Last night’s lesson was OUTSIDE! The temperatures were around the 26C mark....in MARCH!! We did another loping exercise where we loped down the middle and had to yell out which lead we were on without looking. This is much harder than it sounds! There are little tricks to start you on the proper lead. One of them is to ever so slightly bend your horse’s head say to the left while cuing with your left foot – that makes your horse reach with their right leg. Gem was a speed demon last night. I really had to work at keeping him from galloping up and down the paddock. It must be Spring fever. Actually, I sort of like going fast….. :-)
At burger and beers last night, I heard something that hurt my feelings but also made me a bit angry. Jean was at the barn late Sunday afternoon with visiting out-of-towners who wanted to meet Stu. Her friends were standing just inside the barn in front of Gem’s stall as Jean was bringing in Stu from the back field. One of the other boarders, who I might add used to compete in jumping but only comes out sporadically now to ride, rushed over and shut the top of Gem’s stall door and told the visitors to be careful because he was a “nasty” horse. Jean heard this as she walked Stu in.
I was astounded when Jean told me this and perhaps a little disappointed that she didn’t stand up for Gem. Yes, Gem can be mouthy and I think this is something that will always be a work in progress. But, nasty? No. He is not vicious, does not destroy property, and doesn’t kick. He has never charged at another horse, although I will admit there are certain mares that he doesn’t like in lesson. He did nip the shoulder of one of the ladies who cleans his stall because she wasn’t paying attention to him. He was reprimanded, rightly so. In general, he is well mannered and he waits for the barn help to invite him out of the stall, he comes when called and he doesn’t mind other horses walking by him when he’s in the cross-ties. Unlike this boarder’s horse, I can use my voice to have Gem “move over”, “walk up” or “back up” when he’s in the cross-ties while I groom him. I have explained to staff and LA that Gem knows the words “come”, “wait” and “NO!” I think I have done a pretty good job at making him easy to be around and the barn help appreciates it and likes him. I think I have been a responsible owner. This boarder has barely seen Gem in the 3 years we have been there. Why would she say “nasty”??? Grrr!
My immediate thought was how to save my horse’s reputation through some nastiness of my own! :-) There is a phenomena called the ‘black dog bias”. The colour black throughout history has been associated with evil, mystery, death and superstition. Animals that are black have a harder time getting adopted. I wonder if the boarder who made the negative comments about Gem has a subliminal aversion to black animals. Perhaps she saw him reach out over his door and assumed he was being aggressive because in addition to being black, he’s big. Who knows.
It is so easy for a horse to get a bad reputation, whether or not it's deserved. When I first became involved with horses and particularly when I started to board, I heard all sorts of negative stories from other boarders about some of the other horses. As I have become more confident around horses, I have found that the ones that I was told were spooky or biters or buckers were not actually as bad as I was lead to believe. In fact, DH had a horrible reputation when I first arrived and now that I have gotten to know him, the opposite is true. Someone must have seen him acting studdy when he first arrived at the barn and marked him as unpredictable. I guess, like anything, it depends on who is delivering the comment and what level of nervousness THEY have as to the level of negativity in their comments.
As an example, one of my classmates is a bit of a scaredy cat. She has never mentioned a terrible experience so I am not sure why she says the things that she does. She seems to focus on how spooky or out of control or disrespectful a certain horse is. She has mentioned a few times that Gem is spooky because she saw him jump to the side last year(?) when a golfer popped his head up over the wall while we were out on a trail ride. I jumped when I saw the golfer, for cripes sakes!! Anyone not in the know, would probably believe her. But for those of us in the know, it is apparent that she is nervous of everything. You can't stand too close to her in class because she is afraid that your horse will either bite or kick whichever school horse is is riding. She will only ride dead broke horses. She will not ride in the arena when it's raining heavily or the snow is sliding because she doesn't want to risk whatever horse she is riding spooking. Now, this is not a new rider; she has been riding for 20 years, and owns her own horse, which is recovering from injuries and unrideable. It's unfortunate that she is fearful, but in making these negative statements about the other horses, I believe she is trying to justify her nervousness....at the horse's expense.
I don't know what your barn is like, but mine brings back memories of high school in so many ways. :-) Making a negative comment about horse or person not only travels through LA's facility, but seems to jump from barn to barn. It is so easy for an unjustified comment to be made and stick, perhaps impacting the sale of a good horse or making a BO hesitant to accept a new boarder. I can honestly say that I try not participate in perpetuating negativity towards other horses or people at the barn. I am there for a good time, not to spend my time on negative gossipy conversation. The people who have to work with Gem on a daily basis like him, and that's the most important thing. But still, what if circumstances change and I have to move Gem. Would I be unwelcome at another barn because my guy is "nasty"?? ... Makes you think, right?