Sunday, September 7, 2008

Love me, fear me, do as I say, and I will be your slave

I have been helping Lisa at LaughingOrcaRanch with her horse, Baby Doll for the last several months. Horse training is one of the things I enjoy the most.

My first horse was Alfie. He was a palomino POA. When we bought him, he was used for gymkhana (horse show featuring game events). Although he was only 13.3 hands, he ran barrels and poles with the big boys, the quarter horses. He didn't know how to take up the correct lead or set his head properly until I trained him to go "pleasure". He was ridden in a tom thumb bit and used to stop with his head up and mouth open before I retrained him. At one gymkhana, my brother rode him in the senior gaming events and I rode him in the junior gaming events and all the pleasure and equitation classes and we took the high point trophy home. It was so fun! I especially loved the keyhole race. This is where they draw a chalk outline of a keyhole (think lightbulb) at the far end of the arena. You race up to it, turn around in it without going over the lines, and race back. The fastest time wins. Alfie could do a rollback without even knowing what one was.

Another "reining" game is pole bending. There are six poles set up in a line with about 20 feet between them. You race the horse up to the end of the line, weave in and out of the poles towards the starting gate, turn around at the other end, weave back through them, and then race back to the finish line. Alfie could do flying changes every stride or so without even know what he was doing. Alfie was a perfect beginner's horse. You could do anything with him. He would fall asleep between races and then run his heart out. The stable I was boarding at had a group of crazy teenagers. We used to race trains and have water balloon fights on horseback!

I trained Shannon, our green broke western trained five year old thoroughbred mare to go hunter and jump a little. My hero, at the time, was an enlish riding college student who was rehabbing an ex racehorse. She helped me work through Shannon's out of control cantering problems by riding the mare in a canter and a hand gallup, circling, and going both directions, nonstop, for about an hour. I have never seen a horse so worked over. Poor Shannon was dripping with sweat and shaking afterwards. But it changed her. Always after that she had the smoothest, softest canter and the proper leads. She "crossed the line" that day. I loved that mare! I cannot remember the girl's name but I always thank her in my heart for that turning point day.

I "broke" my first horse at fifteen, Sandee. I bought her as a yearling and started riding her when she was two. Well, I was small and didn't really know any better. She was a sweetie, like a dog, really. I even taught her to kneel. I think she may have bucked a few times but nothing much. I used to always "pony" her with my gelding, Alfie, on the trails when she was little, so she was completely bomb proofed by the time I started riding her.

When we had to move across the United States, we had to sell the three horses. In my new home in Utah, I immediately went horse hunting. After looking at a few prospects: a drill team horse that was worn out, a lame horse, a registered 2 year old paint gelding, and other duds, I chose the Paint. However, he was unridden. So, I trained my next horse, Denver Dude, from the ground up. I was sixteen. He was challenging but I enjoyed it. Unfortunately, we moved again so I had to sell him too.

Years later I bought Barry, a four year old green broke Arabian gelding. I've always read that sorrels are hot and he certainly was. Everyone thought he was a stud colt. I soon found out that I was pregnant too, but I rode and trained him until two weeks before my delivery date. My fabulous OB doctor always said to continue doing whatever was comfortable while pregnant. Of course, he didn't realize I was breaking an Arab at the time.

I have bought many other young, unbroke horses and trained them to different levels. I have also acquired older horses that needed to be retrained. I prefer the young unmarked ones because you never know the older one's history and what will set them off. My sweet Nadia was very soured when I bought her. The people had bought her for their grandkids and they gave up riding her. She got hugely fat in knee deep pasture. I spent quite some time working with her. She spooked and threw my then nine year old daughter. She ran away with me. Then she settled down to business, "crossed the line", and has been a gem ever since. She will prance and dance occasionally but she IS worth her weight in gold now!

I acquired a rescue horse several years back. Time for a Lady was Secretariat's grandaughter. She had been raced but she didn't inherit the family speed so she was quickly retired from racing. She was ridden western afterwards and then eventually ignored. When I acquired her she was several hundred pounds underweight. I had to build her up before I even considered riding her. Knowing the history she had, I was very intimidated when I began riding her. She was like a freight train and leaned on the bit, often exploding into bucking fits. I could feel them coming on but I couldn't stop them from happening. I decided to ride her in a "halfbreed" bit. It is a ringed snaffle with a built in rawhide nosepiece for extra control. I put a fleece cover on the noseband and gave it a try.

It worked wonders! I felt that I had control over her and began the process of retraining her. After several months of arena work: turns, circles, and varying speeds, she finally crossed the line and I found her canter to be one of the smoothest I've ever ridden. I really enjoyed her but because of her history my daughter didn't want to ride her. I really didn't NEED another horse so I had to sell her.

I know I rambled on here but the point of this post is that horses CAN be such terrors and then turn into the best mounts in the world. They just need to cross the line. I don't know where the line is but I usually find it somewhere. This past summer Annie crossed the line. She is such a hyper Arab in the arena but on the trails she is a different horse. She is calm and interested and even when she is afraid she trusts in me.

Maybe that "line" is where the horse gives up and allows the rider to take COMPLETE control. There are still rough times afterwards but the worst is over and you can see it in their eyes. Their eyes soften up. They have allowed the rider to become the "alpha" and chosen to "follow" to the best of their ability. This is when you can feel a partnership with your horse. Sometimes there will be disagreements but you get the upper hand. They respect you. They love you and fear you and do as you say. You only have to be their slave!

So Lisa, since you are already Baby Doll's slave, the rest will fall into place too. Just be patient and never give up. Let's try that halfbreed bit. All my horses have soft mouths and I use it on Scout all the time. Besides, I can feel her changing already. She will cross the line and you will know it.


Nuzzling Muzzles said...

There's nothing like the voice of experience. I like the idea of a horse crossing a line, whether mentally or emotionally. I kind of crossed a line myself a couple of weeks ago when I just decided that I wanted my horses to be more concerned about me than about anything they might imagine to be threatening in the environment.

Twinville said...

Thanks Val, with your help and wisdom...and all that experience, I know we'll get Baby Doll where we needs her to be.
She really started looking and acting good yesterday. I have high hopes.
I also want to work on that rough start trot, too. It will be nice to have her smoothly transition instead of her crazy hop start. gah!

I'll be getting that half breed next week and look forward to working more with her using that, too.