Playing well with others

/ posted in: Horses

This morning C., who is working with Rosie, called to ask if she could bring her sister and their two horses over to work in the arena. I said fine. I had some qualms because C.’s horse is a bit touchy. ‘Out of his bloody mind’ might be a bit more to the point. He achieved lasting fame around here last year during a 4-H show. He refused to jump a 2 foot high jump during a warm-up time and dumped C. While doing that his saddle slipped under his belly. He ran crazy around the ring scattering kids on ponies for a bit until he decided to leave. He then jumped a 5.5 foot fence to leave the arena. He knocked over two people on the other side of the fence – he broke one’s hand and actually knocked the other out of his shoes as he jumped over them. He headed for the hills and wasn’t found for a few hours. The saddle fell off long before he was caught. The escapade is well on its way to achieving urban legend status – “A horse jumped out of the indoor arena once, you know.” On the bright side, C. can now have about any practice arena to herself because parents and trainers pull their kids out of the warm-up area most times when she approaches. Since last summer she says he’s gotten worse. So, sure, bring him over.

Their horses are incredibly bonded. If one goes out of sight the other is horrified. This causes lots of screaming back and forth. It started when C. decided to ride Rosie first. C.’s horse went into Rosie’s stall and therefore out of sight of his buddy. Let the screaming begin.

Spirit and Prize are on either side of the stall he was in peering at him with perplexed looks that clearly stated, “What’s his problem?” Luckily my horses are not bonded in this way and do not understand the behavior. C’s horse started pacing the stall and yelling. After a bit Prize decided to be neighborly and play along. She’d yell along with him but not as enthusiastically because she clearly had no idea why she was yelling. When he started to rear in the stall, she showed him how she can buck in her stall. It was starting to escalate as each tried to one-up the other so I figured it was time to end the game. I gave them both a bit of hay. He was too upset to eat but Prize has never turned down food in her life so she forgot about playing and happily had a snack.

With that commotion settled I watched C. ride Rosie. Rosie was a bit flustered by the presence of C’s sister and her horse in the arena. I told C. that if Rosie got nervous she should turn her head back to C. thigh and hold her until she relaxes. This takes away a horse’s forward motion and you can use it to teach a horse to relax. Rosie got upset as soon as C was on her. I told her to relax and hold her head around. She wasn’t holding her tight enough so I told her to tighten it up, adding helpfully, “With her nose around like that she isn’t going anywhere.”

As the words left my mouth, Rosie decided to rear up and throw herself on the ground. It didn’t quite work. She only hopped up a bit and then didn’t fall down but she did stop. As she came to a stop and C jumped off, I added, “I could have been a bit wrong about that.” Then in the time honored manner of riding instructors everywhere I straightened up the tack and told C, “Right then, she learned a bit of a lesson. Try it again.” As a wimpy rider myself I recognized the look of panic in C’s eyes and decided that peer pressure was the best fix for that.

She did much better after that. There was a lot of stopping and turning but no temper tantrums. She did relax. She started to ignore the other horse and listen to C just as I had hoped. While this was going on C’s sister switched horses. She is much more experienced and braver/crazier than C. When she got ready to get on I entered the arena and walked up to Rosie and C while keeping an eye on the crazy horse. “Ok, remember if he does anything that makes her nervous just turn her. It distracts her.” Pause as C. and I both stare thoughtfully at her horse. “Or, we could say discretion is the better part of valor and have you get off now.” A visibly relieved C. took option number 2.

I went in the house then to get ready for work. I didn’t really want to witness whatever came next. The sister rode the crazy horse for a while and he was doing ok. But that’s the problem – he’s totally unpredictable. C was psyching herself up to ride her horse as I left. There are no bodies in my arena so I’m assuming all went fairly well.