So imagine you’ve lived your entire life pretty much on your own terms. You’ve figured out that saying no, throwing a little tantrum, and acting like a bully resulted in people generally not asking you to do anything — and in addition, you got to live a great life of leisure and didn’t have to work. That is kind of where Deb is. She has the training of an obstinate 2 year old, but the big strong body of a 14 year old horse. I think I’m beginning to see how she was labeled as dangerous.
Somewhere along the line though, someone taught her something. She can be respectful when being handled, but only if I demand it. And herein lies the quandary: she doesn’t want to be nagged about things. Who does? In doing ground work, tapping her politely with a dressage whip (or the end of a lunge line) to get her to yield haunches or shoulders results in a horse that stands her ground and cow kicks. That’s not acceptable in my book. However, a single harder smack with said dressage whip results in a horse that moves away from pressure easily without the use of any whip. Its almost like she says…oh, you really mean it. Suffice it to say, she doesn’t have a lot of sense of personal space. And she can be very obstinate if she doesn’t want to move, both on the ground and under saddle.
The weird thing is that Deb’s actually VERY soft to lead and to tie. She does not like a lot of pressure on her head. I was told she didn’t tie well, but she my experience is that she is fine in the cross ties. She stands quietly even when I am out of sight. Her only fuss the first time I cross tied her was to shake her head and swing it around. After a firm correction, she stopped and has been excellent in the cross ties ever since. I have yet to see her pull back.
Deb is kind of a hot mess under saddle. Its quite apparent that no one has ever really required her to do anything since she stopped racing. And even then, she only had a few starts and never finished in the money. My guess is she made up her mind that she didn’t want to do it and was just moved on to a new career.
And yet for all the frustration that she has given me, part of me feels like she also just needs a chance. She needs someone to show her how to do it the right way and then actually allow her to do it instead of punishing her for doing it incorrectly. She seems to be fairly praise-driven. She knows the term “good girl” and was happy to repeat her actions when I praised her and said good girl. From this, I got her to stretch all the way into the bridle at a halt, and then eventually to take a step forward while stretching down. I don’t think she’s ever done that before. The building blocks of future rides will be to ask her to stretch down into the bridle and then move forward — each time she brings her head up (ala giraffe) she will be required to bring her head down and stretch down before she can go forward.
My trainer’s mantra is a conversation between horse and rider where the rider says: I take. You give. I give back. In other words, the rider takes up the reins, the horse yields to the bit, the rider gives the reins back — so long as the horse carries themselves lightly. Deb is a long way from light selfcarriage, but then she’s just learning the mantra.
The second part will be that she has to move forward. She worked hard today. I will give her that. However, she also balked and would just stand and not move. Yet, if I put a whip in my hand, she is extremely nervous and flighty about it.
What it boils down to is that there is lots of work to be done. I want to give the mare the benefit of the doubt because I think there is potential. She is very intelligent. She just needs a bit of an attitude adjustment. Here is my general plan moving forward:
- start each session with ground work (bit flexions, lateral flexions, backing up, lateral steps, whip desensitizing, etc.) — generally, get her used to working and respecting my space.
- Lunge work in the saddle, bridle and side reins so that there is an association between wearing the saddle and working into contact. She works quietly on the lunge, but under saddle is different.
- ask for stretching and relaxing into contact under saddle.
- ask for moving forward from my seat and leg aids under saddle.
I hope I’m able to get out to the barn tomorrow. It will be very interesting to see what of today’s lessons she retains. The story will continue!