Saturday, March 3, 2012

The latest in my on-going horse saga

Tuesday Trainer K. and I took Girlfriend back to her old owner's farm to live out her days with 24/7 pasture turn-out.  She went into the trailer just fine, but then was a little ancy and calling to the horse's back in the barn.  But when we got to her old owner's I could tell as soon as she came out of the trailer she knew where she was.  I took her over to the pasture that's hers, let her loose and she ran up and down the pasture, then rolled and hopped up and ran over to the fence to say "hi" to her old pasture mate, Maddie.  They touched noses then ran up and down the fence next to each other a few times, then stood touching noses together for awhile.  It felt more like a homecoming than moving her away from her home.  So, I feel incredibly relieved.  Because they have such big pastures and only two horses there is a ton of grass and it's not boggy or muddy at all except up by the shelters and only a little bit there.  So, her mud fever will clear up much more easily. And I bet she'll be less stiff now that she's not stuck in a stall most of the time.

I had one breeder who was interested in Toadie, but she's in Ohio and couldn't afford the transport fee across the country.  The rest of the people who were interested were either young teens who didn't seem to understand how big, green and high-strung she is or much, much worse, kids looking for horses to barrel race.  All you have to do is look at a photo of Toadie and see that she is NOT a barrel racing prospect because of the way she's built.  I was not emailing any of them back and finally one day I emailed one of them back and explained confirmation and physique to her and why Toad was a bad prospect and there were some great gaming AQHA's out there and here are some pedigrees to explore for top gamers (I only know this from owning Girlfriend and researching her pedigree which is all about gaming).  And this kid actually emailed me back and said, "But is she fast? That's all that matters. Everything else can be fixed!" Duh. Fixed how? By cutting her legs down and shortening her body and completely changing her confirmation? I'm sorry but NO! I'm not selling someone my horse after they argue with me that they can "fix her" to "force her to be something she's not" only to have them get frustrated after a year of failure and send her off to auction or worse.

So, as of right now it looks like Toadie is here to stay.  I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing with her - training and working with her six days a week and I'll keep her listing up and keep my eyes open for a perfect new home.  But that may take a long time since I'm not willing to just unload her off on anyone.

 I don't mind keeping her because I am so bonded with her and when we're on the ground 98% of the time we're great together.  But I'm not getting any riding time in now that Girl is retired.  And I'm concerned that I'm not developing in my riding and how will I ever ride my green horse if she's getting trained and I'm not?  So, I figured out a way to make it all work.  I'm adding two lessons a week on Trainer K.'s lesson horse, Misty.  Since I'm not paying as much for Girlfriend I can use that extra money to pay for lessons.  Well, except Trainer K. said if I'm only riding Misty twice a week she wants me to take one lesson and do one practice ride on my own each week.  That way I can have riding time to figure stuff out on my own and a lesson to get instruction.  Her reasoning is that if I don't take alone practice rides I will become very advanced at being given instruction and not adept at all at working stuff out on my own.  I guess that's good - it means I'm far enough along in riding to actually know how to work stuff out on my own.

Taryn told me yesterday I need to give myself more credit because I'm a much better rider than I think. But what I'm concerned about is not staying on the horse's back if she's a mellow horse like Misty - it's getting my technique right.  I've developed some bad habits over the last four years and I really don't want to develop any more.  I'm a perfectly good rider as far as just riding around staying on a horse and getting through to them what to do, but not as far as riding really well and riding dressage goes. Compared to knowing a language - I am fluent enough to get by, order food, hang out and chat but I'm not fluent enough to have a deep, meaningful really in-depth conversation with a perfect accent.  And the latter is where I want to be with riding.

One of the things I started a couple weeks ago in a lesson on Misty was doing stretching exercises in the saddle meant to help my seat and to help me learn to isolate different parts of my body while keeping other parts still.  I've really struggled with my seat at the canter over the last four years and it seems like no matter what I try I end up bracing my feet in my stirrups at a canter.  Right before I moved from my old barn my old instructor did get me to the point where I did canter without stirrups, but then I moved, went through the fiasco with Trainer V., was out of lessons for awhile and didn't get to work on that as much.

But the last couple weeks when I ride (well, any horse but Toad who is too green and nervous for me to be doing stretching exercises on yet) I'm supposed to do the exercises to warm up.  Then day before yesterday I was riding Misty just for practice (it was supposed to be a lesson but Trainer K. was busy with the new foal who was a few hours earlier) and I tried cantering because I try to do that every time I ride because I know how much it needs work.  And an amazing thing happened! My butt stayed glued to the saddle, my feet were completely relaxed and loose in the saddle and Misty was thrilled that I was so quiet and balanced!

So, I'm feeling much more relaxed about the horse thing now.  I don't mind keeping Toad as long as while she is progressing in training I am also progressing in training.  She's not my perfect horse because I can't just hop on her and ride her whenever and wherever and she will probably never be a relaxing horse to go trail riding with, but for now she's just fine and right now she's my horse and I'm going to make the best of that for her and for me.  Maybe one day the right person will come along and want her but until then I'm enjoying everything I'm learning with her and watching how much she is learning.

It also helped that after her fiasco with neck pain, then cutting her leg and then needing to get back into regular work enough to not be a goofball I finally got to ride her again yesterday.  I think it was the first time in six weeks at least.  I hopped up on her and half way around the arena I had a momentary panic attack where for a second my brain and body felt like it froze up and I thought, "What if she freaks out on me?"  Last time I rode her was when she got mad at me because she didn't want to trot and had a little tantrum - but I stayed on, corrected her and we went straight back to work.  Then the time before that I was riding her and she spooked and spun - but I stayed on and we moved on and kept going that day too.  So, I took a deep breath and told the panicky part of my mind, "Just shut up. Stop trying to scare me and just let me be the responsible, safe adult that I am without trying to freak me out!" Then I was fine.  And Toadie did well.  She tried very hard and put up with a lot of steering exercises that we were working on.

It's hard and takes constant concentration on my part because she's so green that anyone that rides her is in the position of a trainer - everything we do is teaching her what it's like to be ridden.  So, instead of just riding and not paying attention I have to be constantly vigilant.  If I screw up or use too much leg or don't loosen the left rein enough when steering to the right it isn't just an annoyance to the horse - it is confusing and teaching her that being ridden is confusing and uncomfortable.  So Trainer K. is right there the whole time making sure I do everything perfectly and it has given me a whole new view of what trainers do.  They REALLY have to be absolutely perfect riders.  I used to think I wanted to work hard and study and eventually be a trainer but lately the  responsibility of being a trainer sounds overwhelming.  A bad trainer can really mess up a horse and I'm not sure I would ever have the confidence to start a horse without a huge fear I'd ruin them - even if I studied and worked really hard for the next twenty years - I'm not sure I would want that huge responsibility.  It also disturbs me how many bad trainers there are out there and how that is a much bigger deal as far as bad for horses than I originally realized.  I don't mind learning how to ride Toad really well and learning how to ride a green horse well because I know Trainer K. is there when I am and constantly helping me do it right, but I'm not sure I'd ever want that responsibility on my shoulders - especially with someone else's horse.

Still, the upside is that I am learning a lot.  And now that I'm going to be riding consistently again and have lessons that focus on my riding too it all works out much better.

Meanwhile, I heard something the other day that brings up a moral quandry.  Another trainer is apparently going to give lessons to a mom of one of her students on her horse.  I've ridden her horse about four times and won't ride him again because he's green like Toad but a hundred times more spooky.  The woman she'll be teaching knows nothing about horses and I wouldn't even ride this horse.  So, I'm wondering if I should mention to her that he is not a beginner's horse at all and it sounds very dangerous.  I doubt she'd believe me though and it would start a bunch of drama around the barn since this trainer already doesn't like me.  But at the same time it puts my stomach into knots just thinking about what could happen.

Photo of my girl.  Not a barrel racer!

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