his brain on lock down, sending his fight or flight response into overdrive. The first time I had him in the round pen I had a feeling deep in the pit of my stomach that if I made the wrong move he would attempt to go over the wall. Shortly after while lunging him in the arena I absentmindedly took a step towards him to send him out on a bigger circle and he exploded, charging halfway across the arena and lifting both my feet off the ground in the process. Under saddle he was stiff and unyielding, unwilling to drop his guard (or his head).

We’ve gone at his pace, spent a lot of time with me on the ground establishing and reinforcing boundaries and the idea that while I am unequivocally the leader in this relationship, I am a fair and benevolent one who means him no harm. He’s made a lot of progress all things considered, our work having been inconsistent due to the weather of this time of year. We’ve worked to address any bodily pain, gotten him up to date on vaccinations and teeth and farrier work. Regular turnout with a calm buddy has helped him immensely as well as our groundwork and we’re starting to develop trust and a language. We hit a milestone last week when he wandered off while I was setting a jump and got his foot through the reins (completely my fault) and while he initially panicked, he almost immediately calmed down and stood still for me to untangle him. A month ago I don’t know that he would have trusted me to do so.

In a weird way, his issues have been exactly what I needed to experience to be reminded that I do actually know more than I give myself credit for. I lost a lot of confidence not only in my riding but also in myself through everything that happened with Quinn, and so it’s been good to see results and be able to affirm that I’m doing the right things. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that there’s a been a lot of frustration and sadness too though.

I could not have picked a horse that was more of a polar opposite from Q. Quinn never worried and never said no even when he wasn’t sure. I never had to give much thought to introducing him to something new and riding him, even though he was even greener than Duncan is, was never a struggle (until, of course his injury happened). He and I have one of those rare relationships where we just immediately spoke the same language and his easy confidence only emboldened me. Coming from a horse like that to a horse like Duncan who takes every ounce of my brain power and body strength to ride feels immensely like struggle. Throw in the fact that I still have dips in confidence in my own ability and there are some days where I wonder what the hell I was thinking. I watch green horses canter lines of cross rails like its nothing on their first rides off the track and am green with envy. I miss things feeling easy. Though I’m riding another horse now, I’m still deeply grieving the career that Quinn will never have.

This isn’t to say that I don’t like Duncan or have any regrets about buying him. I’m grateful for the things he’s teaching me and know that I will be the better for having him. Change is just hard. Growth is hard. Moving on from the loss of something you so desperately wanted to work is the most hard. Sometimes though the only way out is through, so Duncan and I will keep plugging along and I know things will become easier in time.

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