The following day R flew out for a horse show. At the end of our lesson the previous day he had delivered an ultimatum.
"If you can't get this horse to settle down and walk, he needs to be just a pleasure horse."
Those word hung in my head like clouds on an overcast day, along with the nagging fear that my horse was not alright. I knew that I had to do something. But what? I first consulted the "great internet sages". Most where stumped and offered little advise, and the ones who did wanted me to buy a $60 "carrot stick", a special rope halter and have me play a bazillon games with my horse. I didn't really see how that could help...
When I went to the barn that day I spent about an hour just on his grooming. I fussed over him and patted him and fed him carrots and grapes(his favorite treat) mostly to make myself feel better. I watched for any signs of odd behavior or lameness. I wished there where someone else in the barn who could take a look at him for me, another pair of eyes with judgment unclouded by the frightening experience that Fame and I had been through the previous day. I felt that since I lacked another person's objective I could send Fame out on a lunge line and perhaps get a better look for myself.
I clipped the line to his halter and sent him out. He walked slowly and calmly for one whole circle, and then began to build up and started to jog. I corrected with the lunge line.
"Walk," I stated firmly. Fame looked over at me with one ear back against his head the other pointed at me, and the whites of his eyes showing. He blew and began to nervously take up a trot.
"Walk!" I enforced again with my line. He gave me the same buggy eyed look and began to jig on the line. An idea was forming, I felt that I may have stumbled on to something. Fame didn't know what I was asking him, this was something that was contrary to his routine. The last one million times he'd been lunged in this barn it was always the same. He honestly thought that he was supposed to trot and was genuinely apprehensive and confused. I did a mental survey of all of my lessons with R, and all the workout routines I'd ever seen him do with any of the horses. It was all the same. The same patterns on the same day, every week, every month.
Every time we went out in the buggy we always trotted along the path, walk the round-a-bouts, and picked up the trot again on the straight. As where were coming out of the turn he'd anticipate the trot and build energy, after several buggy sessions I believe he also began anticipating our fights, which piled nervous energy onto a horse that could already be labeled as "hot" and that energy built and built and then there was an explosion. I believe Fame thought that he was doing what he was supposed to do. What his daily routine dictated was right. It had been hard wired into is brain for years. But the question remained about how I was to go about fixing it.
I told Fame to whoa and put him back in his stall, and went home to formulate a plan.
"Obedience," My roommate said. "You need to reenforce the obedience. You need to be certain that he knows what you are saying."
"R took the harness with him to the show, and the cart is broken," I replied.
"Lunge him, he gets three seconds to respond to your request and then correct him. He needs to understand the basic's of what you are telling him before you add harness, saddles, carts and things."
I took the advice to heart, and the following day my roomie and I both went out to the barn. I borrowed a bridal, put on Fame's splint boots and bell boots, I clipped my lung line to the bridle, and with a horse in one hand and a lunge whip in the other, marched into R's indoor arena.
I sent Fame out like I had many times, he quietly walked on revolution around me and started to jog. "Walk!" 1..2...3...No response from the horse. I pulled sharply on the line three times in quick succession. Fame staggered back like I had shot at him. He stood and blew and gave me bug eyes again. "Walk." I reminded, lightly twitching my whip hand for added emphasis. Fame walked. I didn't have Fame trot and canter, just walked until he could walk several revolutions with out building to a jog. By the end he was quiet and relaxed. It was a start.
I said my "good boy's" and put my horse to bed, I made a smooching noise and asked for a kiss. Fame lipped at my chin obligingly and sauntered over to his left over hay. I marched off to complete my innumerable list of barn chores.
I returned the next day to administer another lesson at the walk. To my amazement the big dope only needed a small reminder in the beginning of the session. So I added an upward transition and we transitioned between walk and jog. I did not count circles I asked him to trot when I felt like it, and made him walk when ever I wanted him to. I would be consistent in the way I handled him, I'd be consistent in my discipline, but there would be no more repetitive patterns. Leaving him nothing to anticipate forced him to listen and wait for my direction.
I then started lunging him in weird places, if the footing was level and the area big enough we'd lunge. I wanted to establish that listening wasn't only done in the arena. We had been doing this for days, I knew I need to take the next step but I was hesitant.
"You need to get back on him." My roomie chastised.
"R said not to ride him, it'll ruin his driving."
"R is the one who crashed him."
She had a point, since the crash I had begun to call into question my trainers knowledge and his methods. Plus he didn't start getting real bad in the buggy until I quit riding him in the first place. Further more R told me that I had to get that horse walking. I had to do what I thought was necessary.
If he couldn't fix him then I had to. It was time to ride.
James, Part II
2 weeks ago