Jean has been doing amazing work with Stu. When she lunges him, he now responds immediately to all of her verbal commands: easy, whoa, walk, trot. She has been exposing him to different things to desensitize him. Stu now wears a western saddle on his back while being lunged. Jean has done all of this on her own and her confidence has grown. I know Jean pretty well, and I can tell she was getting bored with her routine with Stu. So it wasn't a surprise when Jean asked LA if she could go to the next step. With LA's help, she actually sat on Stu a couple of weeks ago, with LA holding Stu's headstall. Very exciting. He was skittish, understandably. Jean was nervous, understandably. Unfortunately, after Jean sat on Stu, he got the step ladder caught on his back foot , causing him to spook a bit. LA continued to hang on and calm him, Jean gratefully got down and untangled him. Now, apparently, white step stools are killer monsters to Stu.
The plan was to have someone sit on Stu every day, eventually working up to a walk. The challenge was that Jean couldn't be out at the barn every day and LA could not risk injuring herself on a green horse because it would impact her training business. The 2nd time Jean was scheduled to sit on him, she started working herself up to a tizzy with her nervousness. Fortunately, she came clean and one of the other adult boarders, who has worked with green horses before, volunteered to "sit" on Stu with LA holding Stu's headstall. Even though he routinely swung his hind end out, Stu did pretty well with the boarder on his back and LA actually led him around in a couple of small circle. This boarder volunteered to sit on Stu when Jean was not there, but scheduling became an issue. So, on Sunday, as I was untacking Gem, I overheard Jean explaining the situation to another boarder and how she was frustrated that it appeared that Stu was ready but the stars were not aligned. At that point, I volunteered to be Jean's ground person if she wanted to try sitting on him.
Jean lunged Stu in the arena while I finished up with Gem. I got my Confidence Vest out of the car and handed it to Jean as I entered the arena. At first she said she didn't need it, but I asked her to wear it for me and she did. We both had helmets on. She handed Stu's reins to me and I walked him around the arena a couple of times, talking to him, getting him used to me and my voice. Jean put the big black 3-step mounting block in the middle of the arena. Initially, all Jean did was pull down on the stirrup, getting him re-acquainted with the feeling. He kept swinging his hind end away from Jean. She would reposition the mounting block and we would go through the same routine. Eventually, we moved him to the 1/2 wall next the to gate; Jean didn't want him to feel claustrophobic, so she thought that standing parallel to the gate where he could see outside would be a good thing. Positioning him there worked wonderfully. He did not swing out his hind end and over a 10(?) minute period, she worked up from pulling down on the stirrup, to stepping up and leaning over him and dismounting. All the while, I was stroking Stu's neck and telling him what a good boy he was. His anxiety started to melt away, his head lowered, he sucked on the bit and his eyes were relaxed. Jean was nervous because she knew the time had come. I told her that if she didn't feel up to it to walk away now - in my mind it was already a very successful session. She decided to give it a go.
She slowly swung her leg over him and gently sat down. Stu, perked up and as usual, took a big step and started to swing his hind end out. What happened next caught both of us off guard. Stu became a whirling dervish, with me hanging on to his face for part of it. Unfortunately for Jean, the momentum of Stu doing a really fast small circle whipped her out of the saddle. She flew through the air coming down hard on her hip, then chest, finishing with a face plant in the new fluffy sand. I was glad that she was wearing my vest. :-) Stu immediately stopped and stood about 15 feet away, looking at us. I swear he was scared but concerned about what had just happened. While Jean was trying to catch her breath, I went to Stu, spoke quietly to him and then looped the reins over the horn of the saddle, to keep them from sliding down his neck and over his head.
LA's husband came in to the arena and while I moved the mounting block over the Jean so she could sit, he went over to Stu. After a few minutes, LA's husband got on Stu (from the ground, for cripes sakes!) and sat on him for a few minutes while LA and I ascertained that Jean could walk, etc.
I am certainly no expert, but here's my postmortem:
- Jean was nervous and Stu picked up on that.
- Perhaps 10(?) minutes was too long to be working up to Jean getting on him.
- Jean and I were lulled into a false sense of security when Stu became relaxed.
- I did a good job of calming Stu, but perhaps it was too good. If he was half asleep when Jean sat on him, he may have been startled.
- Jean was a bit too slow in getting into the saddle; it was not fluid, hence her foot was not secure in the other stirrup and she did not have a secure grasp on the reins.
- When Stu took that initial step when Jean sat in the saddle, swinging his hind end away from me, I believe he hit the bottom of the gate with one of his hind feet, causing him to jump forward (reminiscent of the killer monster stool).
- It happened so quickly, that neither of us had the sense to actually use any verbal commands, like "easy" or "whoa!"
I know her confidence has suffered with this fall and it has been a humbling from a "knowing her horse" and "horse trainer" perspective. I just hope it doesn't take long for her to get over it and that I will see her out at the barn this weekend, working with her beautiful horse.
Have a good weekend and stay cool!