If you think I get a little effusive from time to time about how much I love Eli and how good he is, and how much I believe he is the right horse for me, you would not be amiss. All these things are true. However. …
We don’t always get along. He still bites. I hate it. For the most part, I can preempt it with pokes and redirection. But not always. I struggle with keeping my temper when he actually chomps down on my arm. I smack him for it, of course, but sometimes excessively. It gets my point across, but it’s not good horsemanship. Long ago, I used to groom him with a crop in one hand because he was that bad about it. I rarely had to use the crop — it’s a very effective deterrent, partially because I think Eli is genuinely afraid of crops. But then, training through fear is odious, and I don’t use a crop around him now because mostly he’s good. I don’t know if there’s a way to do this effectively any more, like we’ve come to a stalemate in this particular behavior match. Most days, he respects that I don’t want him biting me or anyone else. But we still have incidents — much fewer than in the past — that end in me smacking him 4 or 5 times (on the neck because I won’t smack a horse in the face ever) and putting liniment on my bruised arm. He stops trying to bite after this, at least for a few minutes. We can go for weeks in relative harmony while I am grooming him, but his personality is such that I don’t think I will ever “cure” him of biting completely.
Eli still has some truly choice moments under saddle, too. I don’t really mind when he tosses his head at a canter depart, or when he spooks at something coming up behind him. I just close my leg and get on with it. But again, every once in a while, closing my leg and getting on with it doesn’t always go smoothly. And sometimes I can’t even figure out what exactly is spooking him or setting him off. It’s not lost on me that these behaviors typically occur during the left lead canter. That is his weaker side, and he needs more help from me to keep a decent canter. Even though he wants to evade more this direction in this gait via spooking or breaking into a trot or hollowing out his back and trying to scoot sideways, the only thing that really works to address this is LEG. I use transitions, too, but leg keeps him straight and forward and coming up into the bridle. If he resists, I close my leg. I use my seat a little more. Do we end up with a perfect canter in 20 strides? No. But we end better than when we started and I do praise him excessively when he gets even close to what I am asking when we are riding through conflict like this. 10 steps of him listening gets lots of neck scratches and a walk break.
I get where Eli is coming from with much of his behavior. I think he had some questionable handling in his past that caused a lot of reactiveness and aggression. Now, I’m going for fair handling. If he has a day where he just can’t then he doesn’t have to. I’ve had those days, too. I see no point in picking a fight when on balance, the horse does what I ask. A lot.
But we still have the occasional departure from what’s desirable. What horse and rider pair goes the entire partnership with no challenges?