I notice Starbuck for the first time; her paddock is across from my friend Virginia's horse Coco's paddock and she's pointed out to me as "that German filly" since her mother was a Hannoverian. She has duck feet and is dirty, skinny and top-heavy, with her head and neck visually overpowering the rest of her body. After I spend a little time with her once or twice rubbing her and hand-feeding her some apples and carrots, she starts to nicker to me when I walk by and watch me when I'm with other horses. So I ask Marina about her and am told that she was purchased as one of a set of several horses and that they don't have time to train or do much of anything with her, that they tried to bring the farrier out to trim her hooves but she was too panicked to let him and that they were hoping to sell her. To help out Marina, I start grooming her in hopes of improving her appearance and do a little work teaching her to give to pressure from the halter, lead quietly, be showered and stand tied without pulling back.
I get attached (surprise!) and Marina suggests that I buy her and train her myself, quoting a ridiculously affordable price and assuring me that she'll help me along every step of the way. I mention this to my husband, who offers to give her to me for my birthday. After thinking long and hard about my capabilities (emotional, economic and otherwise) and considering other options like leasing a more experienced horse, I couldn't resist the temptation and on August 15th, Starbuck was officially mine (and this blog is born)! In August I start to teach her to longe and get better at leading. While longeing on one of the first days Starbuck bolts and runs over me, pushing me down and stepping on my foot. It's a good wakeup call and I start paying way more attention to our movements and defending my space. It's the first and last time she's run over me so far.
We get lots better at longeing and start working over cavalletti. We also do lots of sacking out starting with a dressage whip with some cloth tied to the end, then with a plastic bag and finally with a saddlepad... We work on longeing using the saddlepad and a surcingle to get her used to the feel of the girth and use a lead line to simulate a bit and teach her to open her mouth on cue. We also continue leading work, upping the anty by first exploring the "scary" parts of the stable yard and then walking to a nearby orange grove in the company of other horses.
This was a big month for us: I was able to lift and pick out Starbuck's front hooves, we put on the saddle for the first time, Starbuck got her teeth floated and we really improved our transitions on the longe line. I also get a bridle and D-ring snaffle bit and put it on Starbuck for the first time, which took some getting used to! I practice rubbing her and leaning over her from on top of a mounting block and putting more and more weight in the stirrup. It was the first month where I could realistically think about riding her and at the end of the month I made up a list of goals planning to ride her in November.
We take advantage of a rainy day to sack her out with an umbrella, we keep improving our longeing and I was finally able to lift and pick out all four hooves. I finally bite the bullet and build a roundpen, where we do lots of work at liberty and I feel like I really start to gain more respect. I watch some Clinton Anderson videos for new control-and-respect gaining exercizes and notice the benefits immediately. Once I feel like I can control where she goes on the ground 95% of the time, I work up the courage to get on her back for the first time; first just leaning with my belly over the saddle and putting all my weight on her, then by being led around the round pen in this position by my friend Salvador and finally getting all the way on and being led by Marina!
Starbuck is bit by bit gaining the skills to be my dream horse and I hope to be gaining the skills to be her dream owner. After a major backslide the first crisp and windy week of December when she started acting like a crazy wild thing again and dragged me over one day while longeing, she got even better and started paying way more attention to me in our groundwork training sessions, working on transitions, small and large circles, ground driving through figure eights, cavaletti patterns, ground tying and more. She is also finally calm enough about having her feet handled to have the farrier come out and trim her hooves, I find a lovely synthetic English saddle for sale for a pittance and I start riding her once or twice a week. She now more or less understands the leg cue for transition from stop to walk, can maintain a walk with continued intermittent leg pressure and works at a trot with some help from the ground.