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 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" :-) )

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.  :-)

20 comments:

  1. Yeah!! Way to go, Gem and you too, Wolfie, for not letting THAT ... man have the last word! I'd rather have/see a horse with character than a cardboard cutout that only 'performs' when you press a button. Anyway, having waited so patiently for 45 loooong minutes, I think Gem deserved praise, not the c***ola Mr.Professional dealt out -- humph!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am with you. If I had wanted a cardboard cutout, I probably would have bought one of his horses. ;-)

      Delete
  2. Gem is awesome, and so are you!

    ReplyDelete
  3. You know, sometimes I think horsemanship should be defined as what is acceptable between the horse and its rider. I, like you, don't expect or need my horse to be a statue for 45 minutes. Maybe if I was showing AQHA halter I would, but I kind of find the oral fixation a bit cute in some ways.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I like how you think, Lauren. :-) And, you know, I find his oral fixation cute in some ways...in my mind, it shows that he's interested or trying to communicate. I am aware though that given the wrong circumstances, it can escalate.

      Delete
  4. I've never done the halter thing but it sounds boring to me. Sorry if I offend anyone who does it. I can see the purpose of having a horse stand quietly on the ground and listen to your cues but I'm sure the horses get bored too. When we used to go to shows I'd sometimes have to stand for hours holding Erik, Lifeguard or Mellon. They all had good ground manners but would like to walk around once in a while. Erik used to like to put his two front feet on the grooming box with legs I carried just to break up the monotony I think.

    I'm very proud of you and Gem I think he did great and so did you. Nice job keeping your temper in check. I can take just about anything from a professional except a condescending attitude. Some horses are mouthy and some have a threshold of when they've had enough. I'm pretty sure you know Gem well enough to know that he's a character with a sense of humor but also a horse who will do what you ask when it really counts. I'm glad you had a show-em-how-it's-done ride after the clinic. Good for both of you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I can understand why LA wanted me to do the clinic. It's very precise work and it really does promote communication between horse and handler. But even I found 45 minutes a long time to stand.

      One of the things that I have zero tolerance for is a condescending attitude! Out of respect for LA and my fellow clinic mates, I kept myself in check. It was hard. :-)

      Delete
  5. After 45 min of waiting I would have been board and dancing too, and I love halter and showmanship. Its too bad that the trainer didn't take the time to work with both of you in a more positive attitude.

    You want the horses legs square to present an even/same picture on each side of the horse. Having one leg further back can do things to a horses hips/backs that make them look uneven and could hide faults. Often the placement of a hind leg can be improved by moving it an inch or two from where the horse would 'naturally' like to place it. Halter and showmanship can look silly, but it is as much of a science as putting down a good trail pattern.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have a much better appreciation of the dedication it takes to compete in halter! Wow.

      Thanks for the explanation! I understand now how squaring the legs would give a smooth view for the judges when looking front to back.

      Delete
  6. Well, I think you did great! When I was younger and in 4-H it was a requirement to do the horsemanship thing, reading this really took me back to those classes. Not a class I enjoyed, but I did learn a lot, mostly patience. My little pony...not so much, but I loved him anyway, just like you and Gem. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My husband golfs. I always look at golfing as just hitting a ball around nicely cut fields. Then I took lessons. Holy crap, it's a lot harder than it looks. Halter is sort of like that. It looks simple because the people who are doing it are really good. :-)

      Delete
  7. The best horse I ever had was mouthy. So what? Loved that guy so much, and miss him every day.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Perhaps your horse was trying to give you kisses to show that you were the best for him, too. :-)

      Delete
  8. I think you and Gem did a fantastic job, and I'm mightily impressed with the 45 minutes of standing still, especially as Gem had to look alert too - it's very unnatural for a horse to stand still for that amount of time and I'm sure my girls wouldn't manage even half that time!

    Pity the clinician was so condescending instead of being encouraging and supportive

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My back was starting to get a bit sore from standing! He was great and so patient! I may have influenced the alert look; whenever the trainer wasn't looking I whispered to Gem telling him what a good boy he was. :-)

      Unfortunately, my experience with trainers and instructors (watching clinics, etc.) is that they focus on negatives. I have actually been told by a trainer that pointing out negatives is how a rider learns. It appears that LA is different - thank goodness! :-)

      Delete
  9. OMGosh! As much fun as it might be too wear bling and show off to other people, I would be so miserable participating in halter classes with my horse. Totally not my thing, and I'm sorry, but I don't think it does much to build up a bond and relationship with your horse...more like totalitarian authoritarian, perhaps. I'd rather just dress up me and my horse in blingy fun stuff and trail ride. It's not other people, I am trying to impress anyway. It's just the fun I get to share with my horse.

    Good for you for working through that experience without losing your patience or temper. I don't have the patience for standing around with my horse for 45 mins waiting for someone to finally come over to us. And I certainly do not have the patience nor understanding for anyone who would try to man-handle and force me or my horse to "behave".
    Maybe that works with 14 yr olds, but not for the 47 yr old chic! lol!

    You go girl! Enjoy your handsome Gem for who he is and the affection he has for you!

    ~Lisa

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am so envious of your trail rides!!! The pictures you post are my dream rides. :-) 45 minutes does seem excessive, but when I asked, SLT indicated that sometimes they have 15-20 horses in a competition. Yikes!

      Delete
  10. I think people forget that there isn't one universal way for horses to behave. What one person deems acceptable is not the same as what someone else accepts. And that's okay. If you don't mind Gem's mouthiness, then who cares if he does it? He's not endangering anyone or himself and you don't mind it too much, so the guy doesn't have any right to be concescending towards you.

    I only know a handful of horses who could stand for 45 minutes without misbehaving, but they're all experienced trail horses who are used to taking long breaks and take the time to have a nap, which isn't exactly desirable for Halter. We had debated taking Artemis to a few halter shows, just to expose her to the show atmosphere but after I read up on it a bit more, it was a little too demanding for my tastes. And neither of us have the patience to try and teach her to stand perfectly for an extended period of time.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hope you are feeling better, Cjay.

      You know, I have no idea why he stood like that, but I am grateful that he did. Perhaps it's the draft in him. But you have brought up a good point. There were other horses there that didn't really move either and I wonder if it is because of being trained to wait for their turn to compete (reining).

      And I agree re Gem's mouthiness. As long as LA and I are managing it so it doesn't get out of hand, then that's what counts. He is who he is.

      Delete