Saturday, January 9, 2016

Seeking Partnership

Seeking Partnership


I’ve been remiss in my blog entries lately which is a function of my high level of frustration.  When I’m feeling inspired and focused and making progress I find clarity in sharing my experiences.  Lately I feel like I’m banging my head against a wall and it’s a bit harder to share!  But, sometimes stepping aside to look at your horse, your horsemanship and your progress can help in times of frustration, so here goes.

I’ve written about my gelding Kit before.  He has been more challenging to me in my horsemanship than any horse I have had in a very long time.  For every step forward I feel I take two steps backwards.  He was the horse that bucked with the saddle every time for the first 12 times he was saddled.  Not just crow hop around but honk and buck himself into a standstill.  He was also the horse the pitched me, hard.  He is the horse that I gave in and called for help in starting and sent out for 30 days of professional training with one of the best colt starters that I know.  

 That was fall 2014.  This year I worked hard on trying to get him softer, more reliable, less likely to dump me at the slightest provocation.  He is smart, sensitive, powerful and athletic.  A volatile combination at times.  He is also incredibly busy minded.  Standing still is a ton of work for this horse.  He has had countless hours on the highline and will eventually stand still but prefers to chew on the rope, the tree, his feet, my saddle, whatever is in reach.

I did make some progress with him this year.  I got him out on a couple of trail rides this summer; one in which he got into a mess of bees.  I was sure that would spell instant death with this horse but he manned up and took me out of there without a hitch.  I was never so proud of him.  We have spent hours and hours on groundwork attempting to get him soft and responsive as he tends to have a bit of an opinion about things, well, all things actually.

The one thing that I feel I am always struggling to maintain and cultivate in this horse is partnership.  Join-up.  Being hooked on.  Whatever you want to call it, it’s lacking in our relationship.  Don’t get me wrong, I think he enjoys our sessions and I love the heck out of him.  But, I feel like he is always looking for the next big thing.  The new horse in the arena to check out.  The new person to go meet.  The tree, over there, that looks way more interesting that the tree over here where there is actually a trail.  With groundwork it is always the same.  I am constantly saying, either through voice, rein, or flag : “Hey, attention here, please.  No, seriously, here.  Right here.  HEY!” 

So, now I have him in winter training.  He is boarded at a local indoor arena owned by a good friend of ours.  It’s a lovely facility and we are lucky to have our horses there. With the weather this year I wouldn’t have the opportunity to ride and train without it.  We have had a ton of snow this year and unfortunately a big metal building covered in 2 feet of snow causes a lot of roof slide off.  If you are not familiar with what it sounds like when several hundred pounds of snow comes crashing off a metal roof, Kit would like to explain that sound in his own words:

“The sky is falling, the sky is falling RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!!!!!” 

Now, you would think that eventually it would become obvious that the sky is indeed NOT falling and it’s just snow.  Again.  But Kit either isn’t that smart or he knows something the rest of us don’t know because he is thoroughly convinced that death is immanent when he hears the slightest sound indicating possible snow movement.  I can’t help but feel if I had better partnership established with this horse he may do a little more looking to me for comfort and guidance rather than leaving the country without glancing back to see if I was even coming.

To say it’s made his already short attention span even shorter is an understatement.  He’s a basket case and to be quite honest with you I’m struggling to figure out how to help him.  Just when he gets relaxed and thinking a chunk of snow breaks loose and BOOM there goes his heart rate.  Keeping him busy and moving and thinking is working to a certain extent but because he wants to keep one eye on the opening by the doors just in case he might need to make a sudden break for safety I’m having to do a lot of redirection, and repeated requests for softness, partnership and focus.

 Of course I could just work him to the point of being so tired he didn’t care anymore if the roof fell in on his head, but he is a Morgan.  I simply don’t have 12 hours to spend on that endeavor and I’m convinced it would not have lasting effects.

So, I have come to really pity the elementary teachers asked to try and get ANY teaching done the day before Christmas break or on any other holiday.  Teaching when your student is absolutely incapable of sitting still and paying attention is an exercise in futility.  This horse is ALWAYS the ADHD student.  Now he’s the ADHD student on sugar, caffeine and suffering from watching horror movies late into the night.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t intend to give up.  I’m not that kind of person.  It’s possible that I SHOULD give up, but it’s not going to happen.  I’m going to continue to explore with both soft feel, suppling, driving and other exercises both on the ground and in the saddle and hope we don’t ever part company when a big chunk of snow gives way.   Maybe somewhere in the middle of all this kerfuffle I’ll discover partnership and Kit will look to me as his savior, leader, alpha, beta or whatever terminology you would like to assign to that lovely equine Zen that occurs when you and your horse are one.

I would love to tell you about all of the great exercises we are working on this winter to build soft feel and create bend and improve gait quality.  I would love to share how you can feel the muscles of softness and beginnings of collection start to build over your horse’s top line.  I would love to start building towards soft lope departures and the short jog.  Instead, I’m a 3rd grade teacher on the last day of school trying hard to engage the students in Simon says and hoping that something is getting through while they bounce off the walls.   Heck, I can’t even get him near the wall!


  1. I do sympathize with you! I have an Azteca filly that you have described perfectly! We don't have the snow slide problem as no indoor arena, otherwise you nailed it. I just keep working away on her attention span, hopefully it is getting longer!

  2. Excuse me if I mis-interpret some of what you are saying but are you drilling the horse or are you giving him new experiences for you both to share? My Paso Fino has many of the traits that you have outlined. He is smart and active- meaning he is always looking for something to do. His mind is always engaged. Have you tried playing ball with him? One of those 30 inch balls? My horse loves to play with the ball while I am on his back! For him, the ball is like a cow to a QH. You just sit still and let him do all the work. He has shown me his amazing athletic ability with The Ball.Try it, you both may enjoy it.

  3. Thank you for your comment. No, I'm not drilling him. At least I don't think of it as drilling. We work on 10-15 different things in varying order each time we ride. I try to go from soft lateral work to free jogging to turns on the fence to forehand/haunch turns to ground poles etc. I've found I have about a 30 second attention span. If I get that much out of him I move on before I lose him again. I haven't tried the ball because I don't have one handy but I bet he would like it.

  4. Jenni, sounds a lot like my TWH Johnnie, but add in several years of "Big Lick" training as a show horse (he failed) by what I'm certain was an abusive trainer (soring scars, and a lot of fear/reactive behaviors), and that's what I began with 8 years ago. Johnnie is 95% the best horse in the world, and then, BOOM, he's not. Lots of release the hindquarters, one rein stops, follow the feel ground and round pen work, and I have a much safer/happier horse. Dressage lessons with him are helping too, as he was quite mute in the mouth (long shank bits originally, I'm sure) and we've improved the "conversation" between my hand and his lips also. He's a lovely, sweet horse, Mr. Perfect on the ground, very emotional and gets shut down easily. He's made me a better horsewoman for it, and I love him dearly.