Monday, September 17, 2012

Dr. Jekyll and Little Miss Hyde

This was certainly a weekend of ups and downs with Starbuck.  First things first, I de-wormed her on Friday - I just wanted to get that out of the way so in two or three months when I go into panic mode thinking that I haven't dewormed her in an entire year I can come back and see this post and calm down a little.  It's getting to be time to trim her hooves as well, I guess I'll call Xisco this week.  And next month the dentist is coming, I've already spoken to her so she'll set aside some time on her tour of Mallorca for us.  OK, got all the health and hygiene out of the way for now.

Friday was one of our worst days since the very beginning when Starbuck was just learning how to work on the longe line.  It was just chilly enough for me to put on a long-sleeved shirt and windy but bright and sunny - peak weather conditions for horse friskiness.  There was a jump class going on when we walked into the arena and we had to work on the scary side next to the bar and the tiger cave underneath.  Needless to say, every slight movement or sound in that area set Starbuck off on a genuinely inspired acrobatic routine of bucks, rears, jumps, spins and earth-rending gallops.  After a few tense yet spectacular minutes she finally started to settle down and I at least got her to walk half the circle on the easy side but she was still trotting on the scary side with her head way up in the air and hanging outside the circle, ears pointed at anything but me.  I admit, it was not one of our best moments and I was starting to get a little frustrated, but just as I have many many times in the past, I was asking her for transitions and changes of speed which tend to gradually get her attention back on me, even if it does take a while.

All of a sudden, I hear one of the guys at the stable shouting "She's not paying any attention to you" at me and at first I just kind of grunted to acknowledge him since this was something I was already pretty clued in to.  But he decided to keep going and shouted out "Unless you can get her attention 100% on you, you're not going to get anywhere with her!".  I am not proud of the heated argument I then proceded to engage in within earshot of everyone at the stable, but this guy is constantly criticizing others and noone ever challenges him (he is a BIG guy), plus I don't particularly agree with his style of horsemanship - since he's a big guy he tends to try to impose himself physically on horses which doesn't work so much for us short roly-poly types, not to mention that I want a relationship of affection and respect with my horse, not fear and respect.  I basically told him but that I already knew what he was telling me, that at the moment I wasn't able to get 100% attention from her but that I was working on gaining it bit by bit with transitions and that although I knew his "advice" was well meant, I was finding it more frustrating than anything else.  Which seems perfectly reasonable in print, but probably sounds a little combative when someone's shouting it at you.

Since he kept on harping on and I was getting madder and madder, I told him "You're probably right, since I can't get 100% attention from her than I won't get anything done" and walked out of the arena to cool off.  So Starbuck and I walked around the stable a couple of times until she was less panicked and I was less angry, then we went back, made our peace with this guy and proceded to work on the longe as well as we could until she was so tired that she finally relaxed.  I hate working her in tension and she was so sweaty and tired at the end but I guess sometimes you just have to let them get it all out.   At least this guy didn't make any more "suggestions", I know he means well but I respond much better to concrete suggestions like "Move the shoulder holding the whip further forward" or "Give her short tugs on the longe line" rather than nebulous criticisms which I'm already aware of.

But Saturday was such a phenomenal day for us that I decided that if we have to have a day like Friday every now and then, it's absolutely worth it!  She was a little tired and sore after her highjinks, but I was careful not to ask for too much and to stay off her back and she seemed like a completely different horse.  I've found her to be getting a little lazy to my leg cues (which is 100% my fault as a rider) so we worked on lots of keeping the same rhythm at a trot with no leg whatsoever as well as trotting over cavaletti.  She even seemed so cool that I tried out trotting over some tiny cross-rails and not only did she do it perfectly but she loved it!  We were also able to canter calmly and correctly in both directions both Saturday and Sunday, which brought a huge smile to my face.  She gave a little buck on one of the canter transitions, but then did several more without any bucking at all.

As a special bonus, on Saturday we were able to walk all around the stable yard in varying directions (there was a particular stand of trees which was way scarier coming at it from the left than when we passed it on the right) and even through the parking lot, and all of this by ourselves, without any other braver and more experienced horses leading the way.  She's actually very easy to calm down when she spooks out in the open and is so curious that once she's lost her fear she goes right up to whatever freaked her out to sniff it.

Sunday started out fairly disastrous - Starbuck freaked out when the dogs started barking at her and ran right into me, knocking me onto the ground.  Man am I sore today, especially since both hips are bruised and I sleep on my side, so every time I moved the littlest bit in bed I felt it.  So I backed her up about 20 steps, giving her a couple of energetic whacks with the end of the lead rope when she got lazy and then walked briskly around the parking lot until her attention was back on me and she had calmed down.  And once again, after saddling her and taking her out to the arena, she was completely changed - calm and focussed.  I guess I get mood swings when it's my "time of the month" too.

At any rate, our ride went so well and she was so tuned in that as we finished up and were cooling down I asked my friend Ivón if she wanted to give Starbuck a test drive, which she did and it went fine.  She only walked around the arena for a while and didn't even ask for trot, but it was the first time Starbuck was actively ridden by anyone other than me and she really behaved very well, listening attentively to Ivón's aids and not trying any funny business.  Ivón and I have made plans for her to start riding her every so often, next time I'm going to let her get a feel for Starbuck's trot while longeing her and then I think they'll be good to go.  I think it'll be really positive for Starbuck to get experience with other riders and hope to enlist some more volunteers soon.

Does anyone have any pointers (or war stories) on "sharing" your horse with other riders?

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