BTR 2 of 7, August 2011: SIT[uation]REP[ort] II – The Horse
Continuing to repost the entries from my previous monthly blogs Back To Eventing and Back To Riding. This is part two of the introduction to second version of the blog. At this point, Rodney has been with us for a year. Repost of part one was SITREP.
SIT[uation]REP[ort] II – The Horse
By Katherine Walcott, Illustration by Jean Abernethy
“He’s not going to start thinking like a human being, not now, not next week, not ever.
It’s up to you to try and understand the way his mind works.”
Bombproof Your Horse
Sgt. Rick Pelicano with Lauren Tjaden [Trafalgar 2004]
Rodney gets his knickers in a twist about work. Whether he’s channelling his past lives or objecting to his current one, the fact remains that he tenses up as soon as we head toward the ring. If he is sufficiently wound up and sees an opening, he will fly back to the barn as fast as his long legs will carry him, bucking and kicking the entire way. This is an issue I prefer to address from the ground before I get back in the saddle.
The good news is that he doesn’t appear to mind work outside the ring. He’s more likely to hop quietly over a log in the field than a crossrail in the ring. If we are ever to go Eventing, better a horse happy on cross-country and nervous for dressage/stadium than vice versa. Plus, it’s hard to blame him. When you are on the losing end of the food chain, running away is never the wrong answer to a crisis. Granted he hasn’t encountered many pumas in his life, but that is only due to constant vigilance on his part.
In searching for groundwork exercises, I found that in-hand work falls into two categories: Austrian and Western. The first is dressage on your feet, typified by the work between the pillars of the Spanish Riding School. The latter is about mental agility, typified by Trail Classes, whether mounted for older horses or in-hand for youngsters. There is nothing physically difficult about picking up a crinkly raincoat or backing through an L. It’s all about confidence and awareness of one’s hooves. That’s us.
So far, Rodney has learned that a touch on the chest means reverse, that a tarp has acceptable footing and that a fly whisk is not a puma tail. He earned high marks for the tarp exercises but was deeply unsure about my hand-made fly-whisk of neon-orange plastic construction ribbon. Since I’m looking at his eyes rather than at the back of his head, I’m learning the difference between when he accepts an idea and when he’s about to take his brain off the hook.
Plus, I’m a much better alpha-mare on the ground than in the saddle. When I’m holding a leadrope, I believe in the justness of my cause. I can insist, gently but firmly, that we do it my way. Blacksmiths and barn managers love me because my horses have barn manners. However, when I’m holding the reins, I grow tentative and second-guess my next move. Instead of insisting, I waffle. Previous Horse loved this because he could use his enormous ego to bully me. Growing as an assertive rider will be an issue for the future. For now, being grounded is playing to my strengths.
Over the last year, I have talked almost as much about Previous Horse as I have about Current Horse. This is not doing Rodney any justice. Time to look forward. Also, a kind comment from a reader has gifted me with reassurance that I am not alone in my angst. Time to look to the positive. From now on, Eyes Front, looking to what is and what could be rather than what was and what might have been.
Rodney’s Saga repost locations
Back To Riding
Repost BTR, July 2011: SITREP
The original Back To Riding blog
Back To Eventing
BTE 1 of 9: How I Won the Training Level AEC
BTE 2 of 9: The Cast Assembles
BTE 3 of 9: The AEC, a Realization in Five Phases
BTE 4 of 9: New Horse Blues
BTE 5 of 9: Buying the Horse is Only the Beginning
BTE 6 of 9: Back To Square One
BTE 7 of 9: Getting to Know You
BTE 8 of 9: Spring Fitness
BTE 9 of 9: Forward Planning
List of all nine direct USEA links