Monday, May 08, 2006

The Equine Reset Button

Horses amaze me. All critters are fascinating, even the irritating human species, but horses especially find ways to challenge my thinking. Recently two bloggers got me thinking about this. Redneck Nerdboy and a young lady called Nifty reminded me of the truly cool thing about horses, and how they can be reprogrammed.

You can screw up, and they can forgive you. Every time you work with a horse, you are training him. Or maybe I should say, You train each other? You can get lazy and accidentally untrain him. But you can smarten up and retrain him. Your horse has a reset button!

My King of the Pasture has been a hell of a teacher. Most of the mistakes you can make with a horse, I've made with him. Despite that, he's turned out to be a decent horse. He'll always be haughty and arrogant and stubborn; that's part of his nature and part of the reason why I love him. He can also be so gentle with kids and with beginners.

When I first got him, I let him get away with flinging his head around. It didn't occur to me that this was rude and unacceptable behaviour. Duh. Then I got pregnant and finally figured out that maybe getting bashed in the abdomen by his huge jughead wouldn't be so good. It took me awhile, but I talked him out of it. Even now, after all these years, I have to take his bridle off in steps. If I whip that thing off, his head is gonna fly. One step at a time, and each one, telling him to relax. And believing that he can relax.

A few years ago when we were competing at saddle club shows, I was having some trouble with our lope departures and lead changes. My friend DW got on him and worked him. She used to do jumping and dressage and at that time was into showmanship, western pleasure, and trail. She got on my champ and had him doing dressage moves. My jaw dropped. My horse is a stocky little half arab half QH and there he was all tucked in and collected and damn if he didn't look like somebody threw a big 17h warmblood into the dryer too long and shrunk him down. Another time, a trainer got on him and had him doing reining spins. In my opinion reining and dressage are just opposite sides of the same discipline. The point is, my horse could do it, even if I didn't know how to ask him to do it. If DW had him long enough, he'd be good at it. He'd be a tiny little dressage horse.

If I strapped a saddle on him and proceeded to whack him in the ribs with my spurs and jerk his mouth around, he'd be...well, this particular horse would be running across the field riderless because he don't put up with none of that crap.

The horse truly is a reflection of his person.

This is so maddening when everyone else can do great things with your horse but you can't. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
1) Another rider will have a different skill set. Other riders can sit prettier than me but I can stay on some pretty nasty near-wrecks. I just don't want to now that I'm getting old.
2) Most horses are much nicer to an unfamiliar rider. After the tenth ride that amazing rider will start coming up against the flaws. It's like a first date thing. Best behaviour. (Not that I'd know. Never been on a date. Just lots of long car rides.)
3) You don't have to let other people ride your horse. I mean, it's good for a horse to be handled by someone other than you, but if you don't like the way that person rides, or even if you don't like the way her horses are turning out, you can say no.

Perfect example that horses have a reset button: My old man told me that The King had started getting very rude about his dinner. As he came down the aisle with his hay, King'd hang his head over the railing, ears back,snapping his big teeth. My old man doesn't take too kindly to rudeness. He stood there, just out of reach, holding the hay, glaring right back at the horse. Eventually King stopped, perked up his ears, and looked at my dad as if to say, "Um, can I please have my hay now?" And then he got his hay. After a few evenings he was much more polite.

I took it a step further. When I hay them, I ask them to back up one step first. They do it. They won't do it for my dad because he doesn't ask them to. Aren't they smart?!

I find it very humbling, how adaptable and compliant they can be when we give them a chance. We owe it to them to be fair to them.


Redneck Nerdboy! said...

Actually, I was just selling computers. I had no idea it meant this much to you! [laughing]

I'm kidding! I'm kidding!

Truly, though I'm very honored that my post had an affect. Thank you.

Now, what's this about you never having had a date? What's the story? Sounds like a good future post to me!

But back to this one, horses are very, very intelligent creatures. God bless him, my horse Buster was just an A-hole. But he was the exception. :D

Heidi the Hick said...

Nerdboy! Everything you write has affects me! You're welcome.

Yeh, I'll tell you all about how I had married my 3rd boyfriend but never went out on a date. Next week. after the scientology thing.

Kari said...

You are sooo right Heidi.

A horse srory here: Spook, my hubby's horse, was abused real bad before we got him. We've had him about 5 yrs now, and you have to follow certain steps to bridle and saddle him, or else he'll freak smooth out. We basically had to re-train him in EVERTHING. And to this day if you don't approach him the "right" way, he'll bolt.

And as for letting other people ride your horse, I'm VERY picky. Another story: I let this guy ride Baby one night last summer and he "wrecked her". They were walking down the chip sealed road when he said she spooked at something, and started to gallop, he tried to pull her up and she slipped on the pavement. She had several deep cuts on her and her left shoulder was nothing but road rash. Let's just say that I was pissed off as hell at this guy (He will NEVER ride another horse of mine, EVER). She turned out ok, after several weeks of doctoring. I learned my lesson the hard way.

Kari said...

Oh, and horses are TRULY AMAZING!

(sorry about going off into story mode)

Redneck Nerdboy! said...

Oooh! The famed and long-awaited scientology thing is coming up??? I'm getting popcorn ready!

And now I'm holding out for the famed and long-awaited no-date thing! :D

Heidi the Hick said...

Kari- you can tell horse stories here any day!

It's good that Spook ended up in a caring home. He may always be nervous but think how far he's come. I've gotten really cautious with lending my horse out. People generally don't realize how sensitive he is. Or, realize that I want him that way because I don't want to have to haul away at him to make him do anything!

Nerdboy...tomorrow. Come back tomorrow. I'm afraid it'll be kind of anti-climactic now, but hey, I'll do my best!

Balloon Pirate said...

Great essay! My favorite line: 'Never been on a date. Just lots of long car rides.'

That should be on a T-Shirt.


Heidi the Hick said...

y'know Pirate, maybe that could go on a T shirt...!