Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Think Slow

I was out working a new horse yesterday morning.
This is my first "travel to the client" trial.
She wasn't ready for me.
Her horses were caught, and in the arena. A plus.
The tack was in the barn, far enough away to need to haul it with a four-wheeler. Minus.
Said tack was in pieces.
Triple minus. Sigh.

That's really not my point.
The mare in question has some pretty big saddling issues.
Sharon knew this when she bought her.
It's a problem that she was willing to take on, because this is a dream of a horse.
Jerry is a kind, slow, savvy mare. She is solid in her mind and build. She has lots of experience and training under her saddle pad.
If you try to saddle her while she's tied, God help you.
If you try to saddle her untied, it's a guaranteed dance designed to really piss you off.
The previous owner would do a lot of round pen work with this mare, and eventually get her to stand quietly and be saddled. Jerry would be hot, sweaty, and about half used up.
He swears he doesn't know why she's this way.
He promised Sharon that if she kept up the round pen work, she would eventually knock it off.
Our first lesson was to see how big a deal this saddling problem really was.
I started with Jerry untied.
"You want to keep this as simple as possible." I told Sharon.
"We need to break down this mess into parts."
"Is this about saddling? Or being tied? Is it about confinement?"
Jerry stood quiet and relaxed while I walked around her. No anxiety, no anger, but she kept her eye on me.
I hate to humanize horses, but this mare seemed fairly amused by the whole situation.
I picked up the saddle pad and she moved off, tail switching.
I caught the lead rope, and she stopped.
I looked at her, she looked back, alert, and I swear, laughing.
I draped the lead rope over my arm, so she couldn't totally leave me.
Saddle pad safely tucked under my arm, I approached her left side.
Jerry immediately curled her neck in to her left side, and very tidily body blocked me with her head.
I stopped, and thought this through for a minute.
Once again, I was eye to eye with Jerry.
I was nowhere near getting that saddle pad on.
I backed up a step. She relaxed and brought her head around.
I stepped in.
Jerry blocked me again.
I stepped back, she relaxed.
"Check this out!" I admit, I was laughing. I try to be the stern, wise, all-knowing professional, but sometimes horses just crack me up.
I stepped in. She blocked. I stepped out. She relaxed.
Sharon was puzzled.
"Why are you letting her do that?"
"Because it's cool."
Sharon looked at her watch.
"Think about it. Jerry is very clearly telling me to back off."
"OK...." Sharon had an interested look on her face now, whether it was in the horse or my impending commitment hearing, I'm not sure.
"The trick here is to tell her that I won't.
Jerry is being extremely polite in the way she is telling me to kiss off. I need to be just as polite in how I tell her that she's going to wear this pad."
I stepped into the left again. She swung her head in and stopped me.
This time I didn't back off. I stepped as close to her as I could without touching her.
The lead rope stayed slack.
Jerry moved away a step, still blocking me. I followed her, making her move with my body.
Jerry stopped, still with her head bent to the inside, and refused to move.
Jerry wasn't looking so amused any more.
I tapped her nose with my fingers, and crowded her even more.
Think George Bush body slamming that graduating cadet.
She started spinning away from me at a decent clip, but I could easily stay with her.
Jerry tried to actually leave only once.
I caught her with the lead rope, stopped her forward motion, and immediately threw out some slack.
I approached her left side again.
She sighed, and body blocked me again.
This time, she walked me around once, twice, and stopped.
She threw her head over me, and let me step to her left side.
I petted her, and walked away.
I came back, she blocked me again.
This time I only had to crowd into her face for a few seconds and she let me step to her side.
I tossed the pad on her back.
I went back for the saddle.
She blocked me again.
I pushed her, carrying the saddle, for another couple of rounds, and she quit.
I stepped in and threw the saddle on her back. (Yes, I am big on tossing, heaving, and throwing)
I tightened the cinch and only got one mild head toss.
"Huh." Sharon said. "I guess she doesn't have as big a problem as we thought."
Slow count to ten.
"Now you try." I said.
We unsaddled Jerry and Sharon went to work.
Jerry immediately fizzled back to square one.
Which was good.
Sharon got to learn a lot about body language, slowing down, and being patient.
I got to amuse myself at Sharon and Jerry's expense.
Eventually, Jerry got saddled again.
Jerry learned that finally, she is living with someone who will listen when she politely says, "No."
She also learned that Sharon could just as politely say, "Yes, you will."
Jerry ended up being saddled twice more.
The last time she stood peacefully.
We quit, and turned her out. She didn't seem so amused, but I'll take resigned any day.
I have a feeling that nobody ever paid attention to that first warning body block.
That things escalated pretty rapidly into a brawl over saddling and tying, because that first issue was never addressed.
When Jerry is OK about being saddled we're going to take on the tying problem.
By then I hope Jerry will know we'll listen when she talks to us.


austriancurls said...

Cool, our trainer also was a thumping bumping saddle and pad throwing fan. The first mare he brought under saddle for me, and then with me was a 4 year old from a Montana herd. He'd never met a horse with so little people interaction before (in Europe it's pretty non-existant), and she had saddle pad issues during training. We attributed it to being afraid it was a coyote attack, but also she has massive scars on the muscle of her butt on both sides. I was told she was skewered and thrown as a yearling by a bull buffalo that broke into the pen of horses (what the hell he was doing in there I cannot say).

Although he was riding her and she could do all the stops, turns and what not, when it came to saddling she was scared. We would have to work with the saddle pad before each ride, and even today, although she's my best ride, if I come at her too fast with the pad she'll jump (but stay put).

Of course it's not the same issue as you describe, but I love reading how you make your approach and deal with the situation. Too bad you are not here, I'd love to work and learn from you (of course pay you as well - ugh).

About clients that don't have everything ready when you arrive, I was always scheduled last, and offered a beer at the end of the day. We'd sit and drink a beer together and listen to country music before he'd have to drive home to his own horses. It made up for any minor tardiness on my part. A tip for you, tell the client exactly in anal detail what you expect (ie. the horse and saddle standing in the roundpen when you arrive). Sometimes it isn't self-explanitory (even to me it wasn't).

Now, I have all the eq at the roundpen, although I didn't always have the horse standing there, as it was useful for the trainer to see how I handled the horse on the way out too.

austriancurls said...

From my comments it's probably not clear, but his approach was similar, like you remind me to do...think slow. Thanks.

Damn, I miss that guy. :(

hope4more said...

You are so good. You really pay attention and listen to the horses you are working with like no other trainer I have ever been around. It is really amazing, I say again I wish I were close to you I would be chasing after you to work with me, begging!

I am gaining so much knowledge here on your blog. I love your stories. You have a knack for writing.

fssunnysd said...

I grinned all the way through picturing that mare with a glint in her eye.

I prefer the throwing, flopping, & thumping approach, as well -- and if the saddle pad occasionally lands on the ground or flaps in the wind, the horses learn to deal with it. That way when a rider slides off and lands in a heap, or it's windy and the pad blows up and off when I'm saddling, they don't generally tend to have a conniption about it.

Last fall while Sunny was patiently waiting for the "go ahead" cue he stomped at a fly with one of those big, dramatic, belly-swiping moves. My son, who was neither paying attention, nor holding on as directed, slid off to land with a thump on Sunny's off side. Rather than panic at the strange moving thing falling under his feet, Sunny turned his head, sniffed, and cocked a hip as if to say - "huh - silly humans." I'd SO much rather have that reaction!

manymisadventures said...

That was an awesome story. A lot of times people come into a situation with a really, really bad case of the "You Just Hafta"s. That is, "You just hafta run her around and then she'll be fine...you just hafta get a little more strict with her...you just hafta move real slow..."

And so on. It's really annoying (especially when they're talking to you about your horse, whom they know nothing about), and often it means that they don't take the time to stop and figure out what the horse is telling them first. I like that you do that.

Joy said...

I love your blog. You are amazing. I say this because you are so able to article very clearly what you are trying to show your readers and I can understand how you work very well. I have a friend/"trainer" whose methods are so much like yours. Again, I have to say, I love your blog.

Joy said...

"Articulate" d'oh!

Latigo Liz said...

Nice job! :)

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