Thursday, April 10, 2014

From Scratch

I left off asking, How did I fail Moon?...

Well, I'm not entirely sure that I failed him. He's not mentally fried, he's not crippled...He's not dead. If he's not any of those things...It's technically not a failure.

Moon became the horse he is was due to circumstances in his life. He was never a good-doer. He never looked poor, but the first 10 years of his life he wasn't exactly blossoming either. It wasn't like I didn't try to fix him along the way...I was constantly working on his diet, got his teeth fixed by a better equine dentist than the vets I had previously used, tried supplement after supplement, but nothing really brought him around. So basically the personality that developed was mostly due to the fact the horse just didn't feel good. He functioned, but he survived by just sinking into himself.

I always felt a little sorry for Moon. I always thought it was just a shame that he couldn't seem to blossom into the horse I thought he should be.

I hated to get into fights with him over his perpetual resistance and I settled for less than complete softness and willingness. I always said or thought, Poor Moon...He's just so weak you know? I hate to push him too hard. I don't want to hurt him. When he gets stronger, he'll be able to handle himself better. At least he's trying.

I made every excuse in the book for this horse. And I let him get away with a LOT of shit that I would NEVER have tolerated from another horse. Unless he made me super mad and then I'd get after him.

Well, eventually, after the ulcer episode, I got him on the right diet and he started changing. Every once and awhile I'd get made at him and realize that he was no longer the puny, weak, docile horse I had known for so long and I'd really get into trying to fix his insistent resistance problem and then I'd lapse back into thinking of him as I had thought of him for so long. I still didn't want to wrestle with him too much, too often...He is still not a super strong horse physically and I didn't want to do anything too stupid and take him out of competition. I've had to stop competing anyway several times over the last few years for a few things, his breathing being the biggest concern with it gets hot.

But things have just not gotten better through the years. Moon's disposition has changed and he doesn't live in the basement anymore (I'll explain that). He still tries to go there sometimes, but I don't let him wallow around down there. I ask him to please come back upstairs with the rest of us...And his typical response is to fly off the handle. He goes straight to the 5th floor and holds it...and holds it...and holds it. Most horses won't hold a grudge. Moon will!! He has a very hard time letting go...

I have made many, many mistakes with this horse over the years. I cannot deny that. Sometimes I had a pretty good idea of the kind of horse I was dealing with and other times I was fairly oblivious. After I was told I was 'unnecessarily hard' on him, I tried much harder to get along with him. I underestimated what a calculating ass he was, because of course the person who told me that, was seeing the good, 'I'm trying so hard here and she just isn't getting it' Moon. Not the horse I generally had to deal with.

I think the one professional that ever came close to gauging Moon correctly was Sue Smith. She watched him work and she told me, 'If I was you, I'd be tying that horse's head down until you get that resistance out of him'. I wished I would have listened to HER and not the other jackwagon who told me, *I* was the ONLY problem the horse had. (sigh). Lesson learned!! Go with your gut. If your gut is telling you there's a problem with your horse...THERE'S a freaking problem with your horse. I spent the last 3 seasons busting my hump trying to become the kind of rider this horse needed...and I got butkiss out of it. We are worse off now than when we started because Moon has learned how to play the game. I was not paying attention to the horse that he was becoming...and I still wasn't doing anything to actually help him develop mentally. I muddled around with a few things, but most of them were geared toward just trying to get his adrenaline dumps out of the way before we competed. I wasn't doing much to actively teach him how to work through them.

That mentality has slowly been changing this year though. I have shifted more of my focus to actively working Moon through those adrenaline dumps, although I still wasn't comfortable letting him wallow around on the 5th floor until he figured it out. I was ever conscious of getting him OUT of that place as quickly as possible.

I don't know if I reached my limit this last weekend or it was just dumb luck that I decided to work on his gate thing that day. I don't always have the ability to do that. But the more I worked him, the more I realized that this has just gone on too long and it's high time he learns how to deal with things more appropriately. Zooming to the 5th floor just because he has to be in the vicinity of an arena gate is completely unacceptable. Getting stuck there until he was physically exhausted was his OWN doing.

I have no idea if deciding to go a head and run him was the absolutely correct thing to do. I won't know until the next time. But at the time, although I wasn't mad, I was determined to prove to him that no matter how tired he made himself outside the arena...He still had a job to do. A job, in my opinion, he has not been doing well for quite some time.

This opinion is a reemergence of some of my old philosophies. I never used to THINK about barrel racing so much. I just did it. My horse just did it. That was their JOB damn it! Look...I've seen some pretty shitty riders that can go out and WIN. It's because their horses go in there and do their JOB. And here I have a horse, who no matter how hard *I* work at improving...Is getting worse and worse. We are running slower than ever and STILL hitting barrels fairly regularly...And not all of those are due to pilot error. I'm perfectly willing to admit when I screw up.

But even when I know we are perfectly positioned to make a beautiful turn...we are doinking barrels?


Letting Moon wallow through his anxieties until HE started figuring a way out of the situation last weekend may have been the tipping point. Maybe for the first time, in a long time, I SAW the horse I am dealing with. This is a horse that does not know how to deal with anxiety. If he's not allowed to suck into himself...He goes completely the other direction and wants to lose it. There is no middle ground.

Well, at the ripe old age of 16, with several years of competition under his belt...Moon just went into full-on training. The days of placating my passive-aggressive, not always an introvert horse are OVER. Maybe for the first time in his life, Moon is going to have to figure out how to placate ME.

One more coming up...And it will be about the on/off thing everyone is wondering about. :-)


Madeline C. said...

You've been working so hard and doing so much with this horse that I think it will pay off. Maybe he needs something other than the race? Maybe he wants to try for something else? Don't give up. You'll find it :)

Unknown said...

I'm on seat edge to hear what you are going to do with this horse! How do you help him manage his mental attitude? What do you ask him to do, and how do you ask it?
Madeline C- this is an anxiety management issue, not a 'discipline' issue. He would be the same horse not managing his stress whether he was trail riding, working cows, or working as a calendar model.

BrownEyed Cowgirl said...

Faith-You are quit correct. I stopped reining on Moon (although he was quite awesome at it) because he started to get too hot to perform correctly, but I had also started barrel racing on him along the way and the general consensus was that it was normal for this to happen.

I thought it was strange that he couldn't handle both...because his mother did. In fact, his mother was beyond awesome in the mental department. I could show her in every class at a horse show and then go kick butt on her in all of the speed events. I know that it is rare for a horse to be THAT multi-talented, but I don't believe in one-trick ponies and Moon is proving to be even less than that. :-/

Funder said...

Even if you've wasted time coddling Moon while you trained yourself to be a better rider, you've learned so much! Whether or not you ever get him going right, you're going to kick so much more ass with the next horse. And I wouldn't bet against you and Moon - he's not done.

Kestrel said...

Stacy Westfall had a phrase that stuck in my mind...a horse must learn emotional control.
You've done an awesome job of training Moon, and this last hurdle is just another part of the journey.

I've had several horses in for training that actually tickled me when they started expressing 'dang I'm grumpy' instead of locking down. Who knew an honest pissy evasion would be better than the internal nuclear explosion horses!

Cut-N-Jump said...

One thing I seen about the best way to get the answers you want is to ask your mentor(s)- What would YOU do? So when Sue Smith told you what she would do... That speaks volumes and don't beat yourself up over it because we all know hindsight is 20/20. Damn the luck.

I agree that most horses won't or don't hold grudges. I know one pony in particular (Kat) who can hold a wicked grudge when he feels he has been wronged. Once on his 'shit list'- you will ALWAYS be on his 'shit list'. Not much 'forgive and forget' in his world, but I love him just the same.