The opinions expressed in previous entries may or may not express the current opinion of the author.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Second and Third Rides

Bridget has remained leery of the halter, and the other day I was feeling quite sad and that I had screwed everything up. However, the horses were so sweet and affectionate when I left the halter lying on the ground that I couldn't be too down. RIDING looms like a sort of huge obstacle for some reason. I can't even bother to find all the words to express how this comes to be - but I feel it's to do with a fear that being ridden is something the horse would not choose to do on his own. 

Here's a convoluted anecdote which sort of expresses how this loom-large aspect can distort one's view of reality:

Once upon a time, George used to be really aggressive, and he would bite people and threaten them. This was the Main Feature of George and one which had everyone jumpy. So he comes to live with us, and he gradually becomes less and less aggressive, but it's still there - out there in the universe, lurking. The other day, I read a sample report by Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling about a horse who is part King and part Child. It sounded a lot like George, even looked rather like him. The owner's trainer had warned her that this horse was liable to become aggressive. KFH said to put such thoughts far away, as you don't want to raise a specter which then cannot be put to rest. He also said that this is a horse who is unlikely to ever cause anyone any problems.

And I was like lightbulb moment. George never causes anyone any problems. He is unfailingly courteous, considerate, and affectionate - gallant even. Yeah, he still doesn't like his saddle put on. But he's never tried to dump a rider, or kick someone, or take off, or rear, or do any one of a number of things that a horse might do. And he hasn't offered to nip someone for a long time. It is time to put the specter of George's aggression to rest. It colored all my thoughts of him, and continued to make me fearful of some kind of bad reaction well beyond the time when he was likely to actually do anything. This is a horse who doesn't cause trouble.

Same thing with Bridget. She doesn't mind giving me piggybacks at all. She had an extremely adverse reaction to having her head messed with, and in my angst-y way, I immediately went to the default hand-wringing position of "Oh no, she doesn't want to be ridden, what shall I do, maybe it'll never happen." Which of course IS always a possibility. But apparently not in this case.

The saddle arrived. An 18" Wintec, from which I extracted the medium gullet and into which I put the extra-wide one. Cos that Bridget is, well, extra-wide. I sat it on the rail of the round pen, got Bridget (who was still not eager to be gotten) and then set her loose in the round pen. We were hanging out, doing a little of this and that, when the trainer joined us and asked if Bridget had shown any interest in the saddle. As if on cue, Bridget walked over to the saddle and nudged it with her nose. We saddled her up, leaving her free to come and go as she pleased. But she stayed put. I put some reins onto her halter - no more messing with stuff on her head. I got up. We walked around. All was serenity. And it really helps having a three-year old child in the ring - keeps the mood light. 

I go to the barn more than once a week, but we have one day scheduled to work with the trainer. Today was that day, and when I went to get Bridget, she was happy to see me, walked away when I tried to put the halter on, but accepted the second attempt. She's spooky walking along the wooded path away from the pasture - perhaps she has seen the cougar that I saw the other day. But the round pen has become a safe space for her, where she becomes relaxed and confident. After a few minutes, our trainer said she'd like to see Bridget walking around the rail quietly, so I invited Bridget to come do that with me, but instead she made a beeline for the saddle and nudged it. So we put it on, and I climbed aboard, and then we had a quiet time pottering about, Bridget following the trainer, or wandering off on her own, or stopping at the mounting block to allow the little boy to hug her face. She turned around to inspect my foot. She rested one hind leg and dozed for a minute.  We scratched her ears. Everything felt nice and safe and cozy and friendly for her.

I'm heading north on a 3-week hoof trimming trip, and I've asked the trainer to - not work with Bridget - but take her out and bring her up to the round pen and hang out and put the saddle on. I said I want Bridget to be able to say no and refuse, just as the human has the right to do the same. Also I want her to be able to make suggestions and have them accepted, even if they're not strictly with the program. 

The head thing started, I believe, on her trip down to Texas. She was never in the least head-shy, but when she arrived in Texas, she didn't like having her halter pulled over her ears. The lady who transported them is lovely and I'm sure would never be rough or impatient. But they spent two nights at horse motels en route, and it could be that someone there manhandled Bridget when putting her halter on. So I think persisting with trying to "desensitize" her to the bridle was not a good idea. Today, after I snapped her reins onto her halter, she balked a little at first when I went to put them over her head, fearing that there was going to be some interference. She still loves to have her ears rubbed and scratched vigorously though. She's no fool - she knows the difference.

I think the trainer enjoyed our no-stress, non-training hour. She had a good idea - let's put random stuff into the ring for Miss Curious to inspect. Here's hoping the two of them will have fun together while I'm away. 

She loves the boy.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Staying Close

Well, it finally happened - I rode Bridget! Rising seven, and me still on the ground; something had to change. I'd been putting off taking that last step of swinging my leg over her back because of wimpiness really. Unlike a great many horse people, I am risk-averse. My daughters have become too busy and important to help with the task of spotting Mum while she does kooky and age-inappropriate things with horses. However, the opportunity to get something going presented itself along with our recent move to Texas, where the horses are boarding again. The barn manager is a professional trainer and instructor, and I decided to ask her to help me with the transition from on-the-ground to on-board. She and Bridget like each other, so I put aside my misgivings about working with an unspilkered (Communicative Horses) trainer and decided that if I wasn't willing to enlist someone's help to Move On, I would remain forever on the ground.

So I ordered a test ride saddle, stuck in the extra-wide tree, and pretty much up I got. It all went very smoothly. The following week, the test saddle having been returned and the new one not having arrived yet, we did some ground work, involving free lunging and trying different bridles. 

And then this week for the first time in her life, Bridget was not very keen on having her halter put on. She did let me, but walked away twice before doing so. Not a good sign.

So needs must break it to our trainer that we're going to have to do things differently. Quite right, of course. But I felt I had to try and let someone do things in a more conventional way to see the result. Maybe Bridget would have been fine with it. It was good to find out for sure. My intention was to trust someone who is trustworthy and be willing to relinquish, to some extent, my own control over the situation. But the proof is in the pudding, and the pudding didn't want her halter on. There's no way to let someone into this gently - you have to just say it: the horse gets to say no, and if she really doesn't freely choose to do this, then what's the point?

After I said my crazy things, we spent an hour in the round pen - me, the trainer, a three-year-old boy, and Bridget, who was at liberty. We (mostly me and Bridget) worked on shoulder yielding and backing and turns on the haunches and forehand, and standing by the mounting block, and putting reins over her head. She was free to walk away, but she kept coming back for more. remaining placid and content throughout. Toward the end of the time, she came and stood by the mounting block and kept putting her foot on it. That's Bridget - she wants the human role in the exercise. She would like to be the one climbing on the mounting block - it looks like fun. Anyway, she was keen to be in the centre of things, making suggestions.

Riding is such an intimate activity. Why is it that we start by keeping the horse at a distance? We send them away from us to the rail and don't allow them to come close. We use commands and instructions which operate like a remote control device - how often has one read in horse classifieds the term "push-button"? As we sit on the horse, all the distance of the lunge line is present, holding us apart still, and the remoteness of our control remains even though we're in close contact with their bodies.

Horses love intimacy. Not the sentimental kind involving kisses forced upon them. But an intimacy where you share your thoughts and listen for theirs. Intimacy can remain over a distance or be lost in close proximity.

I've sort of done our trainer out of a job; although her expertise is still very reassuring, it's no longer the principal driving force behind what we're doing. However, I'm still glad to have someone around for moral support (I've been doing this on my own for so long), and it'll make me feel safer when I'm riding. Also Bridget loves the company. Two people to hang out with, and no George to chase her away and take them for himself. 

The saddle will arrive soon. I'll keep you posted.