April has arrived and with it, so has spring fever.
Thankfully, this fever is not of the variety that needs veterinary intervention, but it certainly keeps me busy as a trainer! Something about the weather change seems to inspire even the most polite of equines to dust off their party shoes and throw in some unauthorized dance moves.
Needless to say, I get a lot of texts during this season that read along the lines of, “Sara, my horse is a lunatic. Please HELP!!”
(At this moment I am going to offer a public service announcement before my tone becomes lighthearted again: If your horse really is being a two-headed, green-eyed monster, before I—or your trainer of choice—evaluates and assists, have your veterinarian out for a checkup. It is undeniable that a horse with back pain, oral pain, hoof pain or plain old pain-pain is going to act out of character. The other thing to be sure to check in the spring is saddle fit; lots of changes can happen whether you take the winter off or train hard. Bottom line: I won’t hop onto a spastic horse until we rule out discomfort. I never, ever want to be that person who rides a horse who is in pain. Thank you for coming to my Ted Talk.)
Most of my clients tell me they are sure that their horses are the only ones in the world acting bananas, and that Instagram proves that everyone else is having an easy time. They are absolutely correct: The horses in my stable are the only ones in the world who are ever Dressage Disasters, and I am the only trainer out there who does not have a crystal chandelier in her tack room. SHAME!!
Back to reality. I’m here to tell you that the above statements are not true at all, and everyone has the occasional Horse Horror moment. Most people will keep those moments at home or not post them to the internet, but believe me, they happen. (And they usually happen to me in the most public of places. Sigh.)
The daily occurrences this time of year, even in my own tiny stable, are hilariously ridiculous. I have a mare who simply does not trust nature and all its ever-changing faces. She thinks nature is a Very Bad Thing. She wishes there would never be puddles to walk through (horror!), wind to blow her perfect mane out of place (eeek!!) or the return of wildlife to distract her from contemplations of her own greatness.
There is also the chestnut gelding who loudly protests whenever someone has the gall to move the furniture in the arena. He will let you know, with much bug-eyed horror, if the mounting block is out of place. He has perfected a weird backwards shimmy that allows him to keep a very close eye on the inanimate (but apparently mobile?!) object of terror that has dared relocate.
I’m always particularly amused by a 20-year-old school pony I have who, without fail, loses her mind in the spring and needs significant longeing time. She snorts, leaps, bucks, farts and acts a complete fool. Thankfully, she usually runs out of energy by April 15, which is a relief.
This spring, all three of these usually calm and well-mannered creatures have displayed the kinds of behavior that one generally tries to keep off the internet. But despite that, it happens! Horses will act like horses at times, no matter how well trained and well cared for they are.
Of course, we need to take a moment to talk about my little guy Dubai, who is the youngest and springiest horse in the barn and should be the most chaotic in the spring. I have noticed that he is somewhat unaffected by the change of season, but take my word, he is not as perfect as he thinks he is! His favorite thing is to act with great dignity in daily training and save up his foolishness for early season public outings. Then and only then does he let his feelings fly.
I refer to him as “the child at Disney, eating an ice cream and watching a parade while having a teary meltdown.” In other words, situations with lots of external stimulation tend to bring out his most complex emotions. (Thankfully I can tolerate this kind of public display of leaping, as he is not my first young and expressive horse.)
At home in the safety of his normal surroundings, he only has a few things that cause him to run about as though he has no training. What are these things? Unexpected Loud Noises, hearing Susanne “cluck-cluck” in my actual ear when I have a communication headset on, and the sound of acorns pelting the ground in autumn. He hates those nuts. Very Dangerous Acorns.
Someone snapped an action photo of him last fall, when the nuts were in full tumble and he decided to flee the scene. I have framed that photo, and it is on my “what not to do” wall. (Perhaps I will put it on my Instagram next week and have a “Reality vs. Instagram” series—I feel that this could bring a great dose of humor to the internet!)
Because Dubai leaps around at every sound, I concluded that he needed a sound-reducing bonnet. However, he wants nothing to do with them. He claims he “can’t hear” and feels more upset by the partial deafness than the noises that trouble him. This is all well and good, and now I tend to bang and crash a lot because if he won’t let me help him, he’s gonna have to get used to a ruckus!
“Sorry Dubai, I did not mean to kick the mounting block, have the tractor drive by, clang and bang so very unexpectedly…”
It seems I take this approach, in various forms, with all the spring-fevered creatures.
For example, the gelding who hates it when we move objects in the arena seems to be finding that we relocate things daily. And the mare who doesn’t like nature has found herself on a lot of walkabouts this past week, despite the fact that the spring rain has left puddles of doom. Finally, the bucking, farting school pony has been on the end of a longe line quite a bit as of late and seems to be almost at the end of her lunacy.
So as we are all prepping for another show season, and you are convinced that your noble steed is the only one in the world with temporary spring insanity, please know you are not alone. We will all get through this exciting time and will soon be complaining that it is too hot, and our horses are feeling oh-so-lazy. In the meantime, we can form a support group for riders whose horses are not 100% perfect and for trainers who have zero crystal chandeliers in their barns! (Or more logically, put on your parachute, your best helmet and enlist the help of your trainer until summer arrives!)
I’m Sara Bradley, a full-time dressage trainer of horses with epic levels of Spring Fever! Most of my time is spent educating young horses and young riders at my facility, Waterford Equestrian Center. (And yes, I do like to instruct mature horses and humans as well and have some lovely ones in my stable!)
When I’m not busy juggling the day-to-day activities at my farm, I enjoy activities like trail running over actual mountains and running marathons. (Life in the slow lane is not my style!) I enjoy many dressage adventures with my German Riding Pony, Dubai’s Dream, and you can follow this journey on Instagram @dubais_dream.