Monday, July 18, 2011

Hard decisions and horses ... of courses

I finally came to the definite decision a couple days ago that I am not going to adopt Sinatra and not going to foster him anymore.  It was a hard decision for me for two reasons - I just adore the little guy!!! And I feel like if I don't help him, who will?  Everyone I know who's involved in the horse rescue that owns him is already so over-extended already.  But I finally had to realize that I am not experienced enough for him over the long run.  I've been bit, kicked and stomped on more times with him in the last three months than cumulatively my whole life.  When I have to do anything with him other than lead him on a walk or to or from the pasture I find myself thinking, "... and how will I get hurt today?"  I talked to Trainer V. (my trainer) a couple days ago and she confirmed that she also believes I'm out of my league with him.  Then yesterday I told Trainer K.  (who I don't know very well, is VERY blunt and doesn't mince words and has no reason to sugar coat anything or be nice to me) and she said, "I think that is very good of you to be able to admit you're out of your league.  A lot of people wouldn't say that and I think it's better in the long run for both you and the horse."  So, two opinions from professionals I respect appeased my conscious a little about this decision but I still feel guilty because I really did want to be the one who saves Sinatra and gives him a great life and helps him be the great horse he could be.

But honestly, it's not just me I'm thinking of, I find myself getting to the end of my rope half the time with him and feeling like I'm out of my league and don't know what to do anymore and I'm flailing.  And when I feel like that I know I'm not giving him what he needs.  He needs a real experienced *trainer* handling him everyday to help him get over his bad habits - like not respecting people's physical space (which is his scariest bad habit) and his biting.  Granted at least with me his biting has gotten soooo much better, he still needs a lot of work.  I have seen a lot of improvement in the last couple months, but I also know that I really can't take him as far as he needs to go.  Ergo: out of my league.

I've mentioned before the OTTB (off-the-track-thoroughbred) Tuff Toad at my barn.  She is "the super model of all horses" - so beautiful that it is breathtaking.  Or at least she is to me.  She's also very sweet and gentle (or as gentle as a 4 year old can be) and very powerful.  A month ago I found out she's for sale and was feeling that pang of "If only I could buy her!'  I wasn't surprised that TB, who leases Girlfriend said that she was wishing she could buy her too.   So, I talked a lot this weekend to Trainer V. about whether or not she thought I could handle Toad and we came to the conclusion that she's fine on the ground and with two or three months of professional dressage training under saddle she'd be ready for me to start working with under saddle.  I must have asked her about fifty times, "Are you sure I could handle her? You're not just saying that because you're being nice or because you want Toad to stay at the barn???"  She laughed at me and said that she really did think Toad is much easier to handle than Sinatra and I would be fine and she's not just saying that.

So, yesterday Toad's current owner came out to the barn with me so that I could lead her around a little, groom her and lunge her.  I was so nervous when I first took her out of the stall that she picked up on my nervousness and started heading quickly down the aisleway right past the grooming room.  I yanked on her lead rope and snapped at her just like I do with Sinatra (which is all that seems to work with him) and that freaked her out and luckily Trainer K. was right there and said, "Be quiet with her. If you're quiet she'll be quiet.  You can be quiet and commanding at the same time but with a horse like her you need to be quiet,"  Funny ... Trainer V. had *just* told me the same thing minutes before on the phone and I completely forgot it when I got so nervous.  So, I calmed down and Toadie calmed down and things went much better after that.   My lunging went well but I thought that might have been because Toadie got to gallop around the arena for fifteen minutes before lunging and her owner lunged her before me.

I went back this morning to try lunging her again so that TB would have a chance to work with her.   TB had a similar reaction this morning when she first walked up to her as I had yesterday which was "Wow. You are a lot bigger in person, aren't you" (Toadie is 16.1 hands).  Trainer K. was giving a lesson in the arena so we couldn't let Toad go and run and buck like a maniac so I was a little bit concerned about just going straight from the stall to the arena to lunge her.  Trainer K. said they were fine with us lunging during their lesson as long as we felt we could hold on to Toad.  That worried me but I said we would leave immediately if there were any problems and figured Trainer K. would save us if necessary (that sounds terrible, doesn't it!)

Amazingly,  Toadie walked right out to the arena like a good, energetic, prancy but polite (giant) girl.  Once in the arena she stood quietly until I was ready with the lunge line and the lunge whip.  Then she walked out in a circle and stayed very calm and just walked.  I asked her to trot and she didn't at first so I raised the whip a little too high and she took off at a fast canter.  I immediately realized that I'd confused her by signaling with the whip to run (and found it impressive that she was so aware of the signals with the whip) and brought the whip back down to the ground and quietly said "Waaaaalk" and gave gentle half halts on the lunge line.  Didn't take long for her to calm down and walk which was nice.  After that she did amazing!  Twice she tried to turn around and go the other direction, but I noticed if I kept an eye on her and anticipated before she was going to do that I could tell her not to in time and she wouldn't do it.  She never tried to run off on me like Sinatra did (thankfully!).

TB took her turn and did well although when Toad tried to turn around on her when they were first starting, she cracked the whip to correct her and Toad took that as "I'm supposed to gallop!" and took off running.  And because she was on a short line right when she took off and TB instinctually pulled back, Toadie slipped a little which scared her so she bucked.  Then TB got a little scared (as I would too!) so Toadie started running faster.   A trainer from a different program had come out to the arena and started giving some advice like "Use our voice commands, quietly and firmly.  Put your whip down because the higher it is the faster she thinks she should go."  I gave a few tips that I learned from lunging Girlfriend (also an ex-race horse, just an ex-Western race horse as opposed to track race horse).   The main one being "Don't crack the whip, just like you don't cluck or kiss when riding Girl." So TB got her calmed down and things went much better after that.  She seemed a little unsure about things after that but from my observation it was all a matter of just not speaking exactly the same language yet.

Also, I will be scribing at a show this weekend and the volunteer coordinator said I can bring a donation box for raising money for Sinatra's continued tests we'd like to run with the specialists at Pilchuck Vets.  And she's going to put in her newsletter that we're raising money for that.   It'd be awesome if we actually did raise enough money for that.  It'd also be awesome if we could find someone -preferably with training experience - to foster him long term.

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