Thursday, September 20, 2012

Learning where to start

What? Turn? Why? And your outside hand is crossing over my withers, dork.
I love working with ex-racehorses, and not just my own. Each horse comes off the track with a different perspective--some had great owners, handlers, trainers and some did not. Some loved to run, some did not and some liked it okay until things started to hurt. Each horse I work with shows me something new I need to understand to best help them. It's nice if you have some history, some vague idea of what their life was like before they came to you, but that isn't always an option.

Forrest's breeders apparently wanted him back and his easy-going attitude reflects a trust and belief in humans that reminds me of Lena. Lena is not a racehorse, but she is a performance horse. I know Lena's breeders and love them for their horse sense and general good sense. Forrest is willing to go along with something new, even if he's not sure about it, because humans are okay (mostly) in his book. Lena is also willing, though she often needs a hair more convincing that you are in charge.

Lena the spotty jumping horse getting snuggles
I don't know Calabar's breeders, but I do know the people who handled him after he came off the van as a two year old. I wish I knew more. I wish I knew why he seems so afraid of making a mistake--which sometimes translates to resistant to trying. What do I mean by that? I mean when he doesn't understand what I'm asking, he has tended to over-react in the opposite direction.

Take our recent adventures in jumping for example. Going the "wrong" way--jump first, ground rail second--he's fine. He stays calm, relaxed, doesn't (normally, anyway) drag me around the arena. But turn it around the other way and things get a little dicey. So we just step back to what he is comfortable with and try again. We have done this with lots of things, jumping is just our newest challenge.

Yes, Calabar continues to instruct me daily about what works to train him, but Dublin is my newest teacher in the ways of the horse. Dublin is funny, but not at all bad--just a little defensive sometimes. I wrote a bit of his story on the Neigh Savers blog, but the more I get to know him, the more I see what a neat horse he is inside.

Doesn't look like any saddle I'VE ever seen
When I met Dublin, he was in a stall on the track--an "intact" 4-year old stud and very mad at the world, but still interested in people. He would pin his ears at you, try to bite you, than stick his nose out--ears perked forward--to say, "Hello, won't you pet my nose?" And he would let you pet him a little bit.

We gelded him and moved him to a barn in the East Bay where he began his time off, learning to be a horse, learning to be around other horses in a mellower environment. I liked him, he was definitely happier there, and curious and calm most of the times I saw him. I just didn't see him very much.

Fast forward to this month and more time to hang out with this quirky boy. He definitely has boundaries and is very clear when you've crossed them. People are not necessarily to be trusted, but if you're nice to him, he will begin to pay attention to you. Some people say he seems a little aloof, but he's still very interested in all the action around him. Horses here, horses there, some with spots, some with riders (and looking comfortable with riders), lots to see.

What's that over there??
He seems both young and old to me--a jaded exterior covering up the hope and curiosity of youth, just beginning to believe there might be fun to be had in the world.

Sooo relaxed with this particular human
It would be easy to shatter his new-found optimism, so we are starting slowly with him. There is plenty of time to prove to him that, yes, there is much joy in being a horse and people can even be a part of that.

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