Tuesday, January 27, 2015

She's ..... Opinionated (Mimi part 2)

When the boss asked me to work with Mimi, he had one main goal in mind.  He wanted her to be calm and rideable even when there were unusual and spooky things all around her.  Her primary job at this barn will be as a trail horse.  But riders and horses from this barn have been winning prizes at the local open horse show for years.  The boss sees that kind of potential in this little walking horse. 

He first wanted to see how she would act around distractions and “spooky stuff”.  We used a noisy plastic tarp as an acid test.  As I led her from the pasture toward the hitching rail, he pulled a tarp out and laid it on the ground in front of us.  Mimi walked over it with no problems.  After we passed by, he picked up the tarp and gave it a good shake.  Mimi jumped a bit, but it was a simple thing to get her attention back to me.  I turned her around and walked toward the boss as he continued to shake the tarp.  The little horse wasn’t fazed at all.  I took the tarp and drug and shook it as I led Mimi to the arena.  There, we went through the whole routine.  She walked over the crumpled up tarp and stood there as I draped it over her.  I made it a point to make as much noise with the tarp as possible.  I covered her as far as her head before she started to get nervous.  We worked with that a little bit, then called it a day.

The next session, I saddled up with the intention of taking a ride off the farm into the nearby State Park.  To get there, we have to ride for about an eighth of a mile on a paved public road before reaching a power line right of way where we can get off the road if needed.  Things went fine until we got to the end of the driveway.  Mimi stood perfectly still while we waited for traffic to clear.  But when the time came to move out onto the road, she refused.  I pressed her, but she got more and more agitated.  I decided not to have the fight on pavement and in traffic, so I turned her onto the perimeter trail that circles the farm. 

She continued to resist, but here, I could concentrate on the horse rather than traffic.  I kept pushing her forward and each refusal got a little less enthusiastic.  This portion of the perimeter trail parallels the road.  Several types of vehicles drove by as we worked there, but Mimi paid them no mind.  We rode back and forth beside the road, passing by the driveway several times.  She attempted to duck back down the driveway toward home at first, but after a while she realized we were going to stay here till I was ready to go home.  Each time she refused, I kept her facing the direction I wanted to go and pressed her forward.  She is very responsive, so I didn’t need to get harsh at all.  At odd intervals I would reverse direction, and she gradually settled in with the program.   

After a while I started looking for a way to end the session on a positive note.  She had stopped fighting about going back and forth along the trail.  I decided that the first time she went past the driveway without trying to duck back down it, we would head back to the barn.  When we reached that point I rode past, then turned her around and made a loop into the drive. 

When I got her put away, the boss and I sat and talked for a while.  He told me that he’d had a couple other folks riding her and that they had the same problem.  They had solved it by taking her out with other horses.  I need to get her to move out alone.  I’m still reluctant to engage in a fight in traffic.  I’ll have to figure out a safe way to do that.

Friday, January 9, 2015

A Christmas Surprise (Mimi, part 1)

All my horse gear has been packed up and readied for shipment.  However, the move to our ranch property in the Philippines has been delayed for a while.  Still, the last thing I anticipated was an opportunity for more saddle time here in the U.S.  All that changed with an invitation to the Christmas party at Beaver Hollow Farm, the barn where I’ve been riding for several years.  Folks were surprised to see me.  All indications had been that we would already have moved.  But all of us expressed the hope of a few more rides together. 

The barn owner sympathized with the delay, but I could see the wheels turning in his head.  He asked about my new timeline, then hit me with a welcome request.  “Since you’re going to be here for a while, I just got this little mare I’d like for you to take a look at.”  He knows just how to pique my curiosity.  He continued to add “she’s a good little horse, but she’s…. opinionated.”  He left it at that and we continued with the party. 

This past weekend, I went out to “take a look” at her.  Mimi is a 6 year old Tennessee walking horse, black, with a small white snip on her nose, and just a hint of a white spot on her face.  Bruce, a fellow rider, caught her up for me.  As they approached, I could see that she was a bit nervous.  She was not paying attention to Bruce at all.  Instead, her eyes and ears were focused on her new surroundings.  That’s normal for a horse in a new place, but I wanted her attention on me.  When I took the line from Bruce, I spoke to her and shook the lead to get her attention.  It took a couple of times, but she settled in by my shoulder and walked calmly with me to the hitching rail. 

Mimi has been to charm school.  Her ground manners are impeccable.  Before I mounted, I sacked her out with an oversized shirt.  She stood for all of it, obviously from prior experience.  She stood perfectly still for mounting, and I continued the sacking out from the saddle with no problems.  I tossed the shirt onto the fence and began working on the rail. 

The little horse works off of voice commands.  She turns with very little pressure, almost neck reining.  She stops and backs on voice command.  In short, she has none of the problems I’m usually asked to fix.  But, when I asked for a faster gait, she would start in a smooth running walk for a few strides, then switch into a bouncy pace.  We worked on that for a short time, stopping her when she changed her gait, then starting again.  Then I put her away.

A short time later, the boss and I were sitting in the garage lounge area, and he told me Mimi’s story.  He had bought her from a hunter / jumper barn, an unlikely place for a Tennessee walker.  She wasn’t working out for them there.  I suspect partly because walking horse gaits don’t mesh well with the way a hunter is supposed to move.  He has had two people ride her before I climbed on.  She bucked with both, and tossed one of them.  Both had immediately gathered the reins up tight and stayed in her mouth.  I pride myself on having a light touch on the reins, so that issue didn’t come up with me. 

The boss told me that he wanted to enter her in the local fun show next spring.  He also wants to see how she reacts to distractions such as tarps and obstacles.  So that is my next move with her.  We’ll see what develops.