Wednesday, April 8, 2015

To Spook or Not to Spook, That is the Question -- Synopsis

When Student pulled into our facility she had ten minutes before her scheduled lesson started. I always allowed an extra 45 minutes between lessons to accommodate all the stuff that can hold up anybody hauling horses.

I was at the tack room, not more than 50 yards away. She had never been to our barn, but basic country courtesy dictates the visitor finds the visitee and says, "Hey, we're here," before unloading.
That in itself was enough for me to decide it was safer or me to keep an eye on her instead of continuing to ride. If there was a problem, I needed to be able to handle it.

It wasn't her awareness of good manners that concerned me, it simply alerted me that Student didn't understand how things ran at a place like ours, which can cause accidents. I liked her for not punishing her horse when he knocked her down and  I trusted her decision to saddle her own horse.

By then I knew quite a bit about my student and her horse. The horse didn't stand tied. He had no concept of personal space, and zero respect for his owner. He was sound, lively, and exhibited a playful good nature.

My student was a little frightened of her horse. She had probably been stepped on more than once. She didn't understand her horse was kind of a shit.

Student was trying hard to prepare her horse for riding in an atmosphere she found intimidating. Her personal insecurities had her so internalized she didn't notice other riders in the arena, that everyone but her was mounted, or think to ask where I was going to conduct her lesson.

Her unawareness of what was going on around her put her horse in a position of having to pay attention for her. Because he was seeing all this exciting new stuff and Student clearly had no idea how to help him translate it, he was spooking.

I liked the horse.

He was more of a "Look at that! Check that out! I think I know that guy...Whoa Nelly, now that's a big ass tractor!" kind of horse that a "OMG we're gonna die!" horse.

Once she decided to round pen the horse I knew we wouldn't be riding that day. I went back to work. Student was going to take a lot of work before I'd be able to get her and her horse reining, which was why she was there, but the next lesson would help me decide on whether she stayed or not.

Student had clearly thought things through before she came back. She arrived in plenty of time to be ready when her lesson started. She wasn't as nervous.

She handled her first experience on a well mannered, but sensitive horse just fine. Once she understood what a slack rein was, she left it.

By the time I was done knocking her horse's pointy little shoulder off me, student had begun to appreciate the horse she was sitting on. I could see the wheels spinning.

Her horse was sensitive enough to pick up on my pointing game, which told me Student had some good things going for her as a horseman. He wasn't dull or sullen so I felt pretty confident that he hadn't been NH'd to death.

Student quickly picked up on the key points I offered her and put them to use.

Her checks cleared.

She was in.


  1. Interesting.... Now that there is some context, the student's situation doesn't seem quite as bad as it did in the first installment. Clearly, there are/were issues to be solved, but now that I know more about the horse and the person, it doesn't seem like there's quite as much work that needs to be done.

    Initially, I thought it was going to be much more about the horse needing to be re-educated about its place on the planet and the student learning how to own the situation. But, now that I have context, it really sounds to me that it's much more about the rider than the horse, which means you only really have one student instead of two....

  2. I hope we hear more about this pair!

  3. Can't you hear the whistling sound of all the brains processing this?

    (or is that just my brain?)

  4. Bahahaha.

    That said, nice observation, Heather.

  5. I think these posts prompted so much.....discussion? Outrage? Insanity?? Because they hit a little too close to home for a lot of people. I didn't wade into the fray because I have an Irish temper. I'm also never happy with my comment once it's published but so be it.

    Anyway, I didn't really think this set of stories had much to do with my current situation until I had a farrier visit this morning. i moved my guys home last summer and because of the muddy spring conditions brought them up to the garage to be trimmed (redneck much?) When I brought them up they were full of the of' mick, prancing and half spooking at nothing. I could feel my stomach clutching up with nerves. They settled pretty quickly but once the farrier finished my thoroughbred and moved on the the Paint, the TB was a wiggly obnoxious cuss. I didn't realize I've developed anxiety about how people perceive my horse handling abilities, but I guess I have; maybe it stems from internal doubt about my own capabilities. The TB kept dancing in & out of my space and I was half heartedly correcting him while mentally debating how to proceed. I was hating myself for being a weenie but trying to avoid a big correction as I didn't want to escalate the situation or startle the Paint. The farrier asked me a question and as I started answering him the TB poked his face next to mine again. Without thinking, I popped him hard with the end of the lead rope, he skittered for a half second, then stood quietly with his leg cocked. I had this moment where I could see myself as that woman in the round pen, getting her horse to move with a point and a stare. I hadnt even realized until today that I've lost a lot of confidence in my abilities but feel like I still need to pretend like I have a handle on things.

    Thankfully my situation hasn't gotten totally goobered like that woman and her Paint, however, I can see how it would or could happen. I suspect there are a lot of us in the horse world, scared but trying to not let on, hoping not to be found out. Sometimes your confidence thins, because of an accident, screw ups, the higher stakes of having a mortgage and student loans, so you CAN'T get hurt, or whatever. I imagine at least some of those ridiculous comments were from people hoping not to be found out as easily as that lady was.

    Here are my questions from the series:
    1.) silly one, but what do you think the difference is in horses who are the goofy spookers (holy cow, look at that tractor! Wow, a tree!) and the "I'm gonna die!" Horses?
    2.) if the lady hadn't initiated putting the horse in the round pen, do you think that's still where you would have started with her?
    3.) how do you think Big K's approach with her would have been different?

  6. P. S.
    Thanks to whoever told me I could use the name/urn option. I have an identity! Whee!

    P. S. S.
    Don't discount as well the hypothesis that if this story had Big K substituted with you, Mugs, that the reaction would have been significantly different. I am constantly amazed at the sexism that continues to persist today.

  7. Jen
    1.That's a whole other post, already started, that prompted this story.
    2.It could have gone so many directions. Ideally, she would have come over, said, "Hi, I'm student." I would have said, "Hi! I remember you. Let's visit while you tack up."
    3.Depends on the day.Having someone pull in, tack up and start using his facility without speaking to him first wouldn't earn them an invitation back. He wouldn't have stopped work to observe.If he had already been on foot, and walking past, he would have said, "Hello?" That's all I've got.

  8. I had a friend point out the sexism angle too. I'm guessing, a woman as mentor brings to some, expectations of nurturing, or maybe approaching the horse thing from a more spiritual side?
    I was considered "soft" among my peers. I worked with students and horses long after most would have run them off. But warm and fuzzy? No.

  9. I wish I had had a student whose lightbulb went off that quick! I bet you enjoyed teaching her. :)

  10. Best. Line. EVER...hadn't been NH'd to death.

    Happy to read this Students progress. I stand in a place of fear/insecurity frequently in regards to my abilities. I am happy to hear she was able to work through it to help her horse.

  11. Shadow Rider - Well, that light bulb went on anyway.

  12. Thanks for bringing us training stories again Mugs. When I feel like I'm getting stuck with my mare I go back and read your stuff.

    So the horse in the story reminds me of one that visited our barn for a clinic. Apparently it was his first time away from home. He was a Percheron Quarter horse cross with all the size and power of his Percheron sire, and the talent and athleticism of his Quarter horse dam. He was massive, and beautiful, and agile and sensitive. Now I could be making some assumptions here, because I only saw him for the one day, and he was in a totally new place, but here is what I saw;

    The horse was bursting with energy. He was excited to be away from home, and expressing it physically. Because of this, his owner was terrified of him. In the course of the clinic it came out that she had bred him herself, and this first time she got on him he put her in the hospital. The horse, on the other hand, was almost as insecure as she was. He was actually looking to his owner for direction, but her fear and inexperience meant she didn't know how, or wasn't able to give it to him.

    In my opinion this gelding was a lot of horse. He would have made a great field hunter. Aside from being excited about being in a new place, and startling at all the new stuff I think he was actually a brave and curious sort of horse who wanted a job to do. Some of the eventers I've known would probably have loved him. (My first coach, was a bit of a daredevil -- once jumped her horse off a cliff on a bet. Crazy thing is, her horse did it, and was -- according to her -- non the worse for it, and was willing to go again.)

    What it looked like to me was that this horse just needed to get some beans out so that he could focus, and would have been a willing partner in whatever madcap scheme you could cook up. The owner, on the other hand, revealed during the clinic, that she had never actually taken a riding lesson, but decided that she wanted to get a baby horse "to bond with." I was so glad that she realized she needed help; coming to this clinic (any clinic) was a step in the right direction. But I wish she had realized that she could have had that bond with a small, sweet, older been-there-done-that critter.

    Anyway. The horse wasn't bad, he just didn't suit his owner. I hope the clinician said something to the woman, but I've got a sinking feeling it didn't come up.

  13. As and aside, I'm still not sure why some people's undies got all twisted up over these posts. Personally, I thought they were totally in character and not mean/cruel/.

    Sometime you learn the most about someone (or about their horsemanship skills) by just watching them. Each year, when I get my new crop of OHSET kids, I like to watch them unload and get their horses ready for practice. It gives me some insight about what I'll be dealing with.

    I promise I'm not trying to gear up another round of freak show. (Which is why I didn't comment on the origial flurry of doo-dah.) I'm just intellectually interested in how some people got so twisted up over this.

    Personally, I would have enjoyed more speculation about the student and her horse.

    I gotta give you credit Mugs - you're a better man than I. I'm not sure I would have made it through the trailer unloading without poking my nose in. Trailer shenanigans make me nuts and they're usually so easy to solve because they're nearly always the result of the human half of the equation.

  14. I think Jen's got a really good point. None of us want to be exposed as a fraud or whatever and I'm sure a lot of us saw ourselves in that student. (We are ALL students in one way or another…)

  15. I started taking my son for riding lessons when he was 4. We had horses, he needed to know how to deal with them, and he needed to learn for himself. His riding instructor was a very stern older lady. She started the kids on ponies because she insisted they do all the work themselves. By the time he was 5 he was riding her QHs. At 11, he totally switched from horses to motorcycles, but the lessons he learned from his instructor have stuck with him. He's 29 now. When one of his friends says, "I can't..." he just rolls his eyes and says, "Where's Jeanne when you need her?" With horses, there are lessons that must be learned for everyone's safety. There is an immediate connection between cause and effect, and a good instructor knows when to let a student learn that themselves.

  16. i like this story bc i see a student who has a problem and is motivated to fix it (something i can relate to), and a teacher who is observant without coddling and lets the student pick up what she will. anyway the horse definitely sounds neat!

  17. Interesting. I've never been on the instructing side of the equation but I can relate (good and bad) as a boarder. I can identify times when I was less than effective in dealing with my beasts. I like to think that through observation and determination to improve those have become less and less frequent. But as I've gotten older, I've become pretty intolerant about fellow boarders who have "NH their horses to death" and I have to deal with an obnoxious brat of a horse that can't be tied and managed in an arena. Or have bought a horse they can in no way manage and aren't willing to take lessons or find a trainer to help them.

    Even worse is dealing with a boarder who thinks: 1) I'm an evil, nasty horse owner because I require my horses to stand quietly when tied; do what I ask, when I ask; etc. 2) a total bitch for telling her either she, her horse, me or my horses is going to get hurt if she doesn't stop her horse's behavior 3) I must have spent beaucoup bucks on my horses because they're well trained and behaved (NOT!).

  18. I enjoyed this series, especially the reminder that we all make choices and the choices we make can have profound consequences on the relationships we make with those around us (animal and human). When I read the first installment, my initial reaction to Mugs' choice to observe, offer help, respect the choice of the student, and continue to observe, was one of true appreciation. I am working hard as a mother to do those exact things with my children and to allow them to learn from their choices and this was a great reminder of the benefit of observation and waiting for the openness necessary to truly add value. Thank you!

  19. Hey, what do you do if you do have a dull horse? i don't think I NH'd my horse to death, lol. we did do a bit of round pen work before breaking her to saddle, but nothing too crazy because I was hoping to train her to drive and having her spin her butt away if I looked at it seemed pretty counterproductive. haha. she's a really smart draft cross, and quite limber, but what's your method of bringing lightness back to responses that are dull? she tends to ignore people a bit if she can. she's light enough with me, but can you bring that across to her relationship with anyone else, or is it always dependent on the handler / rider based on the horse's personality?
    Also, are you thinking of doing another clinic in a few years? I'm having another baby and can't do it for a bit, but i was really hoping one day I could bring her down. And ride some of the gorgeous trails along the route on the way down from BC. :)

  20. I've just received this sort of 'in' from an agility trainer.

    Thank you for seeing the good in us!