When Gem first arrived at the stables last spring, the herd was in the process of being reintroduced to the other pastures, after a long winter. It wouldn't be long before he would be joining them out there. I tried to put myself in his shoes....uh, hooves. He was in a new place, with new people taking care of him and he was confined to a stall for part of the day. In reality, for a horse that was used to being outside 24/7, I thought he was handling his new situation pretty darn well. In the meantime, he was bored and he became a bit pushy.
He would push open the stall door when I unlocked it and start walking out before I was ready. Let's go! When exiting the barn, I would put on the brakes and lean back into his body as I tried to maneuver out the door. Have you ever tried to block an eager 1500 lb. horse? He would try to rush me through the gate on the way to the arena. Hurry up!! Come on!! As we walked down the lane, he would push me or get ahead of me and I would have to turn him into a circle. Again, and again, and again. By the time I arrived at the arena, I looked like I was coming off a bender....my helmet was askew, my clothing twisted and covered in slobber marks (from Gem, not me!) and I would be sweating.
The barn was generally busy but on this particular evening, there was no one. Not a solitary soul. As usual, he pushed out of his stall. There were plenty of vacant rubber mats at the front of the barn in front of hitching post thingies, but they were a little too close to the open barn door for my comfort - wouldn't want Gem to see outside and push his way out the door! I cross-tied him near the back of the barn. The early evening was lovely, but our walk to the arena was not pleasant. I was starting to feel incompetent. I couldn't even hand walk my horse for goodness sakes; I was a looser.
On this particular evening, when we arrived at the arena he started pushing to get inside. Who's in there? Hurry up! I walked him in yet another circle. Unfortunately, it was a very tight circle for his 18-wheeler body and he ended up STANDING on my foot. Of course, I let out a yell. Gem was oblivious and continued standing on my foot while admiring the scenery. I could not move!! I went into survival mode and I pushed Gem hard on his shoulder which caused him to have to shift his weight and I was able to move my foot away.
This was a turning point for me. I was alone and a little scared. My foot was throbbing. There was a split second when I thought of packing it in and heading back to the barn. But I knew if I did, I probably wouldn’t get back on Gem for a long time. I sucked it up. If the toes were broken, there was nothing I could do about it anyway. It was my right foot so I didn't have to worry about mounting or dismounting. Leaving my foot in my boot was probably the best thing. Deep breath. We entered the arena and I rode him.
The next time I was at the stables, I was prepared for our walk to the arena. Instead of holding the reins really close to me in an attempt to control him, I gave him a bit more rein so he could maneuver his 18-wheeler body better. I carried my crop in my right hand in addition to the reins. He couldn't see the crop as it was positioned under his head. When he started to rush me through the barn door, I firmly said "wait!", at the same time flipping my right wrist, making a light connection with the crop on his chest in between his front legs. He hesitated. I had his attention. What the heck was that?? I didn't move until he had been still for a few seconds. Then I told him to "walk on". When he started to rush me through the gate, I went through the same routine. We then proceeded down the lane. Every time he tried to rush ahead, I would flip my wrist, the crop would connect and I would say "wait!". We did the same routine on our way back to the barn after our ride.
I am not sure if what I did was "correct" in the horse training world, but it worked for Gem and it worked for me. I used the crop as a tool to get his attention, not a weapon. He just needed to focus. My confidence improved. I felt that he was listening to me. I was relieved that Gem responded so quickly to this exercise. He was smart!
Our walks to and from the arena became more and more civilized. He became a little more polite. After our rides, I would hand walk him around the arena and practice "whoa" and "wait" and "walk on". We continue to do this routine. He now follows me around the arena on a loose rein, his head just behind my shoulder. There is no more rushing through doors. He waits for me. When I open the door to his stall, I ask him to step "back" and "wait". He does and stands until I invite him to "walk on".
When Gem stood on my foot that fateful evening, I ended up with a bit of swelling and bruising on the top of my foot and my big toe nail went black. The swelling and bruising soon disappeared, but the black toe nail lingered. I didn't mind. Nothing that a little nail polish couldn't cover. It was a reminder of what was and what is. Really, getting that black toe nail was one of the best things to happen to Gem and I.
What was I thinking.....?