Everybody loves to ride the made, easy to ride horse. They make horse shows fun and ribbons easy, they make you look like a rockstar when you ride in lessons and they build your confidence. What they don't do is challenge you. I had a blast on the fun horses but I learned the most and have the best memories from the challenging ones.
The first one that comes to mind was Grec. He was a 16 hand liver chestnut that had been locked in his stall for 6 months and his brain was fried. He was terrified of the world, leaves, bugs, people, dogs, hay, grass, his shadow, and everything else you see day to day at a busy show barn. At one point in his life he had been broke to ride and well started under saddle. I was given him as a project and he was one of my greatest successes and one of the hardest horses I ever rode. We had a track that led from our barn down to one of 5 arenas and it was about a 5 minute walk on a normal horse. Our first attempt took us 40 minutes to get to the arena. He jumped sideways and I mean all 4 feet came off the ground each time and he lept about 6 feet from one side to the other. He was terrified. Luckily I was a fearless teenager and had a knack for the scared horses and he grew to trust me. Each ride became less stressful for him and he began to rely on my calmness and he realized the world was not out to get him. Eventually(many months later) we were able to canter around the track on a loose rein. The same track he couldn't even walk down before. I taught him how to jump and even though he wasn't going to be much more than a 2'6 to 3 foot horse he became so reliable that beginners could ride him. In every sense of the word he become bomb proof and as safe and reliable as they came. He was as sweet as could be and I grew to love this difficult horse because he taught me more patience than I ever had before on a horse and I taught him to trust again. I cried for days when his owner moved out of state and took him with her, even though he wasn't my horse we had become quite the team and I grew very fond of my sweet friend.
The second one that came to mind was Lance, he was a dirty stopper that came to us to fix. He would canter up to a jump, start to go over it and plant his feet and drop his head and shoulder and dump just about anybody, myself included. After my first fall on him I figured his stop out and that infuriated him, so much so that he would spin and then bolt away. I fell again. Now I was sure I had him figured out. I started carrying two crops(one for each hand since he liked to change it up and duck out on each side) and channeled my greatest Kathy Kusner:
“I knew what worked with stoppers. If you draw the boundaries of behavior and don’t ask them to do anything that’s unfair, you can eventually end it. I believed this would work with him.
“As I advanced with his re-education, I would set up all kinds of different things to jump to invite the stop. If he did, he’d get a spanking. After many spankings, he stopped doing that. Sometimes, there wouldn’t be a spanking, because at the last instant, he would vanish from under me. I would continue over the jump by myself; I’d see him getting smaller and smaller as he galloped away.
“At first, all you’d have to do was point him at any jump and he’d often stop, but pretty soon, it took more imagination to catch him unaware so the stop would happen. Finally, you couldn’t invent anything he would stop at—he would have jumped over fire.”-Kathy Kusner-
and eventually he realized that I wouldn't let him get away with it and I wasn't going to scare him. He went on to win numerous AA hunter championships at the rated shows with his owner. He taught me to never give up like others had done with him and created this bad stop. Horses don't learn to stop on their own, they learn from poor riding and over-facing them. In the end the hard ones teach you the most about your own riding and who you are as a person.
The hard horses made me the rider and coach I am today. The hard ones most of the time go onto become the coolest horses to ride and show. Especially if you treat them right. When you have a challenging horse in your life, don't give up on them, give them time and be patient with them and you just might be surprised at how far they will take you. Trust is earned and once you earn the difficult horses trust, you will be rewarded 10 fold. The hard ones will try the hardest and give you the most back once you figure them out.