Thursday, August 7, 2014

Green + Green

Three years ago my husband gave me an untrained, spooky, affection-starved warmblood filly for my birthday.  Three years ago I embarked upon one of the most challenging, stimulating and rewarding journeys of my life so far (and believe me, I've had a few).  Three years ago to this very day I started this blog.  When I decided to take on the challenge of training Starbuck with very little (funny, it seemed more at the time) equine experience under my belt, I was definitely blinded by the fact that I'd always wanted a horse more than anything else in the world and here one was, right in front of me!  I was also completely unaware of just how difficult and frustrating it would be and how important real life experience is, and having read accounts of three-day colt starting clinics, easily convinced myself that with enough love, patience and the internet we'd be galloping off into the sunset in no time.  In retrospect, I am awed and amused by my foolishness and lack of foresight, but at the same time am so very grateful I didn't know any better.  I also have to thank Marina, my husband and my parents for having enough faith in me to encourage me to take on the challenge, even though they must have been much more aware of the risks than I was.

There's an old saying that goes "green plus green makes black and blue" referring to a green horse and a green rider, and I have to admit that the risks were (and still are, to a certain extent) considerable - I've been kicked at, stepped on, run over, dragged behind, bucked off and head-butted more times than I can count.  Any of them could have incurred broken bones or worse, and didn't (well, maybe a toe or two).  And what I was even more afraid of than bodily harm - training Starbuck so badly that she would be unrideable for me and ruined for anyone else - could very easily have happened had Starbuck been one of these really sensitive, fearful horses instead of being nearly as stubborn, brash, clumsy and confident as I am.  But as it turned out, she had enough 'tude to put up with me having absolutely no feel or timing for the first few months, and I had enough 'tude (and luck and apparently rubber bones) to keep getting up, dusting myself off and getting back on.
The crazy thing is that what I thought would be hard were the easy parts and vice versa.  Longeing?  I figured it'd be a piece of cake and didn't even bother to learn how to do it with a "normal horse" but it turned out to be near impossible the first few times - she would either spook and gallop off, dragging me behind her (the little known sport of horse-skiing), or stop and turn to look at me so that she ended up longeing me rather than the other way around.  She had no problem with me rubbing plastic bags, feed sacks and eventually even full-sized tarps all over her body but absolutely refused to pick up her hind feet for what seemed like forever.  And the thing I was most apprehensive about - our very first ride - went so well that I would never have predicted that three years later she still throws the not-so-occasional buck.

What I really appreciate about having started Starbuck myself is that I have so many priceless memories from before I ever even got in the saddle - the sacking out, the early days at the tying post with my three loops of baling twine, the first time she wore a numnah and girth, then a saddle, then her bridle with a bit..., the first time I worked her in the roundpen (newly built just for her), the first time I triumphantly took her on a walk outside the stable grounds to a nearby orange grove, all the groundwork...  In fact, I'm actually thankful she was spooky and rambunctious enough for me to put off riding her longer than I had planned, since the Parelli games, roundpenning and other groundwork really cemented our relationship and taught me a few important lessons (like how important feel and timing were, and how to start developing them) without even having to get on.

And the first ride?  I still remember how elated and grateful to her I felt, and the wonder of her movement melding with mine as Marina led us around the roundpen.  Then the first ride on our own when I discovered that she didn't really mind me being up there (although she definitely resented me squeezing and kicking her until she figured out what it meant).  The first five or so rides, we really progressed by leaps and bounds and I figured I had it all figured out.  But then we rode in the big arena for the first time and I realized just how wrong I was.  It turns out the first rides were the easy ones, and the hardest ones were (and probably are) still to come.  And after the first few months in the saddle teaching her the basics of go, turn, faster / slower, back, sideways, stop and stand still, more than working on her I've mostly been working on myself, to paraphrase Ray Hunt.  My balance and "stickability", the consistency of my aids, my ability to keep my body relaxed when my mind is freaking out, my striving for an independent seat, not to mention little things like courage, patience, equanimity... you get the picture.

Over the past three years we've come pretty far - from just worrying about staying on, to figuring out how to start, steer and stop, to working on correctly performing gaits, simple movements and transitions and by now are so far along that my main concerns these days are more about me refining my aids so they're less bothersome, and Starbuck moving her body in the most efficient, comfortable and sustainable way for her.  Which is in itself a lifelong pursuit, so I don't see us getting bored anytime soon.  And if we do get hung up along the way, we can always get back on track with a little jumping (up to 3 feet now!), trail riding, bomb-proofing, TTouch massage, riding over trail obstacles, longeing, in-hand or liberty groundwork, riding bareback, with a parelli rope halter or just with a neck rope, simply spending quality time together sharing territory or something we've never even tried before.  So does green plus green equal black and blue?  Sure, but somewhere down the line all those bumps, bruises and hard lessons have slowly and surely changed our relationship to solid gold.

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