Saturday, April 26, 2003

All right. I have to be more disciplined in keeping track of my hours and efforts with Level One. Today, I took a work day because rain was predicted. Nothing much came of it but I had four clients to satisfy so I stayed home and designed. Let me see if I can back up...

Cheerios was trained for one purpose: to cut cattle. I tracked down his breeder in Arkansas and he told me that he breeds Paints for color; Cheerios came out solid so he was trained for cattle and sold. Apparently his full brother is a loud flashy show horse. Anyway, Cheerios was taught stand still while you're saddled, stand still until the cow breaks, then run full speed after the cow and screech to a stop when it's been caught. He never learned to transition into a trot or between gaits, or how to longe properly or how to come down out of a canter to a nice trot. The result has been that he doesn't know how to slow down from a canter, and has gotten frustrated and bucked when asked to move from canter to trot. His canter is like flying on air; his trot is like a jackhammer BUT I've gotten him into a nice smooth trot by accident a couple of times so I know it's possible. I'm still learning all the riding techniques so I don't understand how to ask for a transition.

He knows the first three Games. We got stuck on the driving game because of the carrot stick. I'm not the most agressive person, so he has no reason to fear me; but when he sees the stick, he panics and flies off into a full gallop around the pen. All I have to do is raise it a little off the ground and his eyes bug out and he snorts off, even if I'm at the other end of the arena. A few of these incidences and I realized I needed help. Higher-up help than my fellow PNH enthusiasts at the barn could give me. So I went to the Parelli site and started searching for an instructor in my area who might be able to help. That's how I found Bruce Logan.

Bruce handles the Young and Difficult Horses and is as of this writing a 3-star endorsed instructor and a Level 4 graduate. He was doing a clinic near Cleveland in early October 2002. I figured I would email him for advice, and see if I could get into the clinic. Although I was hindered by the lack of horse transportation. Bruce emailed me back with a few suggestions but said it would help if he could see it in person.

Because his fear of the carrot stick (mainly the sound it makes) is so strong, Bruce agreed with my feeling that it might not be a good idea to put Cheerios in a ring with a dozen horses and snapping carrot sticks until he's more relaxed about it. Well, it didn't matter anyway, because I didn't have a truck or trailer, and I found out there was a 12-person waiting list for a Level 1 rider spot. So I gave up on that idea and decided it was time to start horse-shopping.

The fun thing about shopping for horses is that the information is presented in the best light but sometimes you'll get there and realize the horse is a nut. Look at Cheerios—he's a good horse, he has a wonderful personality and lots of it, and he's affectionate and loves to be petted, groomed, and socialized with. And he is absolutely beautiful in the summer after a bath and a good brushing—he shimmers like copper and he has "presence". But he can be a pain under saddle. He bucked me off while on a trail ride during a trot the first year I had him and I was laid up for half the summer with a sprained back and a sudden overwhelming fear of horses that I eventually overcame thanks to an understanding patient friend with an ancient mare. He also is highly intelligent, so you have to be one step ahead of his thoughts.

Cheerios and I had to rebuild our bond from the ground up because we were both afraid of each other after my accident. My friend with the mare temporarily traded me horses and tried working with him to settle him down and teach him transitions and he decided to try bucking her off, too. I've had him examined by the vet (nothing physically wrong) and had a full massage treatment for him, looked at his saddles, tried all kinds of equipment (prior to discovering PNH) and now we're into PNH.

We had just gotten back to where I could trail ride him again, and in January 2002 we went out for a short ride and he bucked all the way home from Harry Hughes Equestrian Center. It is a credit to my riding ability that I was able to stay on. However, I have continued to play as many games as possible with him and just hang out with him so he doesn't go wild. I'm just not confident enough to get back on him yet, and I'm very careful about who I will put on him at this point. If an old cowboy or cowgirl or someone who's experienced with young horses comes out to look at him, I'll let them mount up but I don't feel comfortable letting a 4H-er or novice (other than myself) take a chance. He probably wouldn't do anything bad, but it's my liability if he does. He's not a dangerous horse, and he's not mean—just green and headstrong and too young to be conscientious of taking advantage of someone who isn't experienced.

So. That's him. He needs someone who would be gentle, patient and firm who has prior experience with a strong-minded youngster and the desire and knowledge to do what it takes to develop him into a great horse. I know he has the potential; I just don't know if I have what it takes to bring it out in him but because of my love for him (and, I suppose, my pride), I keep trying.

Been horse-shopping. I dunno if I'd be worse off keeping Cheerios or buying a new horse, judging by what I'm finding.

I've had one wild experience already. I answered an ad for a "lovely Appaloosa mare" who was the right age, had kids ride her, the whole bit. Drove clear out in the boonies to see this wonderful specimen. She was a nice-looking leopard appy. The 12-year-old daughter saddled her up. I was watching her and I got the feeling the kid wasn't completely comfortable doing it. She seemed a bit nervous. So I requested that someone else ride her first so I could observe how she moved. The horse moved fine, but the kid had this barely-contained look of panic on her face and was visibly relieved to dismount.

I thought, well, I don't know... but then if a little girl can handle her, I'm bigger and stronger so I have that going for me so I mounted up. Boy-OH! She took off like a shot, and I decided right then that I was NOT cantering her—it was all I could do to keep her in a trot! We went around the paddock twice. The first time around was brisk but steady. The second time around, when we passed the cornfield, the wind picked up and the corn rustled and the horse sidestepped about 10 feet and tensed up her back. I thought my god, she's gonna buck me off or something, so I aimed her away from the cornfield, whoa'd her to a stop in front of the owners, dismounted, handed them the reins, said "thank you very much" and walked off.

Methinks they did exaggerate her qualities a bit in the ad.

I just don't believe it was a wise thing for them to knowingly put a stranger on a questionable horse. Everyone says they can ride; but only those of us who've had to deal with "real" horses (not the zombies they have at trail riding outfits) know that there is a difference between riding a horse and riding a horse. It's just scary to me that so many people unknowingly take their lives in their hands when buying horses, and that sellers can and will in good conscience allow it to happen! Have you ever heard any buyer's nightmares where it ended tragically? I haven't yet, but I'm sure it's happened. It sure isn't like buying a car.

09.23.02 I found the perfect horse! (and it's all detailed in the previous POST! Excuse me for being a bit out of order in the history...)

10.09.02 Gettin' Savvy!
Nicole and I attended a PNH Level 1 & 2 clinic in Cleveland with our horses. In two days of intense training, I learned all the Seven Games plus riding techniques. I've made remarkable progress. My confidence is built up and my savvy is better. I'm more confident and in control of my horse and know better how to ask for what I want. The instructor was Bruce Logan, a Level 4 rider and Endorsed 3-star PNH instructor, a cowboy who grew up on a cutting horse ranch who knows how to deal with difficult horses (which is why Nicole took her bolter with her). He was riding a 2-year-old stallion who was better behaved than most old plugs. Amazing.

Nicole's been working on Levels 1 & 2 for almost two years now; the only things holding her back from passing her Level 1 assessment were her inability to laterally bend her horse to a stop from a canter (he always went into panic mode and ran off with her) and holding the trot in a figure 8. Well, this guy discovered the problem was that Makona was escaping even at a walk by not standing still. He taught her how to correct it at the walk, trot and canter and how to hold the gait, and she passed Level 1.

I've had a couple of inquiries about leasing Cheerios, but no buyers yet. Oddly enough, we're getting along better now. Maybe it's because the pressure's off of me with him for sale. Oh, well! I'd love to keep him if I can because when I get to Level 3, I'll need a difficult horse to work with, so pray that either my web design biz takes off, I get a killer job, or I win the lottery.

The PNH clinic was very informative—I learned more about horses in two days than I thought possible. Of course I was there for six days; watched the advanced clinics and lessons to see what I have to look forward to. Wildflower and I are off to a great start. Cheerios is a pasture puff. So far, nobody's responded to my horse for sale ads although a couple of young girls are interested in leasing him. I don't think he's right for them, either. Not gonna be responsible for killing a teenager. He needs an assertive man or a very manly woman to ride him.

Wildflower is an awesome horse. My niece's reaction was that she's a bit like their former horse, Chessie. She has a similar attitude: "Oh. You wouldn't be trying to get me to move, would you? Well, you're going to have to ask me the right way. Until then I'll just stand here. Nope, that's not it. Nope, not that either. THERE. *sigh* Now you've got it."

I attended my first Success With Horses Tour in Battle Creek. Nic & Julie went up together and I went on my own. For some reason, since I became really serious about PNH, my friendships with certain people have become strained. Some seem to view me as "competition" (which I don't understand, because PNH is all about improving your SELF, not who's better at communicating with their horse or gets their red string faster); others view me as completely insane, pursuing such a gimmicky "training" method. So it's almost as if I'm being ostracized by both the people IN my group as well as my former group. Personally, I don't see why we all can't be friends and just share knowledge.

I still can't get over all of the amazing feats the Savvy Team were performing with their horses. I know that most of us probably won't ever get to that level, but to see it, and to imagine the possibilities, it's just awe-inspiring. Some of it brings tears to my eyes. I wish my Dad could have seen it; I'll have to take him with me some time.

Wildflower and I are getting along beautifully. We're doing pretty good with the first six games. Our sideways needs lots of work. But in time, it'll get there. We went on our second trail ride last weekend to see the fall colors and it was wonderful. I just wish the fall colors weren't the precursor to frigid winter weather. Now that I have Wildflower, I'm ready to ride.

It took me a couple of days to decompress following two full weekends (and then some) of Parelli Natural Horsemanship!


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