I finally made a decision on the horse front. It was a toss-up between a lovely little Lipizzan on the East Coast who seemed great but who I would not get to meet before buying (although I had a gut feeling I would like her because honestly I like all horses) or Maiden who I've already been riding and who has been boarded the last year of so at our barn. I finally decided on Maiden. I was happy to hear that her owner is not only thrilled that someone is buying her who will keep her at the barn, but that I am buying her because she thinks we're good together. Well, ok, people always say stuff like that when they want to sell something but let's just humor me and assume she meant it.
So, I am very excited. I rode Maiden in a lesson on Monday morning and it went very well again. Each time I ride her things seem to improve. She didn't balk at all - well, we did try to go forward once and she calmly walked backward but as Trainer K. said it seemed more like I accidentally hit the reverse button than full on balking. I have to be very mindful when I ride her because she is extremely sensitive and despite that she is being ridden by four different people right now, she is not a lesson horse (and I'm glad of that). She is not a push-button horse who just goes through the motions without her rider having to use her aids to guide her. Granted she is safe enough to be a lesson horse because she doesn't spook very easily and she won't get upset and try to throw her rider, but you can't just throw a saddle on and say "we're going to walk, trot, canter with all the right speed, the right lead and I won't have to use any aids you'll just stay on the outside track and I don't have to do anything" like some old lesson horses do. If you put a beginner with no guidance whatsoever on her she'll stand there and well ... stand there some more. And maybe walk a few feet and then stand. Much like Miah did with me. Only even my seat and aids weren't working with Miah. Aids actually work on Maiden.
Since there are two people leasing her still until I buy her I only get to ride her once a week in my lesson. And I'm not going to buy her until after we have a pre-purchase exam which, after Alberto I'm only being cautiously optimistic about. I don't want to blindly go into this assuming she'll pass with flying colors like I did with Alberto. There is a chance things will not go well and I won't buy her, I need to be realistic about that. So, since I can't ride her I rode one of Trainer K.'s horses to get in some practice and then just loomed around Maiden's stall petting her and sharing a banana with her. She recognizes my voice now when I walk in the barn and although she pins her ears and gives me the stink eye (like she does everyone else) when I walk up to her stall, if I hold up my hand she'll smell it, then lick it, then relax and drop her head so I can giver her a neck scratch and some snuggles.
That is an issue I would like to slowly work on with her when I buy her - and that is that something happened to her before she was rescued that has caused her to be extremely food protective/aggressive and just in general defensive when she's in her stall. If I walk up to her and she's eating she will literally swing her head over toward me and pin her ears straight back and show her teeth. If I don't move she will wave her head and make biting motions. What I've been doing is standing my ground when she does that, but as soon as she stops I will move away. And if she starts doing it again I will take my place back next to the stall and not move until she relaxes and stops doing it, then I'll move away and stay away if she doesn't threaten me again. At least until she's done eating. I don't want to stay there the whole time and ruin her meal by freaking her out.
Trainer K said you have to be careful with horses like her whose poor behavior was justified at some point in their life because of abuse/mistreatment/neglect because if I discipline her for the behavior it will just freak her out more. Well, I guess "not taking the pressure off" by not moving away is kind of like a covert discipline, but in other situations (like if Sinatra tried to bite me) it would be warranted to give the horse a smack in the chest with a dressage whip for doing something dangerous. Buck Brannaman talks about the same thing - understanding where he behavior is coming from and knowing how to best react to it to get the horse to stop doing without screwing the horse up more.
So, that will be interesting. I've already decided if she never gets over her food defensiveness it's not a big deal. But I'd like to see if there is a way I can help her at least get over it with me. Today I went up to her with my banana while she was eating her hay and she started to pin her ears at me, then changed her mind. I took a bit of banana and then gave a bite to her and so on, and she seemed totally fine with that. Even after the banana was going she was doing ok hanging out with me even though she had hay in her stall. Then I think I pushed it too far because I was curious what she'd do if I went to her other side (the side the hay was on) to pet her. I wasn't actually between her and the hay but I was apparently too close because she started throwing her head again, pinning her ears and baring her teeth at me. As soon as she stopped doing it I made a point to slowly walk away so I could give her space and she went back to her lunch. I definitely shouldn't have tried to push it that far this time.
My job has gotten easier because I am now being trained by an actual person instead of trying to go with just the procedure manual. I don't know if things are going to work out, the first few weeks of stumbling through trying to do stuff by the manual (which is very good 80% of the time but that 20% it's either outdated or leaving stuff out and then I tried to figure it out myself was just a catastrophe) and I don't know if they're just going to throw in the towel on me and fire me soon but at least for now I am much happier actually getting training from a real person. In just the last two times I've worked with her it's like everything has opened up more than it had the last month and suddenly I am seeing how their system works, I know far more how to use the NAV database and I understand what the whole sales/support process is. I feel so much better now because I know I'm not just an idiot - I know that in the future if I go into a job where I'm doing something I've never done before with databases I've never used before I just need to make sure I'm trained by a person (more than just a two hour phone call while I'm on vacation which is what initially my in-person training was). I'm sure that system works well for some people but it doesn't work for me and I'm incredibly relieved to know that as opposed to feeling like I'm just an idiot who has no accounting skills at all (which is how I was starting to feel). I hope I don't get fired because I find the job challenging and interesting and I know that the opportunity to learn and grow is enormous and I will never get bored, and I like all my co-workers, but at least I know if I get fired it's just not meant to be and is not a value judgment and that takes all that pressure I've been feeling this last month off my shoulders.