Saturday, May 12, 2012

Dr. Jekyll, Meet Mr. Hyde

As I mentioned in my last post, we had class on Wednesday evening.  Here's how it went: Starbuck was just hitting the pinnacle of her horsey period (or heat, whatever...) and was accordingly distracted, lazy and more than a little cranky.  Depending on their relative attractiveness, every time a horse got anywhere near us she would either attempt to swing her rear end toward it or try to bite it, and she was throwing her head around so much I thought her wolf teeth might be finally coming in and bothering her.  She also stumbled a few times, not paying attention to what she was doing.  But I kept thinking that at least she wasn't being spooky and thus was willing to take whatever she was willing to give me.

But my instructor and mentor Marina was NOT so accepting and quickly put us on a tight circle inside a larger circle where the other students were cantering.  "Keep her moving, I want to see a WORKING walk, that means she has to work harder than you, give her a kick, kick her again, now make her trot, trot faster, now walk again, but WALK, not amble!! Don't let her look at that other horse, kick her again! Change directions, trot again! C'mon, trot! I mean NOW! Now let her walk but make her hustle! More walk, give her another kick! Let's try a sitting trot..."  This was more or less what we heard for the next 30 or so minutes as I struggled to keep one step ahead of my little filly.

Marina explained to me that the idea is to be much less forgiving on the days where Starbuck is in a bad mood and doesn't want to cooperate or even pay attention, and be much more forgiving when she's really giving it her best shot.  I have to say I felt pretty bad being such a meanie (I kicked so often and so hard I broke the zipper on my half-chaps) and wasn't completely on board with this technique, I kept thinking that if the next time I rode her she bucked me off I wouldn't blame her.

But it's also true that no matter how hard I kicked she would hustle for just a second and then go back to her ambling, "you ain't the boss of me" walk.  At the end of the class Marina put us on a longe line, I stowed my stirrups across Starbuck's withers and we ended up doing about 10 minutes of stirrupless walk and trot on the longe to improve my posture and drill "we ARE in fact the boss of you" into her head.  At the end of the class, I gave her a long, deep massage but was sure she would still resent it and take it out on me the next time I rode.

Today I rode her again and what a difference!  She stood stock still to let me mount up, warmed up quietly but with a (safe feeling) spring in her step and when we joined the rest of the horses, fell right into line and trotted with the best of 'em!  I could tell her attention was on me almost the entire time I was riding her and she only spooked once, when some very noisy truck (I think it must have been hauling sheet metal or congo drums or something) passed the stable.  We passed the scary side of the arena several times with no problem whatsoever, practiced our sitting trot (so my fat ass is not to hard on her back I'm doing three strides rising trot, three strides sitting trot, four strides rising trot, four sitting trot, on up to ten strides of each, then back to three), did a lot of good stop - walk - trot - walk - stop transitions, and even did a spiral in - spiral out exercise just as well as the other horses!  She did so well, in fact, that after about 40 minutes Marina gave us permission to take the rest of the class off and just cool down for a while in order to reward Starbuck for her good work.

So we walked over some cavalletti for a while and then went to the far end of the arena which as I've mentioned before is kind of overgrown and wild - at any rate my friend Belén joined us with her horse Cancunen and we rode next to each other at a walk just chatting and enjoying the sunny morning.  It sounds so simple but the very fact that I can do something so laid back with Starbuck is absolutely thrilling to me.  When we decided we'd had enough, I decided to push the envelope just a little bit more and ride Starbuck out of the arena, which I'd never done before.  And guess what?  No problem.  At all.  We rode out of the arena to the tying posts (I was too chicken to go any farther) and she just went along with it like it was nothing.  Silly me for being so excited about it but there you are!

Tomorrow if she's as laid back as today I'm going to ride her around the stablegrounds.

1 comment:

A Work In Progress said...

What a great lesson!

Horses are much like children, they do best with structure. They are social animals, and are happiest when they are interacting with others, be they human or horse. Horse herds don't have a true hierarchy, it's more of a constantly shifting dynamic based on their social interactions. We have to constantly remind them of our place in the "herd". It isn't mean, it makes them more comfortable and strengthens their bond with us.