I couldn’t wait to see Gem. I was absolutely smitten with him. I couldn't stop thinking about him. I couldn’t stop talking about him.
In general, Gem was pretty darn good when I was getting him ready. He stood patiently, lifted his feet nicely and had no issues with the bridle. But, he was not used to being in a stall. I could tell he was on edge. LA told me she would show me how to lunge him to help burn off some of the pent up energy he had. In the meantime, I was spending as much time as I could with him. I was working on “bonding”.
Gem's bottom lip is pink. If you look at him straight on, it looks like he is smiling. So cute. One day, while I was keeping him company, he lowered his head over the stall door and let me scratch behind his ear. I interpreted lowering his head as a sign of relaxation and acceptance. His eyes started to close a little and his pink lip quivered ever so slightly. Breakthrough?! Was he accepting my company? Were we becoming friends? I stepped a little closer as I continued scratching, thinking that this moment of connection may even include some sort of hug between us. As I leaned closer, someone walked into the barn. He snapped back his head (someone's here!), hitting me squarely on the nose. I stumbled back, holding my face. I staggered around, wiping away tears and waiting for the gush of blood. I did not have a nosebleed, but my nose felt “bruised” for days afterwards. My lip was a little sore from my teeth being driven into it by the impact. Who would have thought you could be hurt by your horse when he's in the stall and you are in the aisle???
During this bonding period, I discovered that Gem was a mouther. He was constantly moving his mouth over your clothing, your hands, blankets, anything within reach. I recalled his previous owner telling me that she would treat him all the time and that he could find stuff in her pockets. Oh, boy. He kissed the air as you walked by. And what the heck is this Flehmen response thingy??? I almost had a heart attack the first time he did that while I stood in front of him. Most times the mouthing was gentle, but irritating. Sometimes, if you were not paying attention to him, his teeth would connect with flesh – not hard, but a connection none the less. Look at me. LOOK AT ME! At first, I thought it was because he was scared and looking for reassurance. Both the vet and the farrier said it was a sign of intelligence and curiosity. But, enough is enough! I don’t mind curiosity – that’s one of the things I love about my terriers. But, if connecting with flesh was an outcome of this behaviour, it was not acceptable. I did not want to have to do the Chicken Dance for the next 20 years!
When his mouthing got annoying while grooming him, I started correcting him by either elbowing him or bopping him under the chin and saying “NO!” right in his face. His eyes would widen. I could almost hear him thinking “who the heck IS this crazy person?” Amazingly, his face would get a sad little kid look, making my heart melt. Be strong! He’s playing you!
He was a celebrity at the stables. He was big and riders would come over and visit. I was still trying to figure out barn etiquette and I was a little intimidated at first by “experts” stopping by. I would warn them about his mouthing and ask that they not touch his head. They would touch his head anyway and if he mouthed them, they smacked him. What the heck??!! I would put this behaviour in the same category as me smacking their child because I thought the child was being bad. On two separate occasions I had adults tell me, after I saw them smack my horse a number of times in head, that he had to be corrected when they touched him. I said, “There is a very simple solution. DON’T TOUCH HIM.” I made my point. I did not want him to become head shy. Having others assaulting my horse did not sit well with me. LA and STA were the only two I trusted to discipline Gem in a way I felt comfortable with.
I asked LA if she could ride and evaluate Gem so that my lessons could be geared towards what he needed and what I needed. She warned me that I might not like seeing her on him, because she was not going to let him get away with anything. I was absolutely OK with that.
LA got on Gem from the ground - yes, from the ground. I am sure my mouth dropped open. She's a little taller than me (I'm 5'7"), but I swear that her foot was up around her ear when she put it in the stirrup! Wow. She rode him for about ½ hour, pushing him, correcting him. She got him up to a canter. It was wonderful to see him working; he was getting into it. After her ride, she told me that she liked him, but that he was probably going to be a challenge for me over the next while because he was an 18-wheeler as opposed to a pick-up truck; it was probably going to take twice the effort on my part to get him moving. 18-wheeler, eh?
What was I thinking….?