Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Bravest Person I Know

We talk about bravery. Forcing ourselves to take the next step. Conquering the next phase step in our horse's training. I've been following some lively discussions over at Fuglyhorseoftheday on confronting our fears.
It always sends me around to one of my students, who I now look at as a good friend.
"Peg" is one of the bravest people I know. She is fun, intelligent, and diligent in her work with her horses. She has a soft spot for horses that need a helping hand. She is also terrified of them down to her deepest, darkest, unfathomable pits of dysfunction.
She intellectually knows that her fears are unreasonable. She knows that fear is what make her unsafe, not the horses themselves. She knows that her lack of leadership makes her horses challenge her.
Every day she faces her terror. As the years have gone by she has fought day by day, fear by fear. She is slowly winning her battle.
About three years ago,I was sitting around with my mentor's wife and her sister. I was reluctant to leave the shade and get back to work. We were all idly watching another of my students warm up her horse for our lesson.
"Look at that thing move. What a mess." Wicked Wife of the West said.
"She does run like a little sewing machine." I admitted.
"That woman has absolutely no feel." WWOTW said.
"She's working on it."
"You can't teach feel."
"She finally knows which lead she's on, and has gotten her lead changes the last couple of weeks.
I call that feel."
"How many years have you been wasting on her?"
I stood up, not feeling particularly cool in the shade anymore.
"I don't know why you bother with those kind of people." She said. " That horse is trash and she can't ride it."
WWOTHW was in all her glory now.
"She loves her horse, and she loves to ride." I replied and walked off to work with my student.
I owe WWOFTW thanks. She helped me clarify why I teach.
In a world of $50,000 show horses that live with their trainers, I work with people that keep their horses as close to them as possible and ride when they can. Surrounded by riders that come on week-ends (if that) to take instruction on horses that are ridden daily by professionals, my students may appear pretty raw.
The woman they were making fun of had been riding with me since her first horse. Basic horsemanship on an appendix OT mare with only one good leg. She learned to handle her horse, ride through all the terrain Colorado has to offer, and compete with success in some small day shows. She also learned a lot about nursing a troubled, not particularly sound horse.
The horse they were making fun of was a very cute foundation bred mare that is a half sister to my daughter's show horse. That horse was a multiple National Champion in youth AND open with the NRCHA. Not exactly what I call trash.
My student had bought her mare as a weanling. She showed her in halter as a yearling. With my help she broke the horse herself. She went through all the joys and frustrations of training a youngster.
As a five year old this little mare could do an extremely respectable reining pattern, and wanted to cow like no body's business. Her owner has been faithful to her lessons, works hard on her own riding and her mare's skills . Twice over the years she has saved up enough money to put 30 days on her with me. Both times were to tighten up specific maneuvers. The horse was mannerly and willing to learn. From riding her horse, I would say this woman has plenty of feel.
The mare is now eight. She is calm, cheerful, well loved and sound. I consider this one of my great success stories.
Peg is another. When I first started with her she was taking lessons from me at a local riding stable. She came out every week to ride our "dudes". I found out that she had three horses at home that she was afraid to ride.
She had fallen into the trap many new horses do.
She thought, Hmmmm. I love horses. I'll buy horses. OMG they're big. I'm thinking this one might just kill me. I wish I knew something about horses.
Unlike many, she started taking lessons. She stuck with the lessons, and her horses at home. She read everything she could get her hands on. She worked on getting them haltered. Getting them into a trailer. Getting them to me.
Her horses were very tough. Peg had ended up with abuse cases that didn't want anything to do with anybody.
Slowly we started to work on her riding. We walked and trotted for years. Every foot stomp, every spook, every head shake sent her into a well of panic that she had a terrible time pulling out of.
I talked her into selling a horse that was never going to calm down enough for her. She finally placed him with a teen age girl that loved his rowdy self. Peg cried when she let him go. I breathed a sigh of relief.
I found her a lovely, smart, and kind ranch gelding. She avoided riding him for years because he was cold backed. He had to be longed or he would buck.
She kept improving. Her skills and confidence kept coming.
We've been working together for eight years. She started to lope this winter. I saw her ride a buck on one of her rescues that would have drilled me into the dirt.
Some days Peg is so afraid we just walk and talk.
Some days I have to walk next to her, just gabbing, not mentioning her shaking hands, frozen back, or her drawn face.
I have ridden Peg's horses. They have become soft, quiet, and steady. They are smooth between my hands and knees. Rarely does a shoulder or rib poke out. She has done an excellent job.
This past year she has started going on group rides at a local arena. She lopes with them. A lot. She has shown in Western Pleasure at a day show. Her first time in she placed fourth. She loped.
She smiled.
The other day she went loping by me on her ranch horse. She was laughing and waving at me.
(I used to make her "queen wave" to get her to let go of the horn)
We are working towards ranch horse competition.
She has taught me the benefit of chiropractic for my horses.
If I need to know about the benefits of any type of feed or supplement I ask Peg.
She continues to gently push me to read stuff like the Zen of Mind Melding with your horse.
She loves her ground work. She's really good at it.
I see the love that shines in her eyes when she looks at her horses.
I see the triumph when she gets to the next step.
I know why I ride with those kinds of people.
Peg is the bravest person I know.


Justaplainsam said...

Im happy that both you and Peg found eachother :) It drives me crazy that so many people just 'drop' there horses off at trainers, and then expect to be able to ride said horse like the trainer.

Me, Im contemplating giving up teaching for a bit. Ive got a kid riding a horse into the ground and they just wont listen to me anymore (I advised them to skip shows, concentrate on one event and on the weekend I asked them to pull the horse out of the ring (def. off/ almost lame) and got ignored)... As much as I dont want to see the mare ruined, I dont want the breakdown blamed on me. Any advice?

mugwump said...

I contemplate quitting all the time. I will drop people like the folks you're talking about in a minute. Or they drop me when I get strong enough in my insistance that they listen.
If a horse is going to be injured by a clients behavior I'll quit them the minute they refuse to listen. I try to tell them clearly why I'm dropping them, and then I leave.
After I've let a client go I try to NEVER bad mouth them in public. I refuse to defend my position after I've stated it.
Most of the time my other student's success and word of mouth takes care of any negative feedback.
It is really hard to leave a nice horse in the hands of morons, but sometimes it's the only way to make your point.
In the last year I have had a horse returned to me by a new owner who remembered the stand I took against the previous owners.
I was finally able to help this lovely horse the way she needed.
It benefitted the horse, and my name, that I told the first set of owners to piss off when I did.
The first owners are merrily ruining a higher and higher of level of horse every year. Word is out about them and their current trainer, and it isn't good.
Hang tough justaplainsam

fuglyhorseoftheday said...

There's always a wicked witch. When I was 15, one of them - my instructor - told me that I was pathetic and should just give up riding, as I was never going to be any good.

I grew up to ride a lot better than she ever did. Kicked her ass in numerous shows. Boy that felt good!

You just can't let the wicked witch get to you! Good for Peg for her persistence. Sometimes the most naturally talented rider does not end up on is amazing what wanting to learn and improve will do.

baxtermattie said...

Mugwump, thank you for understanding the student that just wants to love and ride their horse!

I have a fugly that I love dearly that is as goofy as a box of rocks but I enjoy the hell out of. He's sound but his back is so long that you could put two saddles on him. (Thank goodness I got him young and gelded him before those genes were passed along!)

I've tried taking lessons on him several places, and I always hear the same thing, "Oh, that horse will never amount to much. You need to get a horse that is built for this or that." Well, I don't want another horse, thank you very much. I like mine even if you don't. I just want to enjoy my beautiful fugly. We both need the exercise, and we both definitely need the lessons. He truly seems to enjoy arena work. (Gets a little goofy on trails but hey, we all have our issues.)

So thanks again for listening to your students and helping them reach THEIR goals. It seems that too often instructors have a particular set of goals and don't listen to students. Sometimes we don't want to show, we just want to improve our riding skills and our horses.

Just wish I were closer to Colorado to take advantage of your insight!

mugwump said...

You make me blush :>

rescueweary said...

I am always impressed by the people who, having realized their new horse is scaring the heck out of them, persevere and advance anyway. I started riding as an adult and I had a rough time with fear, on the ground and riding, and it would have been so much worse if the horse(s) freaking me out were my own property and inescapable :) I could always go home and take a break till the next lesson; having to go back out the next day to feed, water, etc....brrrr. I've met a few WOWOTWs who sniggered at riders who were less talented, or inexperienced or just not 'their kind' of rider, and I've always wanted to crop them vigorously.

rescueweary said...

Oh, bah. WWOTWs. Apparently, I can't think straight before 10am. And to clarify, I learned to ride on nice, calm lesson horses who fell asleep if I let them. God bless them.

SouthernBelle said...

I am new to riding. New to handling. New to learning how big a real horse is compared to the little pony I rode at the fair when I was a kid and my dad was standing right there the whole time.
This post really touched me. Thanks for not giving up on the scaredy-cat clients who want to enjoy their own horse(s). Peg, per your description, is just how I want to develop as a horsewoman. Patient and persevering.

ORSunshine said...

Hey! She could be me! Just another reason why reading your blog is so good for me! Thanks Mugs!

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