Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Mort/Chapter 5

I had been invited to ride with the big girls. Pine Run Ranch was sponsoring a horsemanship clinic for the Pikes Peak Rangerettes. The Rangerettes were the epitome of everything I said I hated, and everything I wanted to be. A drill team of beautiful young women on beautiful horses, they rode in parades, the Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo and the Denver Stock Show.
They were just about the coolest human beings to ever grace a horse’s back. They had money, clothes, matching tack, and well bred horses that knew how to behave. Gangrenous with envy, I wanted to hate them with every poisoned fiber. The only problem was these weren't your average sissy rich girls. To be a Rangerette you had to be able to ride. Really, really ride.
The drills were performed at a full gallop. Complex, twisting and hair raising. It was hard for me to hate anybody who could ride like they did. I had secretly dreamed of being a Rangerette since the first time I saw them.
A good friend of mine was a Rangerette. Karen was the only one who knew how much I wanted to join them. She knew how little a chance Mort and I stood of ever making the grade. Between his attitude and mine, we were doomed. The Rangerettes were not a club who welcomed social malcontents.
Karen called me when a girl dropped out of their clinic, I was being offered the slot.
“Mom said you can trailer with us. If you do good maybe they’ll make you an affiliate,” she said.
“There’s no point,” I answered.
“How do you know? Maybe Mort will be good.”
“That’s never going to happen and you know it!.”
Even I didn't know why I was so angry. I couldn't douse the brief flicker of hope though. I was sure I would make an ass out of myself, but maybe, just maybe the clinician would think I was worth giving some help.
The morning of the clinic I groomed Mort from one end to the other. I had cleaned all my tack the night before, and desperately tried to find a pair of jeans that weren't six inches too short.
For some reason I could never seem to own a pair of jeans that covered the tops of my boots. Resigned to my geekdom I saddled up Mort and rode him to Karen’s house.
I had come to a truce with Mort by then. He had a huge extended trot. If he stayed there I would stay off his face. If he bolted we would end up in the yank and jerk drama that defined the majority of our life together. If I tried to make him go any slower he would jig, and foam, and growl.
So trot it was. We covered the three miles to Karen’s house in about fifteen minutes. Like I said, it was a big trot. He arrived with most of the stink off him and ready to load. I arrived with the stink on, my shirt dirty and my hair blowing wild.
As we unloaded our horses I couldn't keep the waves of panic that kept pounding me under control. The Rangerettes seemed so together, their horses so perfect. Most of them, including my friend, took lessons at Pine Run, they looked comfortable and relaxed. I didn't belong there.
“I can’t believe you did this to me,” I hissed at Karen.
“Oh shut up, you’ll be fine,” She hissed right back and rode her horse into the shadowy alleyway that led to the arena.
The clinician, Mike Craig, was a local trainer and horse show judge. He started us out by having us walk, trot and lope our horses around the large indoor arena. He stood in the middle of the arena, watching each horse and rider and taking brief notes.
I had never been in an indoor arena, and for all I know neither had Mort. The girls and their horses flashed in and out of the sunlight slanting through cracks in the old wooden walls. They rode along the wall of the arena, quiet and evenly spaced.
Mort and I charged along the inside, his head high, snorting like a freight train. I tried to hold him in, he shook his head and growled deep. I hoped desperately his mouth wouldn't start bleeding, I waited to be pulled aside and thrown out of the clinic.
The clinician called for a whoa. Every horse in the group had stopped and was standing while Mort lugged against me for half the arena. I finally pulled him down. He fretted and pawed, his neck already soaked in sweat.
Then Mike walked over to each girl. He would ask a question, listen intently to the answer, and take a few notes. As he worked his way around the arena I tried to hear what he was saying over the pounding in my ears. No such luck. The closer he came the harder I had to fight the urge to blow out the arena door.
Finally he came to Mort and me. I stared hard at my saddle horn, willing my hands and my horse to stay quiet.
“How are you today?” His voice was deep and calm. I heard no laughter, no judgment at all.
“OK.” I managed.
“What do you need to work most on with your horse?” He asked.
I heard snickers behind me. My face burned as I imagined the eye rolling bitches having a field day with me and my awful horse.
Seriously, did this guy think there was anything I didn't need to work on?
“I don't know how to slow him down,” I managed. “He’s always so scared and mad, I can’t figure out what I’m doing to upset him all the time.”
The clinician thought for a minute.
“For today, I want you to try something. Right here at his wither there is a spot that can help him feel better.”
He had me put my hand on Mort right where his neck joined his withers.
“If you push here when you feel him start to get nervous, it just might calm him down a little.”
“He’s nervous all the time.” I managed to take a quick glimpse at him. I saw kind brown eyes with deep smile lines fanning from the corners.
“Then try this. Every time you feel him speed up, push on his neck there and take a deep breath before you pull. Let’s see what happens.”
I couldn't believe it. He hadn't thrown me out. He hadn't asked why I was there. I never did hear what he was saying to the other girls. All I knew was I had been given something, a nugget of information that offered me not just something to try, but hope for my horse.
As the day wore on I put my new training tip to use. I pushed on Mort’s neck with everything I had. As my timing improved, something short of miraculous happened. Mort started to stop when I pushed on his neck. He began to relax. His ears flicked back and forth more and more as we practiced. I found I could stop him with just a touch of my hand.
For the first time Mort began to wait for me. He walked, trotted and loped, still about fifty miles an hour faster than anybody else, but I didn't have to pull. I couldn't freaking believe it. I could have cared less about those damn Rangerettes. I was figuring out my horse.
The day came to an end and the clinician had a final conversation with us. He went around and said a little to each of us. When he came to Mort and me he stood a minute and absently stroked Mort’s shoulder.
“When we started today,” he began, “I asked each of you what you needed to work on with your horse.
I heard a lot of complaints about headsets and leads, lead changes and neck reining. This young lady here didn't ask any of those things.”
I froze in absolute horror when I realized he was talking about me.
I was so panicked I almost didn't hear what he said next.
“She’s riding the toughest horse in here,” Mike continued, “and I haven’t heard a single complaint out of her all day. She asked me what she could do to help her horse.”
This was getting good. I began to sit up a little straighter.
“She took my advice and has been working on her horse all day. This horse and rider have shown the most improvement of all of you.”
The clinic was over. I was in shock. We took our horses out to the trailer and began to untack.
“He sure liked you.” Karen said.
“I don’t know about that.” I didn't know how to be humble either, I was glowing. More than one of the Rangerettes came by and gave me a “Good job.” A few seemed to actually mean it.
Right before we loaded the horses Mike stopped by for another word.
“You did a good job in there. Why don’t you give me a call. I think a few lessons will get you on the right track.”
“I guess, uh…I don’t know how I’ll get here.” I replied in my best dork mode.
“Maybe you could come out with me sometimes.” Karen offered, whacking me in the ribs with her elbow.
“Make the effort,” Mike said, “You have the makings of a good trainer.”
When the Rangerettes called the next week and offered me a spot on their waiting list, I turned them down. I had better things to do. I was going to learn how to train my horse.


Unknown said...

ooooh awesome!!

Another training question for you!

Eating grass. As long as the horse I am riding does not stop they can grab a chest height weed on the fly.
I guess I never realized how much I relied on my saddle until today when I was cantering Indigo bareback down the lane in a halter and she grabbed for something and I nearly came unglued from her back.
Sometimes I carry a crop and she knows when I have it but if I don't any weed is fair game. I use the end of my reins and give her a right left smack with increasing rhythm until she pokes her head up. Shes good for a wile until she sneaks in another bite then every bit of grass after that is game until she gets a good whack from the reins again.
Whats the best method to keep their mouthes off the greens when you have to ride through it.

Whywudyabreedit said...

Wow, what a turning point. That day could have gone in so many directions. I want to hug that clinician. Great story! Is that a technique that you have used since? It is one that I have not heard of.

Whywudyabreedit said...

Oh by the way, can I just say how glad I am that you want to keep doing this blog? It is quite a nice gift that you share, these glimpses into your journey through life with horses. I am so glad that you felt you would benefit from some processing. Are you adjusting to your new job alright? Have you started yet?

Anonymous said...

weeee! you're such an incredible writer. i got goosebumps and almost teared up at work, imagining the fear mixed with pride you felt...

i also touch my horse's withers to 'lock' him in - when i do that, he knows he's doing good, and to keep going steadily. it works!

(btw, the part about your jeans being too short has a typo)

mugwump said...

sydney- it sounds like you do what I do when they try to eat, I send them forward, hard!
If they start looking,I start motivating.
I try to increase my momentum before they actually stop and grab. I've also noticed if they are riding with a grazer then they'll go for it too.
whywudyabreedit-Thanks! I love this blog. I have started my new job. They just threw me in the ring, and I'm writing my fingers off to bloody nubs every day. I miss riding all day though. And I'm REALLY bad at office polotics. Oh well. I do still use the hand on the withers technique-it was my intro to Balanced Ride.
waitintorein-thanks for the heads up, I was writing it at work and had to come home and edit. I couldn't spell today either. It was ugly.

Whywudyabreedit said...

Muggs, a couple of things about office politics... If you can learn to take the time to notice what people do, say, or write, something unique about them or their work, and then send little bits of compliments and encouragement their way that'll help. People appreciate shows of appreciation and encouragement if it is genuine. Humans are a different animal, but they respond just as well as horses to you if they perceive you as generally friendly. Being cranky as you are this could be a big swing =) Just think of them as your new barn, and that it is partly your job to keep them working happily. I have finally learned to really care how other people feel about themselves and what they are doing, it is not any different than what you have been doing all along with horses in principle, just a bit different in practice. I'm tellin ya, you're an animal trainer, you can master the office politics if you want to. It is all about perspective and thinking about putting others at ease.

Some people will tell ya it is all about the sports analogies. I don't get that part, except that I know that in general team building is a very good thing for groups of humans. So if thinking of being on the same team works for you then go with that.

You so have what it takes to kick some serious butt at your new job! I am rooting for you, mug wump mug wump mug wump...

P.S. Make sure you have a good chair, good posture, and do your stretches and exercises so ya don't seize up from sitting all day.

KD said...

Go Mugs and Mort !

Anonymous said...

I laughed with tears in my eyes through that story. I swear I could feel my cheeks burning along with you! Thanks so much for keeping up with the blog.

manymisadventures said...

This made me smile. I know well that feeling.

Laura Crum said...

mugwump, are you saying that touching a hot horse on the withers calms them down? I just want to get this straight. Its one more thing I never heard of and would like to try. Is it about exactly the right spot? Or just somewhere on the withers? And what is your impression about this--how it works...etc. I'm really curious.

mugwump said...

Yay Laura Crum! You asked....There is a nerve point that releases endorphins there. Have you ever stood up in the stirrup on a first ride and had the colt collapse? It's from an overload on that point
combined with cinch pressure. Anyway, I taught my first slide stop with that one. You move along, push right where the neck joins the wither and pull them down. It takes no time at all and they're parking it.
On a hot horse you can press there (you're thumb on one side and your fingers on the other)and it will sooth them. Release as they relax.
It triggers something that makes them want to stop.

mugwump said...

whywudya-thanks, the office stuff is the hardest...but I'll take your advice.

Heidi the Hick said...

I think this is my favourite chapter ever.

Laura Crum said...

Okeydokey...that's totally new to me, but I will try it next chance I get. Right where neck joins withers--from what you said I'm taking basically squeeze the base of the neck between my thumb and fingers, releasing as the horse shows signs of relaxing. Will this work on jiggers, too? Darn...wish I'd heard of it many years ago.

all-canadian said...

sydney - I wouldn't dream of offering training advice, but a "quick fix" for the grass thing...

When your horse goes for it, if you pull back on both reins you are more likely to get yanked out of the saddle. If you only haul on one rein you will be able to pull their head up a lot more easily.

Just in case you happen to find yourself cropless and bareback in a lush field... or if you're riding a strange horse and don't feel comfortable giving it a smack/boot.

Jenny said...

I rode with a clinician once who did this. His name is Ron McLoughlin. It was never explained to be a pressure point, and honestly I thought it was silly. You've explained it in such a way it makes me want to try it. My mare has been leased to a young girl for going on two years. I recently started riding her regularly again. Any time a put leg on her she flenches and speeds up. I'm doing my best to stay out of her face and calm her down so I get the responce I want. I think I will try this... at this point anything has to help. If only to help her relax and realize I don't want warp speed.

Anonymous said...

blinking tears.....

Promise said...

I love the wither trick. It works really well for most horses. Has something to do with the relaxation induced from them grooming each other at the withers, doesn't it?

Unknown said...

"Have you ever stood up in the stirrup on a first ride and had the colt collapse? It's from an overload on that point
combined with cinch pressure."

Actually right near their withers theres a pressure point that when pressed makes a horse collapse. Certain saddles can cause certain conformation types to do that when the cinch tightens and presses on it.
I learned that one when I did my equine massage therapy course.
Before we had sedation thats what vets used to use to get a horse to the ground and cows too!
When saddle testing with Indigo I did up this one saddle and as soon as she picked up her leg to walk out of the barn she collapsed and then jumped back up. Never did buy that saddle.

Smurfette said...

That story really fits into the "WOW" category. Your writing is amazing.

rockymouse said...

Re: office politics - just be polite to everyone, don't forget to smile once in a while, and think to yourself "I'm Switzerland! I'm Switzerland!"
By that, I mean just coast there in neutral. Don't take sides - just cover your beats as excellently as you can.

autumnblaze said...

Wow. What a great read.

I used to use that trick to calm stressed horses down when I worked at the vet school. I never thought to try it on horseback. I will. Gator often doesn't like to stop and just stand out of the ring. I wonder if that'll help calm him down when he's unsure.

Yeah, and with the office politics - the more you ask and get people to talk about THEMSELVES the happier they'll be with you. I'm not the best in that area either but I found when I'm most uncomfortable with someone or a situation, I ask the other person about what they do or something they're wearing etc. If they don't offer much up. Eh, screw 'em, I tried. :p

Jennifer said...

oooh. That chapter gives me goosebumps... I would *love* to have the courage to be in a clinic like that.

mugwump said...

You guys have to tell me how the pressure point works for you.
Sydney- Good information, please remember I understand saddle fit enough not to drop one of my colts because I was hurting him. The first time I had that happen I called my vet. He explained it as a reaction to new pressure points, and he bet it wouldn't happen twice on the same horse. He was right. I've only had it happen a couple of times, I've also gotten the same response on young ones when I pick up their feet after the cinch is tight. They all adapt.

mugwump said...

P.S.-Switzerland! Switzerland!

E S Nelson said...

Hi Mugwump--

Must say I truly love your blog. I check it every day, and I feel like I have learned a lot from reading it.

You asked a few weeks ago for training questions. Well, here goes:

I have a 7 yr old rescued QH. I have no idea on his history, but he is dead broke and an absolute joy. I have ridden all kinds of discipline and so am a jack of trades but master of none. Now, this horse has a huge chunk taken out of his shoulder--just no muscle left. The vet told me he must have been kicked as a foal. It doesn't seem to bother him, except for getting stiff when it is cold out. I have done a little bit of jumping with him, but I don't feel like he enjoys it, and I think it is hurting his shoulder. He's been turned out for about 2 months as I just recently went off to college, but after Christmas I will trailer him up to school to live near me. I want to try some very rudimentary reining with him, to see if he likes it and his shoulder can take it.

Do you have any suggestions for simple exercises I can try to start on reining? I think he has some background in this: he pivots on the hind end, something I never taught him.

Any suggestions are greatly appreciated. He (and I) have much more fun when we are working on something.

Thank you! Keep up the great work with the blog!


wolfandterriers said...

Hi Mugwump,

Office politiks are fun. You'll get used to it. I've worked at a television station doing programming and now I'm in the local government bureaucracy. Having so many cranky people around me while dealing with high stress issues (taxes!) has made me a better communicator. I don't "think Switzerland" but I'm polite, give oddball presents at strange times (how about a truck bed load of Sweet Annie?!), and don't take any b.s. It works! It's a good prep for being a doctor, anyway--as I think I should be able to talk to you so that you and I are on the same page!!

My question for you is this--I've been asked to teach some beginner lessons to a young lady I know. Her mother recently purchased two horses for her family--a sour ex lesson horse (in my opinion) and her yearling filly. Both typical QH--quiet personality, but the mare knows what she can get away with. I think I've commented before on the type of horses I like on the Captain story. I like my horses very dominant and very hot. That is *my* combination. I can get the more out of a horse like that than a calmer, gentler personality. To cut to the chase, the young lady needs a real introduction to the "hows and whys" of horses. She's had some very basic riding lessons. She's aware of the basic gaits but has no idea of anything else.

I'm concerned about a few things: one, I do not carry liability insurance as I don't train anyone else's horses and secondly, about my amateur status. I know that sounds silly, especially since I'm too disgusted with the horse shows in my area to compete, but it's still in the forefront of my mind. Finally, the girl that I keep my horse with is not the most wonderful of beings; I am almost certain that she would have some jealous tizzy fit that I have a student and she doesn't. (It's called get off your butt and do something with yourself...and I'm SO counting the months and days until I move and get my horse out of there!)

I am pretty certain that I could put together a hold harmless agreement. I just want to have all my bases covered. I really doubt that it would be an injury related to MY horse but I have a serious, deep rooted suspicion of poorly trained horses. In short, I'm worried about her horses, so I'm going to do my best to develop her skills with my Kit so she can handle what problems arise with her horses.

What is your take on the scenario? If I don't help her, she will probably get hurt. They have already had one issue where the ex lesson horse was being very naughty and it frightened them.

I am thinking of doing 2+ 5 hour sessions with her a month, giving homework (little research things), small tests (like assembling a bridle properly and fitting it on the horse, etc.) combined with learning ground items from Kit (my mare) and working with her horse. I am also considering getting her to keep a notebook of her work with their horses, just to keep track of what's going on.

verylargecolt said...

It's so interesting how those little things that are said when you're young set the course for you. I credit a lot of my riding career to the opposite - a trainer who told me when I was 15 and having a lot of trouble with a school horse who rooted and pulled me down his neck (I was a very small 15) that I was "pathetic" and should just give up riding.

I'm not sure to this day whether she was just a godawful bitch or was trying to motivate me with anger or something. However, I learned to ride the rooting horse, I went on to whip her stupid ass in many horseshows, and when I was 19, I stole her boyfriend. *meow* But it all felt VERY good.

Conversely, I remember another trainer around the same time who told me it was fine that I wasn't tough and couldn't ride the pushy horses, because I would find many sensitive horses who liked my type of a rider. She was absolutely right and the older I get, the more I see how sensitivity has been more valuable with horses than the guts to get after the toughest horse. Yeah, I wish I had more guts - but I wouldn't trade my good hands or good instincts to get it.

verylargecolt said...

Office stuff:

I used to manage a law firm and the advice I gave everybody is "not everything you feel has to come out your mouth." That will keep you out of so much trouble, it ain't funny.

1) Tell people NOTHING about your personal life or as little as possible. Giving them info is like handing ammo to Osama Bin Laden.

2) When people want to talk about personal things, act too busy to chat.

3) Suck up to management. You really can't go wrong with that. Identify what your boss has on his or her plate that they just HATE to do and see if you can help with it. You will be beloved and promoted in no time flat. This really is the great secret, as far as I've seen. I have used it at every job I've had and it has worked great every time.

4) If you have an office troublemaker, steer clear. Minimize all contact with that person. Keep things insanely professional. Kill them with kindness and never retaliate openly. Just show them up at every opportunity by doing better work than they do, and pretty soon you'll be above them in the pecking order and they'll have to find a new target for their crap.

Unknown said...

"please remember I understand saddle fit enough not to drop one of my colts because I was hurting him"

I totally understand that. That pressure point does not hurt it merely makes them jello in the legs. It is almost impossible to make the horse collapse twice unless your saddle fit is real bad. Why I didn't buy that one saddle I had on Indigo, she collapsed twice with it and even the vet said that shouldn't happen.

crochetyolelady said...

this post today got me a bit teary. It shows how devoted and determined and "obsessed" a young girl was to learn and be with her horse. I envy you for your courage and desire to be able to ride amongst the "bitches"..hehe. I am still scared to do that now as a middle aged adult!

Unknown said...

oh and re all-canadian: (sorry I didn't see this before I have been totally scatter brained) I never use both reins to make my horse stop or behave as it usually ends up in a fight which a 120 pound human me is not going to win against a 1000 pound horse.
I agree though using one rein to get their head out of the grass is more productive just like using one rein at a time to slow down a speedy, nervous horse.

Mugs: Another post!! Another, another! mostly because I am procrastinating doing my uni work...Maybe I should get on that.

Leslie said...

So many comments on this one but I just had to add mine. Great post! I can relate, though not in the horse sense. I didn't have the opportunity for horses when I was a kid but the story relates in other ways too-being an outsider, not feeling good enough, wanting something then figuring out something else was better, the feelings you expressed. Great read!

Anonymous said...

I love your blog, and your writing. Please keep going. I'm South African and I don't always understand the terminology you guys use, but it's great to read about the way people work with horses in a very different part of the world.

Anonymous said...

Mares also nuzzle their babies at that spot on the withers, and that is also why it is a calming spot. This story almost makes me want to cry fir that little girl who was finally figuring out her horse!

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