Saturday, January 24, 2009

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 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!


Leah Fry said...

I can only hope I live that long! I have come a long way, but I still have an incomprehensible amount to learn.

Laura Crum said...

I second your last statement. Most of what I do with horses comes automatically to me now--I don't have to think about it. But I've been riding, owning and training horses non-stop since I was fifteen and I'm fifty-one. Since interacting on these blogs, I've wondered if there was anything I could usefully tell others who were struggling with a specific situation and have come to the realization that the knowledge I have, for the most part, isn't something that can be passed to someone else by "telling". It just takes hours spent with and on horses. If I didn't have all those hours behind me, I'd make real sure I was working with someone who did. Its the only short cut I know of to becoming a competent horse person.

Glad you found a trainer you like for your young horse. It will be interesting to hear your observations on how he does in training with her.

robyn said...

Thanks for the great pep talk. I can't count how many times I've screwed up w/ the horses, and how grateful I am that they are so forgiving!
Awesome about the new trainer! When you find a good one, you definitely don't want to let go of 'em!

Deer Run Stables said...

Now there's a case of serendipity if I've ever heard one! Congratulations on finding the right trainer-- she sounds wonderful.

Also, so true about reading the horse's body language. I went for so many years, thinking that there was "a" (as in one single) response to every "bad" behavior.

Balking? Do X. Rushing ahead? Do Y. No vertical flexion? Do Z.

One of the most valuable ideas that I've ever come across is that you can read body language and behavior patterns to determine whether a behavior is coming from fear, boredom, laziness, or dominance, and then use the information to instantaneously tailor your response to the situation.

It seems so obvious to write it out, now, but a horse who refuses to cross an obstacle on the trail because he is genuinely terrified for his life needs a completely different response than a horse who refuses to cross an obstacle on the trail because it looks like there might be some actual work involved in doing so, and he didn't read that fine print about "working" at the bottom of the contract.

I think the nuances of this are a big part of horsemanship-- learning to identify within a couple of minutes which motivation is likely to drive a particular horse, and being sensitive to changes, such as when a normally dominant horse becomes fearful, so that the reaction can be modified.

Sydney said...

The vulture and come in for the flesh. I got a scar from that one learning my lesson a couple years ago. The second time the gelding got a "pony beater" crop between the eyes.

horsesandturbos said...

HaHaHa about the cold weather...I was riding last weekend (18 deg) after not riding for a month...and were both horses full of it! I expected action from my mare...I even lunged her before...but my old step-horse even bucked! WoooHaaa!!


Jess9687 said...

lol I taught a young, untouched pony to lounge last year. The amount of times I thought he was goign to run right over the top of me i can't count.... good fun (or not lol)

Flyin'Horse said...

In regard to small victories, I had one this morning when I woke up and realized I slept all night without waking up and going over and over in my mind the wreck that I had with my OTTB at the end of November; second guessing my choices and reliving the fear. Those nights are getting fewer and farther in between! Unfortunately (or not!) I'm retiring that particular horse at my husband's request. Time to ponder my reasons for always being attracted to the "bad boy" horse. Is it still going to be possible to ride an interesting horse with spirit or do I have to give up and get myself something "bombproof"? Will I ever have the same bond with another horse? Will the view from up there be way too high when I finally do get back on? Will I turn into one of those super-cautious-women-over-50 that I used to make fun of? Is that necessarily a bad thing? They never seem like they're having all that much fun though. Am I really a terrible horseperson? Thinking about all these things is a whole lot better during the daylight hours!

rockymouse said...

FlyinHorse, that recurring dream sounds awful. I'm glad that your subconscience is finally processing the information from the accident and letting you get some undisturbed rest. (my backyard psychoanalysis!)
I had two rocking days in a row with my mare. I still don't have her lunging a canter - she's unbalanced and clumsy and unusually left-sided - but when I smooch for a faster gait, she picks up speed and doesn't lean on the lunge line. So, progress.
We also trotted the perimeters of the pastures for a long time and she held her speed, coming back down when I asked her to slow.
We're not gonna show. I'm not gonna be a grand prix rider. What I've done isn't astounding. But I did get a little flush of pride as I brushed this relaxed, happy mare today - who used to bite, kick, barge, couldn't give her feet, couldn't back, be saddled, neck rein or follow a leg yield. I can do that with her now. How cool is that!

LostSoul said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
moosefied said...

Lost Soul: The baby is not batshit crazy. He is a young stallion, soon to be gelded, who shows quite a bit of rebellion when asked to do new things. I am not very experienced with babies, and I tried to go too far, too fast with him. This blog is an excellent source of information on horse care and training, because so many experienced horse people read it. That's why I posted my questions and fears. Maybe it would have been smarter not to buy a baby. But I did, and he is essentially calm and pleasant....but ALL babies rebel and get confused and try to dominate now and then.

His sire is a calm and cooperative stallion. He's also huge. His owner is secure enough to admit she has fears, but she still goes ahead and works with him, successsfully, in spite of her fears. And he's coming along very well, walk/trot/canter with no disasters.

Drillrider said...

My small victory came last Monday. I rode my 26 year old arab/thoroughbred on his first trail ride (and alone) since I rescued him from a "so-called" rescue. He was a bit snorty for the first ten minutes, but I expected that. On the way back we saw a hunter's blind and he was not having ANY of that. He was balking, trying to turn around and spooking. Rather than push him through it, I decided to get off.

I've learned, and the hard way, there is no shame in that. I led him past it a few times and then discovered why he was so upset. A man popped out of it! There were two men inside. Only then did I realize that all the geese I saw in the field were decoys too! I had to laugh at myself and at how unaware I was of the situation and how totally aware my horse was. At least I had the presence of mind to get off and lead my horse rather than let pride dictate my responses and get hurt or end up in the dirt.

Drillrider said...


Cathy readily admits that if VLC does not perform in the show ring, he will be getting a visit from the gelding bus.

To say that we never have fear when dealing with horses, would be lying. They are huge animals and can hurt you, badly.

I have found that people who are NOT afraid of horses, are either newbies, fools or just plain ignorant! If we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that they scared the CRAP out of us at times!

moosefied said...

Just to emphasize: This baby does a lot of things that many colts his age haven't been taught, such as standing perfectly for the farrier, loadiing quietly into a trailer, and leading. He is showing signs of being herd bound. This is common and can be overcome. A colt's resistant behavior can be scary; I was scared. But as the barn owner observed, he never tried to strike, charge, or bite us even when he was upset and resisting. He never barges into his feed or shoves into us when hungry. So yes he needs more training, but he is not "crazy."

Deer Run Stables said...

Drillrider, good for you!

Every time I hear someone rattle on about how, if you get off and deal with an issue from the ground, your horse has somehow "won" (as if there's a contest going on!), I just want to scream.

Does anyone think that Drillrider's horse has now suffered a huge training setback? Of course not! By acknowledging her horse's legitimate concerns about the situation, while still calmly taking control by leading him back and forth past the scary situation until it wasn't so scary anymore, Drillrider has gained huge leadership points in her horse's eyes.

Kudos for not letting ego get in the way of what your horse needed at that moment, Drillrider!

Drillrider said...

Deer Run Stables: Thanks for the pat on the back! I agree that we often are trying to "prove" something to ourselves to the frustration of our horses. It becomes a battle of wills where BOTH you and your horse lose.

Sagebrusheq said...


Are there any round pens around? Most of the ones I see are triskidecagonal. Maybe this explains the indifferent results many people have working inside of one-chalk it up to bad luck and try adding a panel if the magic won't come.

There are plenty of new things under the sun of horsemanship but the round pen- and the ubiquitous methods associated with it -isn't one of them. I know that you didn't mean to imply that you thought it was, but for an interesting read try taking a peek into "Tachyhippodamia; or The New Secret of Taming Horses" by Willis J Powell, 1872. It's very short but everything is in there, including stroking his face etc, etc, etc...

Long out of copyright, it has been digitized by google and can be downloaded or read on line.


Laura Crum said...

FlyinHorse--I sympathise with what you're going through and just wanted to say that I am one of those fiftyish women with a lot of horse experience who is now choosing to ride solid well broke older horses. I have broken and trained many a colt, by the way. And I am here to tell you that I am having a blast these days. My new trail horse is quirky enough to be interesting; yes, he will crowhop or spook or such. But he doesn't pose a challenge in the sense that I am not in danger of hitting the ground and being hurt or scared. I am not bored. I'm having more fun than I ever had in my horse training days. When I dream about my horse, it is a pleasant dream of our last ride through the hills. I am not saying this to be mean...I just think people in my position (fiftyish re-rider) should be careful not to consider the solid older horse as boring or a come down. Just think about the fun you could be having if you weren't scared...

CinammonSwirl said...

Yes, you have no experience with babies, yet you took one in? That's a smart move *eyeroll*

You mean the sire has a wonderful temper? And he's big? That's not already out there at all. No, it's in fact so rare, that he must be the only one.

I have no clue WHY the VLC is not a gelding yet. He's not spectacular, he's nothing special, and he's certainly not doing anything to impress anyone outside his barn. Frankly, he's already a better gelding than a stallion. Everything she preaches against, everything she bashes other people about, everything that she says designates a barn blind person is literally what she is doing as we speak.

I still don't get why the VLC still has his balls.

Flyin'Horse said...

Laura Crum,
Thanks for your words of wisdom, I was hoping for some....I think you hit the nail on the head. I'm looking forward to riding being a whole new experience minus the "challenge" (read hassle and worry!). Here's to sweet dreams!

moosefied said...

Suggest a new baked dessert: Troll House Cookies.

Jst4Fun said...

Hi Cathy, I'm sure you have said this before, but how is the VLC bred? I also have a hunt seat Buckskin who I ADORE, he's a gelding though so no more of him:(
So I'm curious who the VLC is by and out of so maybe I could pick up one like him instead!

Padraigin_WA said...

Like Laura Crum, I'm a fifti-ish rider, having been in a saddle for about 42 years... I had a very hot qh/Morgan gelding, and I seriously think he may have been proud cut the way he behaved. Now I will only ride the settled, older, sensible, well-trained ones. The guy I ride is pretty bombproof. This morning we dealt with a low-flying plane (hey, one of the the things that come with fog in the Pacific NW), a helicopter (probably the local news giving traffic reports) and his blanket slipped off the hook I'd thrown it on. Totally calm. But, when a varied thrush landed on the indoor arena wall, he bounced and boinged at least two feet -vertically. I find my confidence slowly coming back in stages. Today we worked on trot-canter transitions and leg yields and serp's as well as riding without stirrups. I'm learning to relax again, but know that from this day forward stick with the older ones. And I always wear my helmet.

moosefied said...

Good advice and encouragement. Everybody has to start somewhere.

However, I would like to remind you that we are not "chickenshit," we are "prudent." You know, as in Prudent Riders Inimical to Damage from Equines. Just think PRIDE. :>)

Drillrider said...

Moosefied: PRIDE, now that's a word I can relate to. Many of the times I ended up getting hurt, or seeing other people getting hurt with horses, was when they were trying to "show off". However, it doesn't impress people much, when you crash and get hurt. Talking from the voice of experience!

Padraign_WA: I'm ALL about wearing a helmet. It has saved my bacon more than once. Can't understand people who don't wear one? You are riding a 1,000 lbs+ "flight" animal. Wearing a helmet is not optional in my book. If anyone under 18 gets on any of my horses, they wear one or they don't ride. I figure adults can make up their own minds!

Anonymous said...

Cecil is 16.2 at the hip!!!! He's 4 years old Cathy, don't you think it's time to start measuring him at the withers? He's not a colt anymore. He's a full grown horse.

CinammonSwirl said...

Uh-oh, shocker of the century. Your blah stallion's mother is for sale. The ad can't even say anything about her, just her brother. Wait...isn't that the ringing of a COLOR BREEDER's AD?! Hanging on the coat tails of a relative...gods...wait...didn't you bitch about that recent;y. Hang on...


Yep! You did. So you bought from color breeders (cause clearly bucksin is purty and people won't look at anything else, especially not his former breeders) which is also something you preach against. Oh, but they got babies from her but aren't keeping her forever?! SHIT! You and your breeder buddies are your own material.

So let's make a list
Re-rider with stallion
Re-rider is scared because he is so tall! Why'd you buy him, then?!
Stallion is unproven
Dam is only proven in the she has a vagina department
Dam is known to be a complete bitch
His oops foal isn't doing much better (wait, don't you preach against oops foals? Something about improper fencing or some shit?)
Foal is owned by inexperienced owner with babies (Oh, great home, kids! Breeders really cared for him on that one!)
Dam only has kudos for riding on the tails of relatives (man, that was a recent preaching, too! Time to step off your soap box!)

Man, that screams geld geld geld! Stop stringing everyone around with your blatant pot calling kettle black routine and face it. Time to take off the barn-blind glasses and take a good look at the BS you create.

The 'VLC' doesn't need his balls, and never will. He contains all the spectacularity of a polished rock. It's pretty color, but it's still just a stupid rock.

SammieRockes said...

I know what you mean by small victories, Yesterday, I hopped on my gelding out i nthe field and had to ride him in then close a gate, which I normally leave to some one else cuz I cant ever get him to chill out long enough to do it, well yester day, I waled him out, and then I actually got him to SIDE STEP! just a half step but he got major praise, and I closed and latched the gate, sure I was leaning half off of him, but We di it, no one will ever realize how that small victory made me super excited.

appywoman said...

OT but I would like some input. I recently purchased a young (5 yr old) gelding. He has a stifle issue that the vet has suggested can be rehabbed with progressive work such as lots of long trotting as well as working him at the trot while making him use his hind quarters and avoiding canter until there is significant improvement. The girl I bought him from is a barrel racer who really does not understand this concept so I doubt he has ever been asked to do this...use his hind end and travel in a rounded frame I mean. I think her idea of training him was run and turn, although I will admit that he was very fit and she did a lot of conditioning by trail riding.

Right now the weather is not conducive to riding...I live in the Northeast and have no access to an indoor. Since you have been dealing with stifle issues with your colt do you (or other readers) have any suggestions for exercises I can do in hand or am I just going to have to wait until decent footing comes back and who knows when that will be...possibly as late as mid-April unless we get lucky. I have been backing him up and down the barn aisle which is dirt, but I do not want to overdo it. Any input would be appreciated. Thanks in advance

ridewithjoy said...

My little victory for today- my very first lope in the arena since I had both hips resurfaced. I have loped going up gentle hills trailriding this fall but the last time we chased back steers at the lope 5/5/07 Joy popped a couple little "let ME GO git em all" happy crowhops and I jammed up one hip completely requiring my 12/07 surgery. Joy even stumbled slightly on her second run and instead of pulling up ( my usual MO) , I drove her on ( my pilot father said always try to accelerate through a stall to get some power)and she kept loping, no more stumbles. When my hips were really bad for years every tiny little misstep was so painful I always pulled Joy up to a walk and I suspect that is now her I'm lazy let's walk OK trick- It never happens on the trail keeping up with the big horses only the arena that she hates. We kept after the cows for more than an hour.

ps I am a 50 year old re-rider who rode all the throwaway psychohorses as a horseless kid/teen- then no horses while raising kids then had cancer at40, got fat, destroyed my joints with chemo, thought that was the cancer back and I was checking out soon so bought a wild mustang filly the adopter was scared poopless of- that's my Joy who the sick fat grandma trained. Thats her in her dressage saddle for my picture.