Being Happy Alpha, Peeling The Emotional Onion

Training Journal

If you’re riding a horse, you’ve already won.

For your amusement. Clara Parkes has started posting what she calls The Daily Respite. “It’s hard not to get caught up in the collective anxiety … So I’ve decided to do a little experiment … And every morning, I’m emailing you a little nugget to enjoy as you start your day. A short video clip, a piece of music, a poem, an idea … A reminder of the joy that exists all around us, even in scary times.” About. Offers to date have included tap dancing, a swimming corgi, and a 2,000-person choir singing ABBA’s “Dancing Queen.” It’s free.
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Rodney is expressive. Rodney is emotional. Rodney is an onion. Every time I work through a set of issues with him, I find new set underneath. Below all the sturm and drang is the horse I saw lo these many years ago [Horse Illustrated: The Horse Next Door].

“Going over the story reminds me how captivated I was when I first saw him. If you had told me that four years later I would have that horse in my backyard, I would have said you were dreaming.” [In the Beginning]

Do I think we will we ever get back to that horse? Depends on which day you ask me.

Layer Zero: Basic Behavior
There was a time when I could not walk him around the field in hand [Aftermath of an Explosion]. A time he would not wear a leather halter [Here We Stand]. Or trot in hand [Weekend Report]. Or stand [Here We Stand, Still].

Getting past this took years. There was a lot of whining on the blog.

Layer One: Tension
Due to his old injury [Daddy Dearest], Rodney was tight the first five or ten minutes of each ride.

Getting past this involved massage to reduce adhesions [What A Stinker], gadgets [Zap], and goops [Zheng Gu Shui]. The last step was taking out the imperceptibly slight saddle wobble. [Padding] At least, the wobble was imperceptible to me [When You Find Out You Are Not As Good As You Thought You Were]. BTW, filler pad stayed. The second saddle pad did not. He preferred more stability over excess padding.

Layer Two: Attention
When we go to a new place, Rodney looks everywhere, at everything. He is particularly fascinated by other horses [Rodney Continues to Roam, The Marbles Go]. He also monitors cars [Where Are We Now?, “Did someone elect you traffic warden?”], and big, clanky trucks [Rodney and the Loggers]. That last one I can understand.

Getting past this involves walking. So much walking. In-hand. In-hand while tacked-up. Being ridden. We walk until he is ready for the next step. Once I get on, I grit my mental teeth, sit chilly, and believe that the phase will pass. At our first show, this took upwards of an hour [Words]. At the most recent trip to Falcon Hill Farm, it took six minutes.

We go through the same process at each new place. Fortunately, he seems to move through the steps more quickly at each new barn. He is learning how to manage and we are learning how to manage him.

Layer Three: How Rude
This layer has two aspects, pushy and sullen.

Under this scared, sensitive exterior is an arrogant horse who thinks he knows best. We are starting to see more and more of this [Evil Twin]. Rodney also has what horsemen call heart. He’s basically a good soul. He is willing to listen. Provided I am worth listening to.

So I have to be the alpha mare. Horses aren’t people. They are reassured by a knowing their position in the herd hierarchy. That’s me, the benevolent dictator.

OTOH, I can’t grind on about it. I mount up. Horse says, ‘This is going to be horrible.’ He ignores me. He is so busy being sullen that he will not hear any corrections. I give a strong ride. He says, ‘See, I knew it was going to be horrible.’

So I have to happy! and perky! and jolly him out of it. While still insisting he listen. Not just calm and pleasant but actively perky and chipper to convince him to lighten up.

Plus, I have to recognize which layer we are on at any given moment. You can’t press a scared horse. Well, you can. You will get an answer. It won’t be the one you want. Conversely, you don’t get good results from reassuring a pushy horse. They simply walk all over you.

At the moment, his attitude tends to be related to place. The more he is used to a place, such as Stepping Stone Farm, the more relaxed he is and the more likely I am to get Rude Rodney. It’s almost a good sign when it happens.

So that is my new riding mantra. Happy! Alpha! Activate Pinky Pie mode! Fortunately, this is in my wheelhouse [Why I Am Pinkie Pie].

Thank you for reading,
Katherine Walcott

Categories: Horses, Riding

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