Saturday, October 9, 2010

My Horse Is A Sissy.

My riding skills are being sorely tested.

My yellow mare has been earning her nickname. A name that my sometimes rotten, always loved daughter gave her.
She calls her Pretty Polly Pocket Princess (4P).
If you knew my family you would understand the many levels of insult buried in this nickname.

Unfortunately my little mare goes to great lengths to prove that not only should she be called 4P, it should probably be her registered name.

Don’t get me wrong; when Madonna’s in the arena she’s all business. Well, most of the time anyway.

Of course the kidlette will tell you it feeds into the reason behind the name. The horse wants to be in the show ring. She becomes animated, almost taller. She just loves to have people look at her. I wish I could say she does all of this stuff because she wants to work a cow, but she just “getserdun” when we’re not in front of an audience.

She also spends a lot of time flipping her forelock, stomping her feet, chewing her bit, whatever it takes to get some attention.

This is hard on me. I’m the kind of person who wears black and brown show clothes. Maybe I’ll go crazy and add a touch of ecru once in a while. Only if I’m feeling particularly wacky.

I prefer to blend into the crowd.

These days it’s not a concern. I’m not showing. I work in the arena only 1 out of every 4 rides. Madonna is barefoot, so there’s no slide stops at the moment.

In the arena I stick to some pretty boring schoolwork.

We are working on a clean, solid lope depart, with plenty of drive and level carriage. We are cleaning up some messy balance issues that have led to tail snapping lead changes.

None of these are being worked on by changing leads or lope departs BTW. If you want I’ll actually explain what I’m doing and the thoughts behind it, but that’s for another day. Today you get to listen to me whine….

4P has never liked getting her feet dirty. It’s one of the fusses that can become downright pathological in a horse kept in a box stall.

The hardest emotional challenge for 4P as she switched from stall horse under blankets and lights to mustang in a field was having dirty feet.

I wish you could have seen her picking her way across a field after it rained. Her pasture mates would be already at the hayrack and she would be a quarter mile out tiptoeing around the icky parts, hollering her batty little head off the whole way.

She seemed to get over it. I mean she was out on pasture for a year and a half. So she learned to slog through the snow and mud of the changing seasons.

4P has been brought into town though. Her new stable has a shed, company and a large pen. I think she’s the happiest she’s ever been. She has people around all of the time to tell her she’s pretty, is back under saddle and she can stay out of the mud.

Yes, she’s back to dodging mud.

Which means we argue constantly as we head out on the trail.

She’s OK with crossing water as long as there’s no mud.

There is always mud.

Can you hear me sigh?

Which brings me back to my original point.

Ben Cartwright’s horse never fussed at mud.

So mine’s not going to either.

Trail riding is proving really, really good for all of us. As in me, my friend and riding buddy Kathy, and our horses.

Kathy’s Rosie will go through anything. She loves water and mud, so Kathy gets to make fun of 4P and me all day long.

Because good old OCD me has been finding as many water crossings as possible on our rides.

It goes like this.

“Do you want me to cross first?” Kathy asks, barely hiding her smirky little tone.

“No, she needs to cross,” I growl.

4P lowers her head, sniffs the mud, wrinkles her dainty little nose and rollbacks away like I wish she would in the showpen.

“Oof!” I say as a whack my gut on my cutting saddle's extremely high, skinny saddle horn.

Kathy sits comfortably on Miss Perfect Rosie Pants and waits.

Here’s where my method of keeping my reins loose and guiding with my legs frustrates me. Just a tad.

So I line her up again, give her plenty of rein and shove her forward with my calves.

4P tiptoes up to the water, sniffs the edge and gathers herself to jump.

“Oh no you don’t!” I say.

I gather her up and angle her a little to get rid of the urge to jump.

I release and she spins.


Kathy and Perfect Pants begin to laugh.

Finally I say, “Go ahead and go first.”

The Perfect Pair cross without issue.

4P stares at them, stares at the water, stares at them, stares at the mud…..and crosses.

So we continue on until the next crossing. Sigh.

I know we’ll get it. I’ve done it with many, many horses. But both 4P and I are such arena babies.

I have created a monster and I no longer seem to have my trail riding chops.

Loping across a field is totally different than the control and ground that comes with an arena.

Keeping my horse’s mind while allowing her to think through problems is an entirely different challenge now that we’re out.

The balance issues we are working on in the arena? I found them on the trail. They are mine and I’ve given the problem to my horse.

I have lost the natural glue that kept me in the saddle as a kid. I don’t think it’s gone forever.

Kathy and I are already braver and rowdier on the trail than we were even a few months ago.

We go for a comfortable canter when we see a good spot.

We’re working on going on uncomfortable canters in tough spots.

This makes me see why I have had problems with confidence in the show pen.

I don’t trust my seat.

The only way I know how to fix it is to ride. Like Ben Cartwright. Even if I’m on Pretty Polly Pocket Princess.


  1. Oh... another horse that doesn't like to get their feet dirty! Panama doesn't either -- he has learned to fall in behind me when I lead him through mucky spots, because I pick the best path for myself. He doesn't like to roll where it's cold and wet, either, unless he's really desperate -- he's fine waiting for me to come turn him out in the nice sand arena.

    He spent the first 2+ years of his life in a pasture without any shelter before discovering the luxury of a stall with run. Now he's in a large corral with shelter, and let me tell you, he is the first one to run for the shelter when it rains or snows!

    Aren't their little personality quirks hilarious?

  2. They are funny when I look back on it. One of the best things about quitting the training biz has been allowing my horses to be who they are, not what the current market dictates.

  3. There's hope for you! My mare, who is nicknamed PrimaDonnaDiva, hated water and mud crossings. After a year (this year) of riding, we even canter through mud, have gone belly-deep through flood and lake crossings, and she doesn't even hesitate. Just keep at it.

    Of course, now I've had 4 weeks off with a broken elbow - okay, the short version of the story - I was leading her through a competitive trail course, at which she even ignored the balloons hanging from the sideways trampoline that we walked *through*, and she spooked at something while walking over a hula-hoop on the ground, bumped into me, I lost my balance and fell, pulled her just enough by the reins that she stepped on my elbow and broke it in 3 pieces. I should have let go...and I didn't.
    That story over...

    I can't wait until I'm riding again in two weeks or so...we'll see how she does after having time off on the trails! I am going to load her today for practice so she doesn't "forget" how to load.

    And your seat will get better...wait until you feel comfortable enough to trail ride bareback!

  4. Oh, poor princess. Making her walk through that mud, evil you!
    Fame loooves to look at herself in the mirror when we are in the indoor arena. Makes me crack every time.

  5. Poor Princess!! She and Lucas could have a great conversation about nature and its downfalls. Scary tarps, tractors, shavings bags blowing, not a problem. Trees, long grass, MUD, or birds make him crawl out of his skin!

    Atleast yove found your problems and have the drive to get over them!

  6. I have her twin sister, her nickname is Paris Hilton

  7. That's fantastic. I know a few horses that don't like being dirty...One's a paint, which meant she was usually clean. Came in handy for shows when bathing wasn't really plausible (like in November. I live in Colorado as well. You understand, I'm sure.)

    And I sincerely hope I never lose my natural glue. I guess I can't ever stop riding!

  8. It is a great post, and lot of food for thought. I have an Arena Princess. Evil me, I turned her out for 6 weeks in a field on a mountain slope in a huge paddock ...
    When I brought her back to the plaine and a lovely box, with a sand arena, she is now teh happiest mare of all.
    Funny, eh? The horse management dogma isnists for our horses to have 24/7 turn-out in big natural paddocks. But Our Princess mares prefer warm stable and dry arena.
    interesting,isn't it?

    Does 4P try to slide even if she has no sliders on? Mine does. O_o

  9. Okay, just to take Kathy's position. My Sonny LOOOVES mud and water. A crowd of us were at a friends and there was a 'pond' (mud hole) in the field. People took their pretty horses up to it to snort and eye it crookedly. We came over and Sonny marched in and gets down and dirty wallowing like a hippo... This did not impress the other horses. The owners were flaberghasted and a little envious.

    I was laughing like crazy about all the high energy spraying I would have to do before he was clean enough for a pad and a saddle.

    As for seat. I am 61. Will I ever get a decent seat? sigh.

  10. My former TB stallion and show horse his entire life is hysterically funny out on the trail. I have yet to get him thru water mostly because he can jump everything we've come across so far.He WILL NOT put his feet down in it yet he will stand for hours to be bathed and scrubbed LOL! I could probably take him to the do it yourself car wash and power wash him without him batting an eye but get him to walk thru water or even puddles on the trail...oh HELL NO! I am the source of great laughter from my husband and other trail riding buddies as their trusty horses willingly step,trot or canter right in. Mine gives new meaning to the "Water Jump" !

    What is my salvation though is that as a former show horse and arena baby this horse is used to all kinds of noises,traffic , different types of livestock, lights,etc.Other than his water issue he is unflappable when deer jump out in front of us or marauding mountain bikers or 4 wheelers come whizzing past us much to the chagrin of my seasoned trail buddies when their horses SPOOK.

  11. Tell her mud is considered a beauty treatment by some humans!

    I laughed at this post because for the first time we have a dog which has no working breed in its background (he's a pug/cavvy) and he WILL NOT get his dainty feet wet, while the Rottie/Border collie/Kelpie joyfully jumps into the muddy creek and thrashes around.

  12. We have one of those. Silly girl will roll in a pile of poop, but won't set one foot in mud; always nice to know you're not the only one, isn't it? :o)

  13. I have heard of 3P - Polly Pissy Pants but never 4P.... 3P is related to 2D - Debbie Downer and
    2N - Negative Nancy. They all come and go at my house on a regular basis. hahahaha...

  14. There is a gate on the hills near us that my family insist on calling 'kyflim's gate' in honour of the occasion when my pony Kyflim took a flying leap as I lead him through, knocked me down and trod on me in a huge puddle of sticky red mud. He obviously thought I was nobly sacrificing myself so he wouldn't have to get his feet wet! My mum and sister thought it hilarious and still mention it every time we see the gate even though it was nearly 30 years ago. I seem to recall it wasn't so funny for me, having to ride home soaking wet and with grit in some very uncomfortable places!


  15. Oops sorry, was trying out some different names as I couldn't work out how to post without doing it 'anon' and accidently did both of them!

  16. I don't know...having a horse that doesn't like mud might be preferable to a pony we have nicknamed "pigpen"! He is the filthiest creature known to man! Thankfully, he is solid black, errrr...actually, most often he is solid brown. :( He ABHORS being groomed and removing his hard-earned layer of soil often creates a whirlwind of dust. And heaven forbid you actually bathe him! He will do the "hitchin' post hula" while being hosed down in a mad attempt to replenish his dirt supply by splashing mud onto his legs. And as soon as you turn him back out, wet or dry, he will immediately find some way to make a mudpie for himself to roll in, most often by dipping his dusty hooves in the water trough until there is enough water on the ground to suit his purpose. Ugh!!!

  17. justaplainsam-Exactly!She has zero problem withmany things that scare other horses.
    But God help m if we have to ride through crackly branches.
    Sh crossed water twice this front of Rosie!
    The other 4 crossings were the same as before, but we're getting there.

  18. Muriel- Yes, 4P still stops in the position to slide. But I don't ask for a slide, just a stop, so she only slides 2 feet or so. I always worry about her burning her heels so I'm very careful.
    HOH- Sonita was terrified of her image in an arena mirror. Who could blame her, looking at that big red witch, I was scared too!
    Half Dozen - I tend to think the "pigpens" in the world are also very, very smart, have you noticed?
    They're also the horses who unlatch gates, get in the feed room, crawl under fences etc.

  19. Ooooh, sounds like my Miss Mocha. She's a total Stall Princess, and at her second show a few weeks ago she suddenly figured out why we do all this schooling stuff.

    That said, she loves doing some of her favorite moves, company or no. She just gets about two inches higher with an audience.

    At the show a few weeks ago (her second ever), 'twas funny. My trainer (who was working the gate at that moment), told me to bring her in at the stiffest trot I could and keep her going, don't let her stop and look (we were showing English, rail class, Amateur Owner over 18). Dear God, if you've ever seen a Quarter Horse do her best to emulate a Park Arab in Park Trot, I think that was Mocha.

    She does your 4P girl one better, though. Not only does she get fussy about water (so we traipse through every mud puddle known to man), but she's finicky about gravel as well. Or hard ground.

    Sigh. I need to find an excuse to spend a summer in the Wallowas. With my horse. I think that'd get her over it! She does dearly love trail riding, even if it means she has to tiptoe through the footing. She loves it about as much as she loves doing a fast rundown and sliding stop.

  20. Well, Mugs...not in this pony's case, thank goodness! His redeemable qualities are that he is the sweetest thing, and is always where he is supposed to be when I drive in the driveway. Our palomino pony who is usually mostly clean, is also the one who tears down livestock panels, runs through electric fences, opens gates, climbs stairs to barn lofts, etc. His ONLY redeeming quality is that he is a pretty color and has the cutest ears and "Who, Me?" expression!

  21. Oh man, my red horse, Champ, was such a diva. He could not get his four pretty white feet wet or dirty. The nice thing was he often looked nice and clean...

    I think they get used to what they are expected to. Horses turned out around the clock, and trail ridden, freak out in an arena. Horses who live in stalls and get trailered to indoor shows can't deal with long grass swishing around their knees on the trail.

    Right now I have two mostly-white Appies covered in mud.

    Good luck with your trail rides! And yes I would LOVE to hear about your lope/ balance lessons. I don't think I have ever really hate "seat glue" but I keep trying!

  22. LOL I finally got Lic used to water on an ACTHA ride... BTW, these are very interesting when you are a nervous-ish rider on a greenish horse prone to spooking. Anyway, a good part of the trail was THROUGH the river... not along the river, but actually in the river bed. The river started as a stream, which Lic repeatedly jumped over sideways as I attempted to guide her into it. My friend was behind me laughing her ass off on her saint mare that will do anything. Finally, the stream got wider and wider, and Lic must have figured that she wasn't going to clear it in all of her 14.3hh, tank of a stock horse glory, so she snorted, pawed, looked at the other horses just wandering through, and finally ginerly stepped in.

    Talk about baptism by fire.... we probably spent at least 2 miles of the 7 mile ride going in and out of water repeatedly, including when it was about 3 feet deep and Lic had to deal with it touching her belly. The horror!! Now she seems to be pretty cool with water... if there's no mud. And I am sypathizing with the whole "There's always mud thing." She's happier than a clam when there's a puddle in the gravel road though!

    And, speaking of seat... I never rode as a kid, so I never had that initial glue! I'm working on it though... I have that beginner tendency to freeze up and lean forward instead of sit deeper... thankfully I have a good trainer to holler at me! Which leads into the CA post...

  23. I'm so sorry, but I can't help but LOL! It's hard to picture you having much of a problem with any horse! You're just human like the rest of us...and horses will be horses!!

    Colt was not stall raised in the least. But, when we started riding out, he'd be overly cautious of changes in the ground color...dry dirt to irrigated dirt. Every little ditch was going to eat him.

    Finally as a 5 year old he's starting to get over it. I have to give credit to the cows we chase across the pastures...he's got a job to do and he needs to get there or loose the whole herd! We're barreling across humps and dips and ditches to head off some wanna be runaways...and he's got his mind focused...totally proud of the boy!

    YES on the lead change post...would love to hear what you've got going to keep the tail swishing out of the picture.