Letterman was my second horse, kind of. After I stopped riding Napoleon (read here) I rode quite a few different horses here and there before Letterman, but Letterman was the first horse since Napoleon that I dedicate a significant amount of time to. I leased him from the barn owner as a training project, and boy what a project Letterman was. He may not have been my horse, but he taught me some of the most important lessons I would ever learn on horseback.
Sixteen hands of unattractive flea bitten grey thoroughbred, Letterman had a tendency to buck and bolt under saddle. He was that special kind of gangly that only thoroughbreds seem to be able to pull off, but so was I; tall, awkward, and obsessed with horses. Together we made quite the pair.
According my trainer he had sat back on his lead rope at a horse show a couple years back, flipping over backwards and breaking his withers. He hadn't been ridden since then and they hadn't been sure he would ever be rideable, but I guess the vet gave him the all clear because here I was... fourteen year old little me sitting on top of this crazy horse that was fresh out of years of pasture life.
I had told my trainer not long before that I was ready for a project, that I was ready to do more. I wanted to train horses, not just sit on them and look pretty. I guess she took me seriously because the very first horse I was to "train" was this gelding that nobody wanted to ride... except me.
We spent long hours working together. Lesson after lesson of flat work only (which to a jumper is brutal) , working on maintaining consistency of pace, body, and mind. Rebuilding strength and muscle while at the same time encouraging 'sane-ness'.
Letterman taught me the power of the mind, and of the seat. If I could just control my body and make it move slower, make it be relaxed, make it be steady, then he would respond in like. If my aids were quick, my seat unsteady, and my breathing fast, then so would he. It was a bluffing game really, because sometimes I wasn't calm and I wasn't steady, but for him I had to be. If I ever wanted him to change, I had to convince both myself and him that he was changing, that he was different. If I also rode like he was preparing to take off, then he would take off. If I was constantly holding my breath, waiting for that next bucking fit, then my body would send him into a bucking fit.
Sometimes he would still have his moments, even when I had control over myself, but gradually the moments decreased in intensity and became further and further apart in occurrence until they no longer happened. I'm convinced that we could have had even more success had we spent time not only on his training but on his physical and mental well being with approaches such as positive reinforcement/clicker training, massage and osteopathic therapy, and professional saddle fitting. But at the time those were options I didn't even know existed.
I have no doubt that the poor guy had physical issues that probably caused him to struggle to remain balanced in the very least, but more likely caused him pain. I also know for a fact that my saddle at the time didn't fit him, but I didn't know any better and my trainers never blinked an eye. I was living in a world where the saddle was suited to the rider and that was all, and all behavioral issues were a matter of training. Actually, I have a very distinct memory of a lady that boarded her horses at the same barn bringing in a chiropractor for her horses one day and all of us other boarders watching in a state of skepticism, amazed anyone would spend money on something so crazy as having their horses adjusted. It's amazing how far I've come since that day.
Letterman never really stopped rushing all together, he still bucked on occasion, jumped flat, and hurried through the corners as he struggled to balance himself, but he sure tried his heart out. He even went on to show in a few lower level hunter/jumper classes with another rider. She had taken up leasing him after me and I believe they even placed a few times, but after a few years I lost track of them unfortunately.
At the time I was leasing him he was owned by the barn owner and from there I believe the person that leased him after me bought him. They were a great pair together and I can only hope he still remains in her care. I will forever remember the lessons Letterman gifted to me, and I've continued to use them every day since I last saw him. Thank you Letterman for teaching me so much.