Tuesday, December 3, 2013

From Resistance to Wreck: the Sour Horse, Part I

Oh, what a transition.  For the past two weeks I have intended to sit down and proclaim first the joy of "that new horse smell," followed by a few updates on retraining what is clearly a resistant horse with some bad manners.  I had looked forward to sharing progress reports on an absolutely adorable buckskin gelding who had plenty of experience under saddle but a poor foundation.  I was eagerly anticipating writing, one day, about the pleasure of this now-reliable horse, and about many trail miles we were sharing.

Whiskey, an absolutely adorable buckskin gelding!
Copyright (2013) by MJ Miller

Whiskey came to me from a much-loved friend who needed to place him due to a move.  I was honored and flattered and excited.  I let him settle in for a couple of days and then carefully saddled him and led him to the flat, less-rocky unfenced area we consider our arena.  I was cautious but was well aware that he had been ridden on several long, demanding, multi-day group trail rides and was highly spoken of by all the people I know who had seen him.   As such, I climbed right on him to assess him.

Wow.  Suddenly there was resistance.  He wouldn't turn to the right; he started tossing his head in agitation, trying to avoid the bit; and his tail was switching constantly.  He was … pissy.  I asked him to move forward in a walk and he started moving sideways and acting as if he was about to buck.  I hopped off, took him to the round pen, and watched him move.

Even in the round pen he was an annoyed little man.  He bucked a few rodeo bucks with the saddle on -- nothing that concerns me, really, as I don't mind a horse that bucks with the saddle as long as that saddle is empty.  He ignored me, for the most part, and turned away to watch whatever was going on in the neighborhood beyond.  He was lazy and he didn't want to complete the circle without continually turning of his own accord. I could see that he didn't really know how to carry himself; he held his head too high, wouldn't give to the bit, and moved awkwardly.  I bitted him up, very gently and slowly, and worked him for a few minutes.  He quickly started to grasp the concept but his neck was ewe-shaped from carrying his head high to escape the bit for the past couple of years, so I figured I'd bit him on a regular basis (but not too long at one time) to help him develop those necessary upper-neck muscles without getting sore.

And so I did.  I bitted him using an elastic bitting connector I made, so he'd learn to give to the bit.  He began to set his head nicely.  His loins began to develop and his neck got prettier.  He became less eager to challenge me by turning in the direction I did not want him to go.  I could see great signs of progress.

Here he is on his first day of bitting.  You can see how resistant he is in the movement of his tail, the general body language, his obvious irritation at being asked to work -- and what am I asking him for?  Nothing more than to give to the bit, drop his head, and trot, unburdened by a rider or a hard day's work.  Just that:  trot out, submitting politely to the bit.  Whiskey, Day I. 

On day two, I saw distinct signs of improvement, and by day three, he was clearly getting the concept and just beginning to give to the bit without having to think about it first.  Whiskey, Day II.  Whiskey, Day III.  (Please note that these are brief excerpts from those day's lessons.)  After day three of bitting him, I quit videotaping it because he was going so nicely there really wasn't much to show -- just a nice, steady, polite gelding trotting around with a happy expression.

I rode him a few times around the property, using the arena area and the perimeter training trail we put in.  On several of those occasions, my husband climbed on and did the same exercises I was doing:  teaching Whiskey how to walk forward with motivation and collection; how to stop and back nicely and fluidly; how to respond to leg commands (of which he knew next to nothing).  We both agreed that he was a nice horse who needed to learn all the basics that he'd either forgotten or never knew to begin with.  He'd started out as a guest ranch horse, and suffered from that guest-ranch-horse syndrome:  a series of riders who weren't all necessarily good ones, a need to escape harsh hands by tossing his head to avoid the bit, and an overall attitude of annoyance from long and likely uncomfortable or even painful days of being over-worked.  (This happened before my friend bought him -- she was a loving and competent owner.)  It was understandable that this horse displayed the traits that he did.

As I write this, I sit with ice bags on various body parts.  I'm wondering how I'm going to pay for the parts of the urgent care visit that insurance won't cover, much less the $120 in pain remedies, muscle rubs, knee and wrist braces, and related drugstore items.  On my next update, I'll share Whiskey's progress -- and how his resistance translated to wreckage:  mine!

Copyright © 2013 by MJ Miller.  All rights reserved.   No part of this content, including photographs, may be copied in whole or in part without the express permission of the author.  However, a link to this page may be freely shared.  Thank you for pinning, sharing, liking, forwarding and otherwise helping me grow my audience!

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