It occurs to me that while I am going on about how excited I get over a look in a horse's eye, the swiveling of ears, the lowering of a tensed high head, I maybe should explain a little more about what my goals are when I work with a horse. Any and all horses, mine, sales or training stock. It's about the relationship. Getting things done is high on my list and anyone who knows me can tell you, I am as competitive as they come. I want to do it, not just right, but best. What I have come to realize, over the years, is that "getting there" only counts if I have not sacrificed my horse to make IT (whatever that might be) happen. Haven't blown through thresholds, forcing the horse into whatever next plateau I have decided we need to hit, haven't lost my temper and shredded the hard won trust I worked so hard for, the last time I handled him, haven't skipped steps that I understand are valuable, but are time consuming and I WANT IT NOW!
By nature, I am impatient and demanding. I have been known to harsh with myself, my loved ones and anger is a quick leap for me.
Because of these innate qualities, I have had to struggle to maintain patience, to hang on to the idea that the winning Trail Challenge ride, the impressive turn in the sorting pen, the high point trophy from the local show, all that starts with a simple give. And for me, they aren't possible without it. I want to win, but I want to do it on a horse with soft eyes, ears up, and a relaxed, conditioned responsive, athletic body. A partner.
Off work today and a weather forecast in my favor, I had high hopes of getting quite a bit accomplished out at the barn. After a leisurely morning, a couple cups of joe, and my friend, Walt on his way over, I was ready to head out and get started. The training fillies, Knosie and Slippin, are home for the winter. The other training horse . . . well, he's another story and I don't want to talk about him right now. Turns out, I own him but not because I want to . . .
Priority of the day was Sugar Sox, who is home and looking good. This is a sharp little 14 hand POA/Appaloosa gelding I sold some folks as a kid's horse. They didn't get along, and in the interest of good customer service and standing behind my deals, I offered to trade them back for something else. I needed to know what was going on with my good little gelding who had apparently been bucking, spooking and had become clumsy to boot, for these guys.
I saddled him in the barn, and he didn't move a foot or bat an eyelash. Well, that's a good start. He was a little fresh, stepped right out when I was leading him, tail aloft and eye bright. Not much for manners, he crowded me and would have happily pushed me out of the way to get where HE thought we should be going. Scowling, I backed him off, sharp. I understand that to obtain that relationship I am talking about, I have to estabish myself as a good leader that can be trusted to save my horse from any stray roving predators, but getting that trust means that first they have to respect me. A horse would never run over the boss horse in the pen, and they darned sure are not going to run over me. His willingness to ignore my space gives me a good idea of how things went, over there, in his other home. People often do not realize, as they step backwards to get out of their horse's way, that they are teaching the horse that HE is the leader and the boss, the horse has control of the human's feet, instead of vicey versa, as it oughtta be. I am about to fix that for this little guy, pretty quick. Every horse wants to know where they are at, in the herd. They are constantly asking the questions, do you lead? Do I? Who's looking after me? If the horse is looking after himself, believe me, the human is no longer in the same hemisphere.
In the round pen, I was unfair to Sugar. I picked up a flag and waved it wildly without warning. He picked up his pretty head, opened that big eye and took a few steps . . . no jumping sideways, no big reaction. I did a bunch of stuff to him like that. Walked away, whirled, threw milk jugs at him randomly hitting his body, throwing them under his feet . . . nada.
I warmed him up, free lunging him in the round pen. Sugar's cute white n varnished roan body was fuzzy but he looked pretty slick as he broke a little sweat from the unaccustomed work. Not spooky, but sure not tuned into me, either. Nose over the rail, hip turned in toward me, Sugar made it very clear he wished he were out there, anywhere but in here doing this. Not even an ear tipped my way. I started asking him to let me catch his eye and change directions. He spins his butt to me and off the other way. I kept stepping back trying to draw that eye but he was having none of it. I picked up my lunge whip, and swatted the offending butt. When he was too far away to swat, I popped it in his general direction. About ten minutes of ignore, spin, scoot away from the whip (is this horse EVER going to give in? Not been three days, Ter . . .) he almost accidentally turns to the inside. I melt backwards, releasing pressure. Let him move off softly for a round or two and ask again. He blows me off, prefers me on the right side to the left that he generally gets handled from.
Finally, with me staying consistent in rewarding him for turning in to me and handing a consequence when he doesn't, Sugar is trotting these slow figure eights in the round pen. I am at one side, just stepping back and nodding my head to indicate it's time to change. His ears and eyes are on me, and when I draw back, he stops, faces up and walks up to me. That's better.
I ride him in the round pen, walk, trot and a little lope, but it's too slick for much of that, says me. I don't know why it went sour, where he was at, other than some basic lack of horse handling experience, I am thinking, and when I find them their next horse, we'll have a lesson or two, and see if we can't get some of that, in place.
We work outside, attempt the wooden bridge, little horse wants no part of it. I can tell he is less confident and a bit less responsive on the bit than he was, when I sold him. It happens. People lose confidence in the horse, hang on to the reins tight, thinking to better control the horse. Horse loses faith in the people, starts running through the bit to save themselves. Bad but common enough story. I don't know that this happened there, just seems likely from what the horse is telling me.
I finally get off and work him from the ground, sending him over the bridge the short way. We get it done like that, and call it good. At no point, does he try to buck, jump away or do anything other than say he just doesn't want to do it, and eventually I get my point across that he is going to . . . It's cold, Walt needs to head back to work, and Sugar gets a rest while I eat lunch and find my fingers.
Riding down the road after lunch, we dealt with neighbor horses dashing up to the fence (head came up a la Takota, but I kept his feet moving where I directed and it was no big deal). I take him up and down some of the steep banks beside our road, he skids down on his butt and climbs steadily back up, no issue. We worked circles and box turns at the end of the road and he did take a little jump forward when a semi jack braked on the highway behind us. Picked up his rein, and that was all there was to that. Doing the box turns, I worked on bringing his hip and rump through before asking for the shoulder. It was cool! Pretty soon, he's breaking at the poll and really riding cute! Back up, each foot connected to the rein, and even a little lateral at the walk. I find myself thinking he's an awful lot of fun to ride. Where he went was not the right home for him, but it's out there somewhere and they will like him, tons. I already do.
So, what does this have to do with yawning, unless you are falling asleep at yet another training blog from Sioux City?? Unlike people, yawning is not a sign of boredom from horses, nor is it indicative of a late night out with the girls. Yawning is a sign that horses are releasing stress, coming down from adrenaline . . . Sugar? Nope, no yawns from Sugar Sox. It was Moonshine.
Hard to catch, even harder than usual, had to let her into the barn TWICE (bolted through the big doors the first time), I look at my big pretty mare and wonder what it's going to take to get through to her. I saddle her, but it's on my mind that if we don't ride, I don't really care. I want to fix that bridling issue, and work on the tension that lives in her, any time a human is wanting to do anything more with her than feed her treats!
I started out with the plastic flag on the stick, letting her roll her hip away from me, but then, as she quickly learns that a step or two, and then disengage gets the scary thing away from her, I ask her to tolerate the flag bouncing on her saddle as she moves. This mare is unbelievably light on the halter rope and wants subtle cues. I am so sorry I sent her away to be ridden. They did send her home, safe to be on top of, and that's what I was looking for, but I almost missed the boat on this mare. I was thinking of her as a sales prospect, wanted her gentle and down the road, cash in pocket watching her leave. The first time I rode her, down at Oak Creek, I got a glimpse that there was a lot to her and that maybe she deserves more from me than a quick turnaround. Enormous (to me) that she is, this mare is as sensitive and wants the lightest cues of any horse on the place, she sure does not need the heavy hand of a less than experienced rider.
It doesn't take long and she's not skittering anymore at the rattly plastic, either on her saddle, her butt or head and neck. Moonshine is a blast to do groundwork with, she rarely takes the slack out of the line, and we dance around the muddy barnyard. I lean toward her hip, she rolls it away, I step back, she comes through on the forehand, crossing over in a lovely, balanced athletic way. For a 16.2 hand draft cross, she's a handy thing!
Okay. The bridling issue. One should make sure the browband doesn't cause pinches and pulls on the ears and forehead. If you don't, you deserve a bridling issue. Grr. I take the bridle apart, remove the browband, and settle it back on her. This is after a 20 minute session of asking her to drop her head, on the halter rope, moving her head back and forth, getting her to, if not melt into my hands, at least give down for me, and not fling her head back up at the nearest opportunity.
She discovers the bridle doesn't hurt, and we no longer have an issue, or not much of one, anyway. Can't believe I didn't catch that, but there it is.
I ride her in the barn, it's not large, but we do manuevers. Before I got on her, while standing in front of her, I picked up my line to the left and asked for a lateral left front foot. Got it. Leaned to the right, asked for a hip yield. One step. Got it. Put the cues together and she sidepassed three steps to the left. Damn, that was pretty! So . . . can we do it from the saddle? Absolutely! Three steps left, rode off, came back the other way, three steps right. Yep, I used the barn wall so I didn't need to worry about controlling the forward motion, and before we got the three perfect steps, she crossed in front and straggled behind. Doesn't matter. That's how you learn it. Once the front was good, I asked the back to keep up. Easy peasy . . . I've been working on the soft feel, and we progressed from dead weight of Percheron cross head and neck hanging on my hands, to her mouthing the bit, working it out, trying to figure what's being asked. I help her, and release as she gives. She's not ready to hold it for very long, and I remember to ride her on the buckle and let her stretch her neck and relax. At least, now we are talking to one another . . .
Pulling the tack, her neck was level to my chest, head dropped to my knees. I removed the once offending bridle and rubbed her. All afternoon, she's been giving me these amazing licks and chews, each one last several seconds. I am finally giving her the time for her light bulbs to come on. I am promising her that I am going to be fair and good to her, and my behavior is backing up the promise. She licks and chews again, as she releases the snaffle bit into my hand, and then the yawns start coming. Almost Jacklike, her eyes roll up in her head and she yawns and yawns and yawns. Her entire body relaxes. This is a different horse than the one who about made a Terri shaped hole in the barn doors, had I not got out of the way a few hours earlier. She enjoys the soft brushing and there is plenty of communication going on as she reached out and snuffles up and down my jacket. Her huge black eyes are lively, her ears follow me as I move around her. She stays where I put her, but watches me in a friendly way. When I turn her loose, she stands for her pets. This was a great night for me n Shine. Hope it helps.
Meantime, Donovan, my good and much neglected Quarter Horse gelding, sticks his head in the open window of the walk thru barn door. HUH HUH HUH, he says to me, I walk over to see him, and he nickers again, deep in his throat as I cuddle him through the door. Dang it, I guess you are not for sale, either, I tell him. Man, what am I going to DO with all you guys!!
Work some overtime to pay for feed and be grateful that life has brought me this many wonderful horses to ride, a warm dry barn to ride them in and a loving husband who waits patiently and hungrily for his wordy wife to finish her blog. Off to dinner we go!!
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