Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Stepping Stones

I've had an interesting progression through my thoughts on horses and horse training lately.

At least it's been interesting to me. That's the only warning you're getting here.

My young horse Odin has entered the phase of training I like best. He can WTC, take his leads, stop, go left go right, back, and understands there are different parts of him I like to move at different times, and they all translate to where and how he moves his feet. He is calm and friendly, I feel secure and solid every time I get in the saddle, but he still has enough sass to keep me on my toes.

Odin has begun to enjoy the training process too. He's more interested than resistant when we work on advancing his arena skills and he likes cows. When I drive up to the barn he nickers, just like Madonna, as I get out of the car. It makes me feel good, since I don't feed him, or give treats beyond a good rub on the neck, to hear the welcome. It tells me we get along and he enjoys the work.

This is my favorite time with a youngster. His brain is like a sponge, he's ready and willing to solve every riddle I put in front of him. We don't have to mess with the basics much, I can hone those as we go along, so the riding is more fun for me too.

When the kidlet called and asked to borrow him for a trail ride, I said sure. It's good for him to get out and I like to hear from my child how she thinks he's coming along. I figured everything must have gone all right because she didn't call to tell me he was a lunkhead, so I didn't think much about it until the next time I rode him.

Odin felt a little off during our warm-up. He was edgy and high headed, not his usual M.O. I wasn't too worried about it, he has certainly been that way before, I thought we might be looking at a little bucking, but he's not very good at it. So I settled in my seat and got ready for a surprise or three, and asked him to lope off. He was sloppy and leany, and while his lope departure isn't clean yet, he was wanting to trot way beyond reason before he found his feet.

Again, I wasn't too worried, I just brought him down, adjusted his legs and we went again. Within four strides I was on a runaway.

Hmmm. This was new. I picked up the outside rein to take him off course and he flopped his head like an over-Parellied horse and kept on running. Hmmm. I gave him back his head and thought about things while we whipped around the arena for a lap or so. He was just waiting for me to try to pull him down. I could feel it in his shoulders and neck, in the strung out way he was moving, in the tension in his jaw. None of this was adding up.

Kathy was up ahead of us, loping circles and I hollered at her to hold up. She stopped and Odin veered toward Rosie. I thought he might stop next to her, but we shot on past, I had about enough and ran him into the fence. That stopped him. I backed him, um, let's say with enthusiasm, turned and loped off again. He ran off with me. I ran him into the fence again. This time, I was a little cranky, so I kept kicking him into the fence while he crawled up it, jumped sideways, flailed around and finally, finally, gathered himself, got his feet under him and backed off the fence, straight and correct. Then we rested.

"What's going on?" Kathy asked.

"Somebody else has been riding my horse." I said.

Before she could respond, Odin and I loped off again and went back at it.

I'm not one to let a rotten horse rest. Trust me, he was rotten. He would gather up and lope along for a bit, then string out and take off. I really am not a fan of running into a fence to stop my horse, so I spent the next twenty minutes or so starting him off, letting him go for ten to twenty steps, asking for a whoa before he could set himself up against me, and pulling him into the ground hard if he didn't respond. Sometimes I'd back him into a rollback, sometimes we'd head straight out, I didn't worry about whether or not he was trotting or loping, or what lead he was on, it was just stop and go, stop and go until he stopped on a whoa and rocked back a few steps, just like he's supposed to.

Once we were both on the same plane, I got off, loosened his cinch and went to switch horses.

"I guess you won't be letting the kidlet ride Odin anymore," Kathy said.

"It doesn't make sense though," I said. "She wouldn't do anything stupid on him and she would have told me if something had gone wrong. I hate it when somebody else rides my horse, I just hate it."

Whomping on a stupid acting colt becomes second nature after you've ridden enough of them, so I had plenty of time to do some thinking while Odin and I were coming to terms. Our barn owner, Jay, has been in the horse business his entire life, his father was a rancher and a horse trader, and so is he. He's an interesting man, a combination of old time cowboy and a thinking, thoughtful person who actually likes his horses. We have begun to have some really interesting conversations.

One afternoon we were discussing the pros and cons of letting somebody else ride your horse.

"I can't believe how long it took me to figure it out, but my horses always end up better after I let somebody else ride them for awhile. A lot of these guys (ropers and trainers) won't let a young girl up on their horses, but I love the results. It always makes them better when I ride them, it doesn't seem to matter if their particularly good riders or not either, they're just different," Jay said. "Different seems to be the key."

I thought about that while Odin and I were tearing around the pen and knew the key word was "different."

"Kidlet rides different than I do, that has to be the key, something got triggered here, I just don't know what," I told Kathy. She looked doubtful, she assumed I was defending the kidlet, but I wasn't. I was simply, for the first time ever, not having a knee jerk response to a problem in my horse after someone else rode him.

"I'll have plenty of time to sort this out, I have a feeling Odin and I will be discussing 'Stop moving your damn feet when I say stop,' for a few more days," I said.

Kathy still had that 'You are so full of it,' look on her face, but I didn't mind, she keeps me honest, one of the many reasons she's been such a good friend over the years.

More on this tomorrow.


Chel Griffith said...

You sure it was JUST your kidlet that was riding him?

I boarded at a place once, and got there at an unusual time for me, only to find another boarder roping cows off my 32 year old, navicular, semi-retired old ranch horse. I just about wrung his cocky cowboy neck.

If I hadn't had a surprise day off, I would have just come back to a lame horse and not known why.

This STILL pisses me off, and it's been 15 years...

mugwump said...

Very sure.

Anonymous said...

Just thinking of what had to happen to cause such a change in him. Do you think they ran full tilt/raced etc. through the trail ride? Really wondering what went on for him to have such a personality switch??

mugwump said...

Anon. It's why I stopped her until tomorrow. All kinds of thinking went through my head...

paint_horse_milo said...

I wish I had let more people on my horse when I was starting him. He got so used to just Mom that by the time came I was even confortable with someone else he quickly figured out that they were not me and would turn into a total brat and refused to listen to them. I got my wake up call loud and clear and got a lot of other people on him to help sort that nonsense out.

But, as a youngster I still cant help but feel protective of their soft brains. You want different, yes, but not so different its frightening, or moreso just plain confusing. At least, not in the very early stages, but it seems you and Odin are a bit more past that point.

I love the photo, btw. Looks like a real nice young guy getting under himself. I wish so desperately we had cows here, Milo loves them. We have a lot of sorting available, but no boxing or that sort (which, of course, I am most interested in).

KD said...

From your previous posts, you are proud of the way your daughter works horses.

I'm interested in hearing what Odin's deal is and if it continues.

redhorse said...

I like to have other people ride my horse, but I'm pretty particular about who. I'm also there to watch, because problems do happen and I like to see what they are. I've also learned a lot watching someone 40+ years younger than myself ride my horse and work out a problem. Keeps you humble.

Can't wait to hear what you say tomorrow.

Shadow Rider said...

My first thought was his back hurts. I've had the same kind of change in a TB that had sacral issues. Then I thought maybe he's just pissed, because I've had a horse pull that on me too.
It's hard to let someone else ride your horse. No matter how good a rider they are, they do things different, and that changes things.

ladymulefarrier said...


I cannot even imagine what I would have done in that situation... It probably would have had something to do with a longe whip and my rasp... Good God, what gets into people??


I, too, am looking forward to the rest of this story!

Bif said...

So this is now, separate from this post http://mugwumpchronicles.blogspot.com/2011/07/i-can-feel-every-pair-of-hands.html ?

My first horse, pretty green when I got him, I put quite a lot of people on. It made him better, sometimes because they did in fact teach him something I couldn't hadn't, and sometimes I think because he was just so grateful it was me again!

mugwump said...

Yes, Bif. I wrote the last one when it happened. I'm writing this one a few days later.

Val said...


I am curious about your thoughts on his response.

I rarely let anyone ride my horse. I let a good friend ride him once and he told me that her elbows were locked by shortening his neck and throwing his nose. I did not want to annoy my friend by correcting her riding, but I also didn't like my horse holding his muscles in a way opposite to what I had been working so long to teach him. Just makes me not want to offer.

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