They say in life that only death and taxes are certain. For those of us who fool with horses, there’s another: Eating crow. Why? Because horse people have strong opinions. And people in general invest a lot of self esteem in being right. But horses also have opinions and are physically strong to boot. Nor do they care about a person’s self esteem. A crow recipe for sure.
Crow is what I had to eat after assuring Maddie H. and her family that Clear would load easily. What I hadn’t done was connect the dots.Clear had been on a mitigated training schedule, and unsupervised by seasoned eyes. He was doing as horses are wont to do, learning things, specifically that his behavior in his world was ALL CLEAR.
When, after an hour an a half of varying persuasive techniques from natural horsemanship to treats, to brooms to get him on Maddie’s trailer, he simply sat down making his position CRYSTAL CLEAR, I didn’t know whether to laugh of cry. I did both--inwardly of course, because as Director I had my self esteem to uphold. I slipped my phone out of my pocket and shot that photo, because I had never seen a horse do that and well...it was so darn funny!!! He wasn’t panicked. There was no danger. But clearly, we had a problem.
Our helpers from the van service wanted to lift Clear on. They were sure they could do it. Taking their respective sizes into consideration, especially the physique of the Hulk look-alike, Danny-from-down-the road, I thought it likely they could. I glanced at Maddie. Her face was pale; her eyes red rimmed. Her father, rocked, pendulum-like from right foot to left, checking the time, reminding me silently of the dwindling day light and their long drive to South Carolina. Her mother had that pinched “Is this the right horse for my daughter look?” on her face.
It would have been so easy to give Danny-from-down-the road and team the nod. That would have made them happy. Maddie would have gotten her horse that day. Her father would be on the road in daylight. Her mother would come to see how lovely a horse Clear really was. My self esteem would have remained intact. But it wasn’t the right thing to do by Clear or by Maddie in the long run. And while I have never enjoyed eating crow, I have learned over many years of ingesting it that despite its disagreeableness, it’s a good thing, like age-old castor oil or new age tofu.
“STOP! That’s enough, boys! Thank you very much!”
“BUT, but, but...”
No buts. It was clear what needed to be done.
- Load Studio Time up and send him on his way with thanks to the team for their help. (Studio, to my great relief walked right on without looking back).
- Get Maddie and her family in the car and headed home. (It was a somber moment but I promised her that in the scheme of eternity, she would not notice the extra week without him.
- Come up with a plan to adjust Clear’s world view. He was acting like a first semester freshman in college. A little too much liberty had gone to his head. He needed Rules, Consequences and How To Make Good Choices 101.
The timing, however, was awkward. We were a mere week away from our first fundraiser as a new 501(c)3, Sips N Saddles. Plans for the party were ambitious: A demonstration of the various aspects of the Horse Centered Reschooling Program®, a bluegrass band, a live and a silent auction, gourmet food, hand dipping of signature Maker’s Mark bourbon bottles. The “to do” list was staggering--errands, cleaning inside and out, rehearsals with the horses, working with the caterer, finding servers, answering the phone, which was ringing off the hook.
Thank God for Tony My Tiger, MMSC farm manager extraordinaire, an innate horse whisperer although he won’t admit it yet. He thinks that as he doesn’t know how to ride that he is not a horseman. Wrong! Tony naturally exercises my five principles of horsemanship, safety, respect, attitude, heed, and celebration. If I had the money, I would pay for riding lessons for him because he already has all the right instincts about how to talk to horses. Riding would widen his vocabulary.
“Tony, do your thing. Remind Clear of how his world works best, and when that’s clear, teach him to load” is all I had to say. I moved my lap top to the conference room which overlooks the arena so I could keep an eye on their progress while I worked on the party.
The keystone of dressage is FORWARD. It’s no different in Natural Horsemanship. Tony knows that. So when he put Clear on a circle with a rope halter and he backed up, Tony made the correct choice easy and the incorrect choice hard (i.e. “Ok. back up. How about all around the arena and then some?” Or lots of coaxing forward with a clicking whip.). Thoroughbreds are smart. They get the options pretty quick. But they also have a ton heart and often a high tolerance for discomfort. How else could they run their legs off and their hearts out? That drive can be tricky to redirect if a horse is committed to his own world view. And Clear had a clear vision of how his life should be! He changed his motion from backwards to sideways. Tony is quick, though, and strong, with excellent reflexes and he trumped the sideways trick with changes of direction through a yielding shoulder. When Clear responded, Tony took the pressure off and praised. Once FORWARD is established, the next building block is RELAXATION. When Clear was moving forward and changing direction with no begrudgingly behaviors, the day’s session was over. But one triumphant battle does not win a war.
For the next week Clear worked twice a day. Groundwork with Tony in the morning. Riding in the afternoon, Interns were instructed to carry a crop and to let him know gently at first, and with increasing clarity if necessary that once under saddle, all systems were GO FORWARD! No objections allowed. After three days, the old Clear was back.
“Time to bring your trailer, Tony.”
The MMSC doesn’t have a trailer of its own (would anyone like to donate one?), so Tony graciously brought his own and parked it in the arena. Clear eyed it suspiciously when he came in, but after working in the rope halter with Tony for a short while, he relaxed. Tony walked him right up to the opening let him look in, pet and praised him, and asked him to step on, which Clear did.
|Tony and Lindsay teaching Mr. Segrettto to load.|
As a short aside, the silver lining of this situation for the MMSC, was that Tony spent the whole afternoon with every one of our horses, repeating the lesson over and over until it was learned by all. On top of that he used the opportunity to work with each of our interns individually so that they understood the concepts and had ample practice with them.. I found myself very grateful for the mishap and vowed to ask him to bring his trailer regularly because it was so valuable for both four and two legged MMSC students!
Maddie and her family came the day after the Sips N Saddles party. Yes, Clear loaded on their trailer just fine and got to his new home in South Carolina. End of story.
Not really. Here's how it really ends:
Clear is doing so wonderful! I am very glad that you kept him for that extra week, even though it was very frustrating not being able to bring him home. I believe he needed that last little 'therapy' session to get him back to where he needed to be, it definitely saved me from a lot of frustration! Clear has so much talent and natural ability under saddle. The one thing I love most about him (under saddle) is his heart. Now that he has learned that I am to be respected and obeyed, he no longer asks "why?" when I ask something of him, he simply goes forward. Every now and then when he is very hot and tired he will try to stop, but never back up and it takes only a little encouragement from the crop to make him go. Clear is truly a blessing. I loved the experience I had at MMSC and I am so thankful that we did decide to go the adoption route. I would recommend you all to anyone who was looking for off the track Thoroughbreds. You all were so very helpful, and the fact that you were really concerned about the well being of your horses while you had them and after they were gone. I want to thank you for all your help and I am so thankful for Clear!
Thank you, Maddie, for your patience and understanding that I had made a mistake and needed extra time to get everything ALL CLEAR. I appreciate that and you!