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The Wrong Horse is the Right Horse For Me

©DK Garner 2010

The longer I’m on my walk with Mu the more I come to realize just what a crazy idea this was. I bought an undernourished yearling paint blithely out of a field. Why? I knew just enough about horses at the time to understand it was somewhat unusual for an unhandled youngster to walk right up to a stranger, lower his head and look you in the eye. There was no food involved. This was a purely emotional transaction that seemed to flow both ways.

Ignoring all sensible advice at the time (get a finished mature gelding was the common theme) I bought the wormy little guy with the slightly drunken looking face.

That was five years ago. I was 47 at the time. Did I forget to mention I’m pretty much a rank amateur horse rider too? Oh year, mix that into the equation too. So here we have a greenie starting a greenie. That’s why five years into the game all we really have so far is some:

  • groundwork
  • tricks
  • clinics
  • and several astoundingly inappropriate rides logged into our shared account.

Yikes

What’s amazing here is we only have two accidents in which one of us got hurt. His was the time I had him running a circle at liberty in a small corral and accidentally applied pressure — no doubt too much too — at the wrong time and sent him scrambling over a four plank fence. He got some cuts and scrapes on his back legs as a result. Mine was the time last year when we were getting some walk-trot exercise done in our barn yard. Turns out I didn’t have the whoa I thought I did and after a series of bucks at a gallop he got me off — and how. I ‘came to’ folded up an a chair we keep in the barn. He was back in his stall and his tack was piled in a heap just outside the door. I walked weirdly back to the house where everything felt odd and foreign. An apparent concussion.

Extreme Luck

There were some rides we’ve shared that in hindsight went so well I now know were guided by nothing less than angels. I rode him out as a two year old along a horse trainer friend’s driveway about a half a mile. She has gone on to direct the re-schooling of off track thoroughbreds so we know she’s courageous and maybe more optimistic than most would be about my actual riding skills. Then there was the six hour trail ride we took with a group of gaited horses over hill and dale; none of whom had much of a whoa in them either. He was four then. He offered nothing up but cooperation.

The weird thing is it seemed the more I learned – the worse we got! I had continued on with riding lessons and borrowing a friend’s greenish horse for 10+ hour long rides on some pretty challenging Kentucky trails. My aids and seat were both improving. As was my courage. And then last summer, four years in – he bucks me off big time.

But that incident knocked some sense into me. I began seeking better help. Of course I should have looked for a psychiatrist to help me through my delusions as a horse trainer but instead I connected with an awesome equine specialist. Interestingly I made this choice about the time many horse hobbyists lose steam and give the practice and often the horse up and move on to safer activities. The typical length of time the ‘backyard’ horse enthusiast stays with their equine is about five years. I think I know why. I think that’s about how long it takes for the law of averages to catch up to us semi-skilled horse handlers and knock some sense into us.

Where We’ve Been

For some it means the hobby ends, the horse is sold or pastured. For others, maybe the more cussed, the more obtuse, or maybe just the more optimistic — we go forward but seek out better information. That’s me. That’s where I am in my walk with Mu. In so many ways he is absolutely the wrong horse for me but as I go forward with him I continue to weigh in why he is such the right horse for me.

Partnering with him has caused me to critically examine the advice I get even when it’s from far more experienced horsepeople. Here’s who

we’ve worked with so far (In order of appearance):

  • traditionally minded saddlebred coaches serving as the equine studies team at the Kentucky Horse Park
  • young but experienced natural horsemanship practitioner — a fellow student at the KHP
  • exuberant, skilled, though somewhat reckless riding and training coach
  • friends’ more finished horses I am privileged to borrow for rides
  • job-roughened thoroughbred handlers, at the Keeneland sales
  • a gifted though decidedly  horse-centric clinician
  • sort of a heavy handed, shopworn instructor
  • a crazy ass intuitive (see other posts in this series)
  • a three star Parelli Instructor (clinic)
  • a somewhat hardened rider/instructor who believes in pushing through fear
  • a centered, multi-faceted horse + human focused coach and instructor who believes in adjusting elements so fear doesn’t have to be a part of this experience
  • dvds, books, articles, audited clinics throughout

Guess who’s my favorite? Uh huh – took some time to connect with her is all.

Going Forward

This entire journey so far has brought me in and out of learning situations of every standard and  level of expertise. It’s sure not like we haven’t been trying. But we haven’t gotten to where I thought we would be after five years of hard work.

I wish we were riding the range by now, participating in some low level dressage shows and fine tuning all our knowledge. And maybe we are but in fact we’re only marginally under saddle and not cleared for trail riding because we don’t have a good enough whoa. On the plus side – neither of us has seriously hurt the other. We still love each other. And we’re not giving up. We’ve come into the orbit of the best trainer a person and horse could hope for and no one but me seems to be judging us to any great degree. Do I feel flummoxed when a pal attends a clinic with her new filly and surpasses our progress in the course of two days’ work? Good lord yes. That stings. But I can be happy for them and hopeful for us even so.

In some ways I might not have been using good judgment when I bought that wormy little guy out of a field five years ago and in other ways it was one of the smartest ways I could have come up with to learn as much about horses as someone like me could ever want! Besides, I love this horse. He is a most excellent mirror.

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