Although horses have a naturally defined personality, we shape it. They are born with a personality that is like metal -- some are gold, some are tin, and they all have their own unique traits -- but we can shape that metal, mold it, melt it, form it into something good or great or really awful. Some horses have naturally pleasing personalities; others are less honest, and they will perform beautifully if they know that there's something in it for them (just like humans). How we decide to shape the metal of their personality -- the metal of their mettle, if you will -- is critical.
Whiskey, from what I can tell, was born as a level-headed and affectionate horse. He was probably never the most motivated animal; that, like other components of personality, is something horses are born with or not. Whiskey would have made a wonderful backyard horse, laid back and happy to hang around beside you, getting his head rubbed and sneaking a treat here and there from your pocket. He's a lover, by nature.
I'm always telling my riding students that horses' life stories are written on them in the form of their behavior -- just like us. What has happened to a horse can be read in them by a person who is attuned to that sort of thing. Many of us do it intuitively, although we might not analyze it and put it into so many words.
Here's what I read from Whiskey's personality: He'd been born calm and friendly, and that personality made him a perfect choice to tote green riders around on a guest ranch. He is cute as can be -- a sweet eye, a gorgeous golden color, and his black points. He is a nice all-around horse with a smooth trot that hints of something gaited far back in his pedigree, maybe back when the Quarter Horse was infused with plenty of its Narragansett Pacer foundation stock -- maybe there's some single-foot still in Whiskey. Since I don't know his pedigree, I can't rule out that he has some Walker blood in there somewhere -- who knows? I do know he's got an easy trot to sit.
What else I've read is that somewhere, Whiskey got spoiled and sour. All the different riders with their different styles bred an inconsistent approach when he was ridden. He likely never had a proper foundation -- meaning that he never learned fully the principles of collection, submission, and impulsion. He was taught to steer and to stop and to move forward when asked -- and that's about all, but he did it well. And then he learned that no matter how good he was, people would pull on his head and the bit would hurt him, so he began lifting his head and bracing his neck. This gave him some measure of comfort, but it would cause him to hollow his back -- and that would cause him back pain. Guess what? That back pain would make those rides not so much fun for him.
That's the point where resistance comes in and becomes a habit. An otherwise fine horse learns that the reward for good behavior is no reward at all: it is more riders, more work, more discomfort, more pain. Whiskey soon figured out that as long as he behaved, the work would keep coming. I do know he was overworked -- and then he was very, very fortunate, because a very loving couple acquired him.
Whiskey did a few more long rides, and then he came my way. With him, he brought his natural affection -- and our man-made resistance. If you've read my previous post, you'll know how that resistance showed in his motion and behavior. If you haven't, read it here: From Resistance to Wreck, Part I. In my next post, I'll share more of the sequence of events that lead to the making of a "dirt angel" -- that distinctive imprint in the dirt of someone whom, moments earlier, was happily a-horseback, and then launched into the dirt to flail around for a few unhappy moments, unable to do anything other than writhe in pain (and bellow like a water buffalo).
Oh, the joys of horses!
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