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.
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 managed....by 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" :-) )
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. :-)