I am really wrestling with a few issues here. Since I have developed a pretty open back and forth commentary with those of you that like my blog, I am counting on some good comments to help me organize my thoughts. Looking forward to it too.
I have been surrounded by horse wrecks in the last year. My friend Sharion, my good friend that rode the disaster Captain, and three, count them three, deaths in my immediate world of people that I didn't know intimately, but still knew.
I search and search my mind for reasons these accidents happened. I look for a common thread.
Not only is this getting me boogered, I keep hoping I can come up with at least something concrete that may help some horse people avoid getting hurt or killed. This is what's coming together for me.
Scenario # 1
The day before yesterday, my boss, who is also an extremely good friend, got pile driven into the dirt. She is fine, except for some wicked leather burns on her hands. If she wasn't so hard headed, and would be willing to let go of the reins on a plunging, broncing, tank of a filly, she wouldn't have those.
This near miss of a train wreck is the last nail to be driven into the tracks my thoughts are travelling down.
We have been analyzing her wreck carefully, step by step, as we are prone to do in these situations. Why did it happen? What's going on in the Neil's head? What did we miss?
Neil is a big, strapping, Playboy's Buck Fever daughter. She is bred to the bone. She was started by another trainer that I know well enough to understand how he rides.
She was sold to us started, but not where she should be. That always makes me happy, because that means she hasn't been pushed too hard, too soon.
Neil is rough to ride, extremely heavy on her front end, and dead weight in your hands.
I know that the other trainer has hands and arms made out of rebar, so I wasn't surprised or concerned, I know how to fix that stuff.
She has a habit of crowding us, and feels free to whack us with her head. I know she was born and raised at the trainer's home. She was a treasured filly, his wife and daughter are notorious baby spoilers, so once again, I wasn't surprised.
When we would ask her to stop, we had nothing. Nada. Zip. That threw me, because stop is the first thing that goes into any cowhorse, no matter who starts it. Once again, I know how to fix that, so we just kept plugging along.
Finally, we had no turn to the left. The first thing the boss did was have her teeth done. One nasty wolf tooth later, and we had a little more give on the left side. She vetted sound in all other areas.
I would guesstimate that we have 20 or so rides on this filly. They have been peaceful enough. When we would first ride her she would skitter off before you got your leg thrown over. Since I don't play that game, we fixed that one first. She couldn't stand still. I fixed that second. She couldn't rate her speed on a loose rein. So I sorted out that one.
The boss finally got sick of my dinking, and started taking her down below.
Our big arena isn't fenced. It is a big, open, well groomed, good dirted, open space in the cow pasture.
I share space with the cattle, and for now, three broodies, and their totally rotten children.
Talk about getting your horse broke! Try loping circles with three little stinkers playing tag under your insulted horse's legs.
The filly had been down there at least three times. She had been worked and loped. She has been consistantly easy to get along with.
My boss and I were down in the arena together. I was on a fractious four-year-old, Merry, who had been off for a month. We were walking on a loose rein, waiting for Merry to decide to work for a living, for about twenty minutes.
Merry's brain finally kicked in, and we trotted off to opposite sides of the arena to work our horses. I saw the boss put Neil into a lope, they got in a couple of circles, and the next thing I know, they are bolting and pitching across the arena.
Neil went out of her flipping mind.
The boss stayed on for at least nine or ten horrific bucks, (I was impressed, believe me) Neil eased up, and the boss went to bring her head around.
Neil blew up again, yanked her head the other way, and pulled the boss right over her big muscley shoulder.
She bucked all the way back up to the gate.
When my extremely pissed off boss caught her, Neil immediately blew again.
I intervened as fast as I could between the two adrenaline charged maniacs, and hustled Neil up to our fenced, smaller arena.
She had lost her ever loving mind. She bolted, about undid my hands, and bucked and pitched for another ten minutes.
Long story short, it was a long effin' afternoon before I got that filly's mind back.
The boss sat in the shade and soaked her hands in a coffee can of cold water, muttering and cussing off and on.
So that's where we began questioning.
Here's what I'm beginning to find.
I know the original trainer does a lot of round pen work. I can tell he worked with Neil. Neil will physically give to me on the ground, but not mentally.
She will drop her head and submit when I called for a whoa. Except her hip is slightly towards me, and she will never stop clean. She'll creep forward a few steps no matter where I'm positioned.
She wants to crowd me. She continually steps into me, or leans her shoulder into me.
She won't give. Her front feet jam into the ground, and she refuses to yield to pressure, until I get pretty rough.
She's a rude, little bitch. Excuse me, a smart, rude, little bitch.
The boss accepts about 70% of the responsibility for that little episode. She loped her too big, too soon, and was not reading her.
I accept another 90% or so.
I accepted the history I was given on this filly.
I made assumptions and combined them with Neil's generally amiable personality.
I figured that just because this other trainer knew how to do ground work, he also knew how to read the results. I was mistaken.
Now before all you NH'ers get all excited, that figures heavy into his background. NH stuff.
He has learned that if you do step A, and then B, it will always equal C. That's what the books, tapes, and clinicians tell you.
I suspect he has forgotten to actually try to read the horse.
I suspect his riding approach is the same.
When things got scary for Neil, she had no confidence in her rider to bail her out. Why should she? How can she expect her rider to help her if she's been running the show all along? I don't think this horse had ever been correctly read, until these last few days.
I've talked about Peg off and on in this blog. She spends a lot of time trying to understand her horse. I have just sent her home with B.O.B./Uma. B.O.B is the paint mare I've had this last month to evaluate for Peg.
B.O.B. has no time, or respect for NH type work. She is a "Quit screwing around, and let's get it done," kind of mare. She came to me a spooking, bucking, rotten apple, mess.
I got her message. We have been talking loud and clear for the past month.
She has quit yanking her head away when I halter or bridle her. Not because I worked carefully on a pressure and release system. B.O.B. let's me handle her head because until she does, she doesn't get turn-out, or food. She got it pretty fast.
She quit blowing and bucking when she was saddled or longed because I'd snap her frigging face off with the rope halter and bull snap every time she'd start in. She's a quick study, Ol' B.O.B. is.
She started to ride around quietly because that was the best part of the day. Give me a good ride, and it was bath, social hour at the tie rail, and dinner.
Give me crap, and we'd just start over.
She's turning into Uma.
Peg get's it. She got into B.O.B.'s face, made her mind, and watched her transform into Uma. Funny thing is, the mare is cuddly and sweet, if you don't muddle things with a lot of froo fraw.
I say, go Peg.
Scenario # 3
This is close to my heart. So if you want to argue with me, be kind on this one.
My friend Sharion is an ardent follower of a certain clinician. He encourages rubbing your young horse all over when you ride. Neck, butt, poll, crawl all over that sucker, and get him used to that sensation.
We even argued about it.
My instinct is to stay in the middle of my horse at all times. That's what I preach, and teach. I don't lean back, or forward, or side-to-side, for many, many rides; at least not enough to pull my center of balance out of the middle of my horse. As time goes on, the horse gets used to all kinds of external stimuli. If I have to put on a jacket while on a ride, I get down and get it. I slide said jacket all over my horse, and then put the now hair laden thing on.
Eventually my horse is so tired of me, it begs me to just put the damn jacket on. Then, I'll start putting it on while still in the saddle.
I'm the same about dragging stuff, opening gates, anything that pulls me out of the middle.
I approach each task in increments.
I am always aware when I'm giving up my core balance, and ready to grab it back.
I rub my horse, pound my horse, jiggle and jangle stuff, all while I'm on the ground.
My horses can count on me to stay in the middle while I ride.
Sharion would argue that you can't always stay balanced, that they have to be ready for unexpected bumps and bangs.
I agree, I just don't think they should come from me while I ride.
Keep in, mind my horses are known for being steady and quiet.
Sharion was coming down the hill, back to the trailers, at the end of a trail ride. She had just finished a successful first ride on a three year old gelding. She reached back to give him a congratulatory pat on the butt. Something she had done a thousand times before. She was off her center. That day, it spooked the young horse. That day, it put her in a coma. I can't get this out of my mind. I can't help but think that she was following a system, a well known ritual, and she wasn't reading her horse.
So there's my mugwumpness showing up yet again. Because I do believe in a pressure and release method of training. I always try to make the good things easy, and the wrong things hard. But I learned to read my horses from the original Anti-NH. I read my situation before I react, always. I am slowly learning to trust my gut.
So what's the answer?
I realize I have certain criteria I expect from my horses on the ground, before I ever get in the saddle. I have just begun to actually verbalize these expectations. Tomorrow, I'll tell you about a young stud colt I'm working with, and how teaching these criteria to his owners has made this whole train of thought start to gel.