Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Levels of Bad

Sometimes bad is really bad.  Sometimes bad is cheeky.  Sometimes bad is funny.  And, sometimes bad is outright nasty.  His antics around the barn lead me to believe that Gem falls into the "cheeky" and "funny" levels of bad.  :-) Sometimes, he's a mischievous clown getting into trouble.  Sometimes, he's like that annoying younger sibling that keeps poking or pulling at you because they know it gets a reaction from you.  Yep, sometimes you can ignore it, sometimes you can't, sometimes you shouldn't.

I was talking to LA earlier last week (we got another dump of snow and she was canceling lesson) and she mentioned that she didn't see my name down for the halter clinic on Sunday.  

Me:  Why would I want to participate in this clinic?
LA:  You have never really had any training on the ground with Gem.  I think it would help with your confidence and improve communication between the two of you.
Me:  Well........I don't know......
LA:  And if you really like it and want to compete in halter or showmanship, you get to wear sparkly clothing and Gem gets to wear coordinating rhinestone headstalls.
Me:  OK!  

So I arrived at the barn on Sunday at 9:30 a.m., greeted by 7 other riders, all around the age of 14, grooming their horses.  It was pandemonium.  And you know what?  Teenaged girls are really LOUD.  :-)  Anyway, Gem and I found a spot and I started my grooming routine.  LA was in the barn giving us little tidbits of information on what judges look for, etc. 

Our instructor for the clinic, SLT, is a breeder and trainer of competitive reining horses and winner of national championships in halter and reining.  I was actually excited about having my first ever clinic with someone carrying these credentials.   

We filed into the arena and were told to line up along the wall, facing into the middle.  Gem and I were at the end of the line.  SLT explained that in halter presentation was important; the horse had to look it's best and you have to be "on" all the time because even though the judge would be looking at one horse, they would also be looking at those waiting to be judged;  no slouching, no talking, no relaxed hind foot, no dozing.  Leads had to have a chain looped under the horse's chin.  He showed us how to hold the lead, step around our horse so the judge can see everything, how to square up the horse, and how to turn our horse so that the front feet cross.  It was meticulous work and took a while.  It's a lot harder than it looks! Then he started working with individual horses. 

While we waited for our turn with SLT, Gem stood like a statue, head level with his withers, ears up with an interested look on his face.  His hind feet weren't totally squared up, but he looked friggin' amazing; so majestic.   (As a side note, I asked why the hind feet have to be squared up when it wasn't a natural position for the horse, and I didn't get a clear answer.  Anyone out there know why??)   I stood tall beside him, smiling. I noticed a couple of boarders who were watching the clinic looking at us, talking amongst themselves.  They must be saying how great we looked, right?.... I could hardly wait for SLT to get to us!  :-)   However, after 45 MINUTES of standing still and waiting, poor Gem started to get bored.  He started to nibble on the lead chain; I tried to discretely get it out of his mouth. He was getting more cheeky.  He nudged me, I pushed back with my elbow.  He nudged again.  I told him to quit it.  Along with the nudging, he decided that he wanted to chew on the lead. Crap!  His oral fixation was taking over!  Within a few minutes, the majestic statue and I were having a full blown tug of war with his chain and lead.  It was at this moment that SLT came to give us our one-on-one.  Sigh. 

SLT:  What breed of horse is this?
Me:  Canadian.  They are a light draft-ish type breed.  Our national horse, in fact.
SLT:  How old?
Me (as Gem nudged me):  Twelve.
SLT:  This behaviour should have been nipped in the bud when he was young.  He's being rude.  You have let him get away with it and now your correction is a game to him.
Me:  I didn't have him when he was young and we have been waiting a long time for our turn.
SLT:  Doesn't matter.  You don't want a 1300 lb. animal pushing you around.

I understand where SLT is coming from, but I didn't appreciate his condescending tone and I sure didn't like his attitude towards my horse.   We were off to a "bad" start.  He took the lead from my hand and gave it a couple of short yanks.  Now, usually that's all it takes to get Gem refocused, but it was obvious that I didn't like how SLT took over and was in Gem's face.  It was at this point that LA tried to defuse the situation by saying that she and I had been working on his mouthiness.   We all took a moment and then I was told to walk across the arena, turn and walk back.  We didn't do too bad; our turn was pretty good, but Gem did sneak in a couple of nudges while we were walking. :-)

Our participation for the most part was positive. Of course, Gem would have the occasional display of mouthiness during the clinic and we were singled out a couple of times on how to "correct" behavior.  Sigh.  During one demonstration, SLT showed the class how aggressive stallions are sometimes putting the lead chain under the horse's top lip across their gums.  Great - now I have to worry about barn help thinking this is an acceptable way to handle Gem because a national champion showed this technique on him.   Now, for such a "bad" horse, Gem was standing and allowing all this man-handling. (If SLT had applied any pressure that caused Gem pain during this demonstration, I would have caused SLT pain....making me "bad" :-) )

Tasty helmet!
Two hours later, the clinic ended.  I was tired, but I was not going to let SLT perpetuate negativity towards my beautiful boy.  I saddled up Gem and took him back to the arena.  We made our way through the audience and went to the far end of the arena and worked on quarter turns, squares, side passes and backing up while SLT worked with some riders on games techniques in the front end.  He saw us working and so did LA and the audience.  I think Gem knew I was trying to make a point and he didn't disappoint.  My skills may not be perfect, but he was golden.  After 20 minutes, I dismounted, gave him a hug and as we walked calmly through the audience and back to the barn, I had a smile on my face.  Sometimes "bad" is "good"  :-)

Gem will always have an oral fixation.  LA and I will continue to try and manage it, but I don't think it will be eliminated completely.  Sunday night, I received a text from LA.  It read:  " I was proud of you today."   Nice.  But, I have to say I was proud of Gem because for a "bad" horse, he consistently came through for me.  :-)

Monday, March 18, 2013

Breaking up is hard to do....

Geez, could the last few weeks be any busier?!!  :-)  I aced my yearly audit and after next week's conference, my work life will return to normal.  Yipee!

Time for a Jean and Stu update.  When we last checked in with them, Stu had just finished his professional training.  Last fall, Jean committed to riding him 3 or 4 times a week.  Of course, I regularly indicated my availability so that she could ride with company, but it was rarely convenient for her.  When I suggested she change her routine, she was quite firm about keeping to the schedule she had mapped out for herself.  I sensed that she was pulling away from me and our usual riding buddies.  She declined just about every invitation.  No more hanging out, no more lessons, no more burgers and beers.   It made me sad because she and I had been together on this horse journey from the start.  I felt that I was no longer an important part of her riding experience.  Yep, I was being dumped.  :-)

Winter settled in, making it a bit more difficult to stick to the schedule Jean had set up for herself.  In addition, she found that she was not a cold weather rider.  :-)  The visits with Stu dropped to once or twice a week.  I would occasionally see her as I was leaving and she was arriving.   Most of her work with Stu continued to be lunging.  With the brutally cold temperatures, trail rides screeched to a halt and the number of people riding in the arena increased substantially, with weekends being the busiest.   LA had to change the arena rules after there was a complaint about Stu being lunged in one half of the arena, while 4 or 5 riders were relegated to ride in the other half.  The result was that no one was allowed to lunge if there were other riders in the arena.  

The end of January, Jean and I happened to coordinate meeting at the barn to ride one Sunday after she got back from two weeks vacation.  Stu was very fresh and skittish when she was riding him, even after a long-ish lunge session (she lunged before I got to the arena).   Jean admitted to me that in the 3 months since his training, she had yet to get him up to a trot.   To be honest, I was shocked, but as I watched her I could see that she was struggling and I could see that Stu was reacting to her struggle.

During our lunch that day, Jean said that she didn't feel connected to the barn and the riding crowd - she felt like an outsider.  She felt lonely.  She felt that the gods were against her because she could no longer lunge Stu.  She wasn't feeling the love.   She missed our time together.  :-)  Now, I could relate to how she felt; I felt the same way when I first started riding Gem.  But, as I pointed out, her inflexible schedule didn't leave much room for socializing and riding with others.   Lessons, which she chose not to participate in, create a bond with other riders socially and educationally.  With regards to lunging, I told her that perhaps it was time to stop doing it every time she saddled Stu up.  

As we sipped our second beer, she admitted that initially she didn't want anyone watching her ride Stu.  She was shy and she wanted to ride Stu her way without comments or people judging her.  I get that.  But she now recognizes that being alone with Stu most of the time might not have been the right approach.  When you are with others, you benefit from their energy and it pushes you do to things, to step out of your comfort zone.  Jean wasn't being pushed to do anything in the current scenario.  As much as she had a firm schedule to be at the barn, she did not have a firm routine on what was going to transpire once she was there.  As a result, Stu was not regularly ridden.  He was groomed a lot, he was lunged a lot, he was ridden some times. 

Since Jean partnered up with Stu, I have always encouraged her to take advantage of LA's expertise through lessons.  Initially, she didn't think lessons would be necessary as she thought her riding experience would be enough for Stu.  When she realized that her skills were not enough, she had a professional work with Stu.  Again, she thought that she could just pick up where the trainer left off.  Personally, there was no way I was going to invest the time and money to have Gem in boot camp and then not have lessons with the trainer (LA) afterwards - in fact, LA made me commit to a couple of lessons after boot camp.  I needed to know where the buttons were and be reminded on a regular basis so it stuck!  :-)   Sadly, Jean's decision to not have lessons from the trainer or LA after Stu completed his training has had a negative impact.  She has not been able to maintain or build on what the trainer accomplished with Stu (confidence, walk, trot, canter).   

Since our lunch in January Jean has adjusted her schedule so that we ride together on Sundays.  Yay!  And, she is back in lessons!  Yay!  We have had four lessons now and Jean and Stu are doing much better.  Stu has adjusted to not being lunged, he now stands quietly at the mounting block and has gone from a wiggly-almost-ready-to-bolt horse to trotting the whole arena (gosh, Stu has a beautiful trot!).   It's great to see her enthused, connected and with a smile on her face.  And, of course, we go out for burgers and beers after lesson.  :-)   She's baaaackkkkk.....  

Have a good week, everyone!