Small victories, and learning by doing

All of you in the chickenshit re-rider group will appreciate this…this week I was told to get on a 4 year old OTTB in a large outdoor arena and I did not balk. I just got on him and he was fine, ha ha. Actually he was kind of lazy! So that’s my small victory. What’s yours?

Regarding the VLC training debate – funny how life works. I was in somebody else’s barn watching her trainer work a young stallion who was giving her grief. The trainer never got mad. She never got frustrated. She was never inconsistent. I don’t think she even said anything which impresses me as I admit I’m one that talks to the horses constantly and growls at them when they are doing something wrong. She got the same results with body language. So the VLC is going to her, and no, at this point I’m not naming names. You will all see who is showing him when he shows, ha ha. Suffice it to say I finally got a really good vibe about someone. And I was only incidentally in the barn with her – she did not know I was a prospective customer, so I know what I saw is the reality of how she works.

Regarding the baby Moose…none of us were born knowing how to work with a baby. I learned in the late 80s because I was working off my board at a barn that wanted me to longe their AQHA yearlings. This was in the era before round pens, LOL – at least they weren’t as common as they are today. This barn did not have one. I had to go out to the large indoor arena and convince previously barely halter broke babies that they wanted to longe. This resembles water skiing behind the Road Runner as Wile E. Coyote is chasing him. I learned about body language and placement not because I watched a video or went to a clinic but by trial and error. If I was in the right place, I could get the baby to keep going around. If I failed, the baby typically did something like charge into the middle straight at me. Fun, fun! Babies bolted off down the wall and I had to practically sit down to hold them to the circle. It was the baby rodeo but it did teach me how to longe.

Around the same time, someone helpfully gave me a completely unhandled yearling as a thank-you for helping him to sell a show horse. Gee, thanks! His name was Tex and he’d been thrown in on a deal with another horse. They weaned him by chasing him into a horse trailer and hauling him from Texas to Wisconsin, where he was chased into a box stall…where he sat until I came along.

Well, he was mine now, so I decided I’d better do something about him. I was young and in the barn all day, so I hung out. I hung out in his stall with a grain bucket. He came to me after a few days or weeks…I can’t remember now how long it took. I got a halter on him and we practiced leading inside the stall until we got it right. One thing I remember is that I wasn’t in a hurry and I think that was the most important part. We worked on picking up feet. I hung a clippers next to his grain with baling twine so he got used to the buzzing in his ears.

Shortly thereafter, he caught his jaw on something in the stall, probably a bucket hook, and tore quite a hole in the underside of it. I had to hose it out really well daily. When the barn owner saw him standing quietly in the cross ties letting me hose his face, I thought she was going to fall over. It really hadn’t taken that long. I rehomed him as a two year old. He saddled, bridled, clipped, longed, ponied, loaded, stood tied to the trailer and basically had everything done but riding. I saw him a year later at our local big rodeo – he was carrying a flag for the grand entrance, as a three year old. The lady was just thrilled with him and said he’d been the easiest horse she’d ever broke out.

I was so proud of that little guy, but in retrospect he taught me way more than I taught him. And the Moose and his difficult moments will teach his mom much more about feel and timing and body language than any clinic or video or instructor ever could. All she’s got to do is pay attention all the time…to what works, to what doesn’t work. Watch his eye. Watch his ears. Is he cooperative and soft or pissy or confused and apprehensive? Is his attention on you, or on the other horses down the road? You don’t have to accomplish everything immediately. There’s nothing wrong with isolating him in the stall or round pen and working on basics…ho means ho, stand where you are put, pick up feet, clip your bridle path, etc.

Get it all down in a safe, enclosed space first before you try to take the show on the road and remember, everything is stupider in a cold wind, even thirty year olds! (Admit it, everybody – you’ve been taken for an unplanned ice skating session by a 25+ year old who was feeling goooood in an icy wind! I know I have.)

And always remember…anyone who never has a doubt about whether or not they are doing the right thing with a horse is probably a complete asshole. Every good trainer that you will ever talk to will admit to moments where they realize they could have handled a behavior better, reacted differently, or tried something else. I mean, I can tell you things like “when they start running around you in circles, the next thing they do is duck in and try to come over the top of you, so have your elbow ready to block them” but that’s also something you’ll learn by doing. You learn by doing and the more of them you handle, the more you learn. Some day, it really will come easy!

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Published in: on January 24, 2009 at 4:46 pm  Leave a Comment  

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