Sunday, October 12, 2008

Some background on my experience

Very soon, I'd like to talk about the first few sessions where we worked with the mustangs, but first I'll have to introduce a little background to my experience with horses.

Well, I have ALWAYS been infatuated with horses. I ran around on all fours. My dad cut 2X4's into blocks I could hold onto, so that I made a "clippy-clop" sound as I galloped from here to there. My older cousin would take me riding and so would my great aunt. Finally when I was 10 years old, we bought a ~15yr old POA from an auction. Pogo (I named him after the bouncy sticks) was an ex-gaming horse, so when he first came to us, he was very hot. My dad spent a lot of time riding him and calming him down before he turned me loose with him. And turn me loose, he did! I didn't have any other horse friends nearby so most of my riding exploits were alone. I rode my little POA everywhere, even "downtown" Warrens (tiny town about a couple hundred people). We blazed trails and had adventures. Pogo would go anywhere I asked. I learned excellent balance, but I never took any riding lessons, so I'm sure my form was less than great. Also, Pogo had two speeds: walk and RUN! If I let him run for a while, he'd eventually slow down into a pseudo-canter, but as soon as he caught his breath, he wanted to go again. If I let him run anywhere near home, I'd have to fight him as he jigged all the way home. Needless to say, I usually walked everwhere. We did trot some, and if I wanted to run, I did it early in the ride as we were going away from home so that he'd settle down again. And usually, the last 1/4-1/2 mile to home, he'd jig anyway, so I usually dismounted and led him because I didn't want him to be all hot and lathered when we got back. Pogo was my first horse and I really couldn't have asked for a better one. He had the most outstanding feet. The only time he wore shoes was the time my dad took him packing and hunting in Colorado. He was trustworthy and honest (except I usually had a hard time catching him in his pasture). Once caught though, he had impeccable ground manners and was a great kids horse because he wasn't spooky at all. Oh boy...if my dad knew about half the things I did with that horse. Once, I thought I wanted to teach him to pull, so I tied (yes, tied, with a knot) a long rope with a log at the end to his saddle and led him while he pulled it. I know I was lucky I didn't have a wreck, but he was a great horse. I wish I knew all the things I know now back then because I think I could have improved how I handled his jigging. I would also have gotten rid of the western curb bit and tried something different (though we did use a mechanical hackamore on him a lot). I miss him. We had to put him to sleep when I was in college. One winter, his condition really deteriorated and despite having his teeth done and being fed mash everyday, he didn't gain much weight back over the following summer. We didn't want him to suffer through the harsh Wisconsin winters without enough weight on him, so that fall, before the last of the green grass left, we put him to sleep. We never knew his exact age, but I think he was close to 30 when he passed on.
In this photo are my two little sisters, me holding Pogo, and my dad saddling his quarter horse, Choco. My clothes crack me up!My dad on Choco and my and my little sister and I on Pogo. We are riding through my great uncle's pond on a cranberry marsh.
So, I never learned leg cues as a kid because with my horse, if I put leg on at all, he was off like a rocket. I only knew neck-reining. I bought a green 4-yr old arabian, named Brandy, from my great aunt in my late teens and just didn't understand why she didn't know how to neck rein (boy did I have a lot to learn). We only had the arabian for about 4 years because she foundered on our pasture two years in a row...the last time was so bad and the ground was frozen. She was in a lot of pain so we had her euthanized (another thing I wish I knew more about I know we should have just dry lotted her and done some good barefoot trims, and she would have pulled through). We did have a couple other horses move through, but they were my dad's horses, so I never rode them. I had Pogo and Brandy. We also had another quarter horse and appaloosa mule while I was in college, but I was busy and didn't get to come home a lot, so my dad ended up selling them to a friend of his. After college I worked several temporary field research positions, then landed a research technician position at the vet school in Madison, WI. I worked there for two years before I came out to Idaho to pursue my Master's degree.

In Madison, I started to feel my horselessness. I was living in the biggest city I'd ever lived in, and I was feeling my disconnection from nature. One of the women I worked with (she was obtaining her PhD) was an instructor at University of Wisconsin - Madison's Hoofer Riding Club. She talked me into coming out to the barn to see what lessons were all about (I was a little intimidated by the thought of lessons because I had learned how ignorant I was as a child and was afraid I wasn't going to be good at lessons). While I was there, I sat on a stool and watched my friend give a private lesson. As the person on the horse went around the arena, I found my body aching to be on that horse. I was almost subconsiously moving with the horse's rhythm. Right then, I decided I needed to take lessons just so I could ride. I began in the advanced beginner session (everyone who starts lessons has to start as a beginner), then quickly progressed to more advanced lessons, then gained my senior rider status (so I could ride the lesson horses unsupervised in the arena). While in lessons I learned how to use my legs, how to properly ride with rein contact, to wear a helment, and how to sit a canter (never did that as a horse only galloped!). The lessons were english riding (I general ride western when given a choice), but I learned so much about proper leg cues.
Here is me standing in front of the sign at Hoofer's.
After a year of lessons, I stopped because they were expensive, but I continued riding. A woman who boarded at the Hoofer's barn asked me to ride her thoroughbred to keep him in shape, since she didn't have time to ride him enough. Another woman who worked in my department at work asked me to ride her American Warmblood on trail rides to keep her mind fresh (she was trying to retrain her at 13 years old to pull carriages in driving competitions, but the mare really wasn't liking it).
Here I am riding Kodie, the thoroughbred.
This is Addie, the American Warmblood. She was a beautiful horse, and huge! I think she is the tallest horse I've ever ridden.

So I had never trained any horses before getting the mustangs, and I had only recently learned how to refine my riding cues and aids. All the horses I'd ridden had been trained, although most of them had their issues (my arabian would freak out about crossing pavement because she thought the painted road lines were going to eat her, the woman's thoroughbred had horrible conformation and uncomfortable gaits, Pogo jigged). I had good balance from riding since I was 10, which is what I think allowed me to pick up everything else quickly.

Next time, I'll talk about the first few sessions with training the mustangs. I did not work with them; Todd's mom did because she had watched some round-penning demos and I had never worked with an untrained horse before (much less a wild one). More next time!

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