Riding with the neighbor kids helped my futurity prospect and improved my training mindset.
By Kelli Neubert
The other day my riding regressed about 18 years.
And to be honest, I’m kind of happy about it.
I’ve got a 2-year-old gelding named Pup that’s been appointed as my “performance project.” This is both thrilling and intimidating, as I love to have something new to work with and learn from. But it also creates a pressure on me to try and train him to the best of my abilities, which are ever-changing. He’s a kind horse with a curious nature and above-average size for his age and breed. I’ve got a wild hair to show him in Reno at the Snaffle Bit Futurity next year, so that’s what we’ve been working toward.
I’ve struggled and stressed over certain maneuvers and concepts with Pup. Working him on a cow day-in and day-out (something I’ve never before had the opportunity to do) leaves me miffed and confused about the proper balance of “just go with the cow” and “make sure he moves correctly.” And although I feel blessed to be able to work with my husband, I have to admit that being married to someone who trains horses for a living just makes me even more self-conscious of the shortcomings I face when riding a young horse.
Just the other day, I had Pup saddled and felt bewildered about what to do next. We’d worked on different maneuvers and concepts all week, and I just didn’t feel like I was making a positive impact. I was in a mental rut with my horse and didn’t know how to improve it. As I mulled, I watched the neighbor kids with envy as they jumped logs, played tag and raced around like wild Indians on their broke ponies. Those kids didn’t care that their horses dropped their shoulders in on a turn. They didn’t worry about smooth turnarounds, or mirroring a cow, or flawless lead changes, or whether or not everything they did horseback was executed perfectly. They didn’t gauge the success of their ride by how “good” their horses felt, and they didn’t have the looming date of the 2016 futurities to use as a deadline for their talents or skills. They simply rode because it was fun.
And so I decided I would throw all caution to the wind, forget about the arena for the day and join them.
They were happy to include me and Pup in their activities. We played tag. We zigged and zagged, dashed and halted, and whirled and laughed. We went out for a ride in the cool stillness of the Texas afternoon and inhaled the smell of lavender and rain as the grasses bowed and ducked to avoid our horses’ trotting hooves. We played hide and seek horseback in an overgrown orchard, sang songs and visited about what we wanted for Christmas. We returned home when the sun glowed orange in the west, and the sky faded through every shade of pink until it eventually turned a deep, dusky blue.
I just had fun.
The next day, I figured that I’d better get back to the arena and work a cow again on ol’ Pup. The 12-year-old version of me from the previous day morphed right back into that familiar adult. I feared the return of my mental rut, and was a little stressed that I was going to face the same arena predicaments.
To my surprise, we had a wonderful day. My horse was relaxed, soft and hooked to a cow. I couldn’t believe what I was feeling. Our fun “step backwards” the day before ended up being a big leap forward. In fact, I think Luke was a little surprised as well. He watched me for awhile and then mentioned “Hey, your horse looks really good today. He’s certainly improved. What exactly have you been working on?”
I sort of smiled and was slow to reply.
“Oh, just a little something that the neighbor kids taught me.”