I come bearing good news and bad news. The bad news is that I have completely failed myself and all of my readers for not having posted for several months. I wish I had a better, more creative excuse for this, but truthfully the only thing I can say is that I have been SO BUSY. Which leads me to the good news: despite my lack of updates on this blog, I have indeed been playing with, riding, and submersing myself in horses more now than ever. My life has been so exciting and there are so many things I must fill you in on!
First and foremost is what I refer to as the Sassy Saga. I had mentioned in a previous post that I was planning on taking Sassy to the Harry Whitney clinic in Floyd this year, and many will be happy to know this did in fact happen. Prior to the clinic I played with her three times out at Terrie's farm, and our sessions for the most part went surprisingly well. I truly had NO idea what to expect, what side of Sassy was going to show up, or how she was going to react, but I rode her three times and overall she handled it well. The main idea behind doing this was to reacquaint myself with Miss Sass so that I would not arrive at the clinic having not worked with this horse for two years. On my second ride on her at Terrie's she did twist around a bit, get a little snarly, and I did come off of her, but it was nothing serious, just Sassy reminding me that she is far from "fixed".
So clinic time rolled around and needless to say I learned a LOT at that clinic. It was the week of the 24th of September until the 30th, and it proved to be six days of intense horsemanship. The first day we worked on the ground in the round pen, and after a while Harry came in and worked with her. She was getting very snarly when he went to direct her from the saddle area, and when he began to rub her side and back, she began to buck and pin her ears. He held in there and kept on rubbing until she was able to accept it, then he backed off and went on his merry way. The big thing I realized from their time together is that I can't let her dwell on those negative feelings for long. I have to get in there, get it done, and move on. I can't nag her because that's when her resentment kicks in. I have to git 'er done, not make a big deal about it, then she'll feel better about it. It's all about CLARITY.
4 years ago, a couple of months after we bought Sassy and Charlotte, we decided to leave Sassy in a stall while we took Charlotte down the road to ride her. When we returned, Sassy was in a deep sweat and clearly very nervous. We called a horse friend of ours who told us she would get over it and calm down if we just close the top half of the stall door. BAD IDEA. The second the top half was latched, she began to run in circles around the stall and go nothing short of bazerk. We immediately reopened the top half, and went to get a lead rope when she decided she needed to get out of there NOW. She proceeded to jump over the four-foot high door and out of the stall. The only obvious physical consequence at the time was a big long gash on her back left leg, but it soon became clear she had really hurt her back in this accident as well. Therefore, after that she was never consistently ride-able because she was either in pain from her back or mentally unsound to ride.
With all that said, we have since that accident, not really had the opportunity to work through any stall issues Sassy has. I saw this as a perfect scenario in which to do that. I led Sassy into the stall, and right away she became very nervous. I asked her to go in and out of the stall until she was able to go in more calmly and feel better about it. I then handed her to Harry. He took her halter off and got a flag from the nearby tack room. He explained to me that if she began to get nervous, anxious, or try to get out of the stall in any fashion, he was going to make a huge commotion. After asking why, he told me it was because if she started to feel all these emotions, it was because her mind was leaving the stall. If she began to attempt to jump out, it would be to follow her mind which had already left the stall. Therefore, he would whack the flag on the side of the stall or make some other kind of noise to bring her back to the stall mentally.
He had to make several commotions, and in total Sassy tried to jump out a couple of times; but, Harry caught it early and brought her thoughts back to the stall. She began to relax, blow out, and lick and chew quite a bit. She eventually got to the point where we could all leave and she was able to stay calm and not get emotional at all. We moved her to a stall closer to all the other horses, and we decided to test it by leaving her in there over lunch. I came back from lunch to find a calm. happy Sassy munching on hay next to her buddy Niji (Tom Moate's horse).
Harry said she needed a lot of non-demanding rides on her, meaning rides in which she learns its alright to just go forward and not worry about someone pulling on her mouth. She had a big breakthrough this ride and I know she left feeling a lot better about things than she did when she came to that round pen.
The next day the lesson consisted of basically the same thing, except we did it at a trot. I trotted her around in the round pen some, and though she was going around with her head up and tight, she was going and that's all we were focusing on. We couldn't force her to relax her carriage, and Harry said that was something that would come in time when she began to truly feel better and trust that I wont pull on her.
The fourth day of the clinic, Sassy reacted very negatively when I saddled her, and after having Harry look at her we determined her back was very sore. The saddle I was riding her in didn't fit her well, and that combined with all the riding we had been doing and her initial back problems from the accident caused her to be very sore and un-rideable. I got some good stuff going on the ground with her, then put her back in her stall.
Tom Moate's gave me permission to work with Niji, his little pony he brought who ended up not being ridden by anyone. So I saddled him up, played with him on the ground, and hopped on. He was a fun little pony, and I enjoyed riding him and working through some stuff with him. His big "thing" was crookedness and lack of focus. He was very aware of where the gate was, and was always pulling toward it by falling in on that shoulder towards it and at one point he even bluntly just took off with me toward it. I held on and got control back, but I can officially join the "Been Ran Off With Niji" Club that has been famously written about in Tom's works.
The final day of the clinic we checked Sassy;s back again and she was still sore. This was the day my family was going to come and watch me ride, so I had to call them to tell them not to because Sassy was still un-rideable.
Instead, Tom offered to let me ride Jubal, his big, lofty Quarter Horse Harry worked with all Summer. He was quite fun and I thoroughly enjoyed the little ride a had on him. He was very sensitive, so it was a really neat experience. Tom then asked if I'd like to ride his other Quarter Horse Festus, to which I said of course! He was fun as well, and I am now able to say I have ridden all three of Tom Moate's steeds.
Later that afternoon I brought Sassy up to the arena for some ground work. I wanted to long line her, so I saddled her up, and after working through some stuff that showed up when I circled her, I snapped on the long lines.
Long lining Sassy was probably the most fun I had all week. She picked up on it like a pro and before long we were trotting figure 8's, cantering circles both ways, and getting really nice, connected, precise transitions. She felt GOOD. Harry checked her back following the 30 minutes we long lined and he said her back was not nearly as tight or reactive as it was that morning. He gave me permission to get on her and we ended up riding for about 20 minutes. She got a little snarly, but I just worked her through it and didn't let her dwell on those thoughts. She was able to trot for a good portion of time, and we ended on that note.
All in all the clinic was a great learning experience for both me and Sassy. I went into it with the notion that we could fix all her problems and she could come home, live with me, and be my next project horse. However, when she developed her soreness half way through the week, it was like Deja Vu back to when Mom and I spent two years trying to work with her through her pain and mental discomfort. It was a roller coaster, and we were never able to get her in a dependable place where she consistently felt good about what was going on. Sassy is back on Terrie's farm, however I have been working with her quite a bit since the clinic. However, all those stories are for the next post...