Saturday, June 21, 2008

Back to School

My job requires travel five non-consecutive weeks each year beginning with a trip in January, then five others from April through July. Several of my latest posts have come to you live from sometimes sunny Rio Grande, Puerto Rico. The time in between trips is spent planning all aspects of the trips for groups as large as 900 people. It's intense and stressful. It's hard enough being away from the long-suffering Mr. Fry, whom I absolutely adore, but as my relationship with The Boyz has grown, I find myself pining away for them as well.

Given the newness of horse ownership to us in 2007 (less than 6 months) coupled with the fact that Mike was immersed in a new job, I decided the '07 travel season would be a good opportunity to send Poco back to school. I made arrangements with Heather for both horses to spend April and May at her facility, with Poco receiving a refresher course in civil behavior. In addition, Heather would work with him under saddle to both evaluate him and devise a plan to bring the two of us together and forward.

By this time, I had purchased a used stock trailer, which you can see in the background of the goofy Jazu photo in the banner topping this page. After watching both horses wig out in a conventional divided horse trailer, I decided on this style. My relationship with Poco had progressed to a point where I knew he would probably follow anywhere I led him. The day we transported them to Heather's was the first time we used the new trailer. Heather and Jason came just in case, but both horses loaded quietly the first time. I also remember this whole experience being an affirmation of my blossoming instincts/intuition with the horses. Heather said I had them all along; I just needed to learn to listen to them and trust them. In all the time since, we have had no incidents loading either horse.

When we got to Heather's, we unloaded the Boyz and since both are geldings, we turned them out with the main herd. Jaz entered the 30-acre pasture, found some of his old buddies and he was off to tell stories about his new life. Poco immediately challenged the head mare, a no-nonsense Clydesdale easily twice his size, by becoming a little whirling dervish, kicking and spinning so fast Heather and I just stood there slack-jawed. I secretly hoped
he'd get his proud cut ass kicked to take him down a few pegs, but the little shit (14.2 if he's lucky) WON and proceeded to round up his harem. Meanwhile the REAL stallion started pitching an absolute fit, threatening to bust out of his paddock and give Poco a piece of his mind. We caught Poco and Jaz again and isolated them in the arena, well away from Testosterone Central. The herd's disdain for Poco was unmistakable; they stood with their backs to him and wouldn't respond to his overtures. The posturing between the stud and the wannabe (or once was) continued throughout Poco's stay.

I received reports from Heather via email as I traveled to San Diego, Scottsdale, back to San Diego, DC, and finally Beverly Hills.
Heather said Poco was belligerent and even threatened her, and had to have his attitude adjusted by a firm, calm hand. She said he kept acting as if he were expecting to be punished (as opposed to simply corrected) when he did something wrong, which certainly would explain a lot. Armed with that knowledge, she adjusted her approach and he began to respond. She started out driving him with lines and a surcingle, graduating to longeing both on and off lead. She rode him and he did well, although he would get himself all worked up when he was confused or made a mistake, again, seemingly expecting punishment. She used Jaz as a reward. If Poco did well, he got to have Jaz in the arena with him. If he behaved poorly, Jaz got turned out with the herd, and even he ignored poor pitiful Poco's wailing.

I guess I should back up a little and mention that in the months prior to leaving Poco with Heather, I had been climbing on him after having groomed him. I'd just sit there, or lie draped on him while petting him and talking to him. All of this he tolerated well. I think I may have actually taken a few steps around the front pasture on him, but that's about it. I was thrilled beyond description the first time I was able to ride him in Heather's round pen! I totally sucked at riding, but I was loving it!

The photo at left is me riding Poco with Heather giving direction. I think she was coming over to adjust my stirrup leathers here, as my foot kept slipping out. It was only later I discovered the stirrup straps aren't even, and had to punch "half space" holes on one side. (Something I'll address when I get around to posting about tack!) On this day, it was 104F -- gotta love Texas in the summer -- so the lesson was pretty short and much Gatorade was consumed. Poco got lots of praise and some alfalfa, so he was a pretty happy camper.

Shortly after this session, Heather had to go to NY ( to pick up some horses, so I opted to leave the Boyz there rather than transport them home then back again a week later. Heather said to come and ride anytime, which I did. The first time went pretty well, but the next time I went, I noticed a little bit of resistance, which I was able to rationalize or overlook because of my own excitement. I was either oblivious to or in denial of the message my horse was sending me.

Next time: Psycho Gelding

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