Saturday, June 28, 2008

Psycho Gelding

Poco and Jaz came home from Heather's sometime in mid-June 2007. Heather had declared Poco "Leah ready at walk and trot," however Leah was not Poco (or anybody else) ready at trot, to be sure. I was looking forward to being able to toodle around our five acres to work on my sucky riding skills. Heather warned me that both horses might act up at home because of the move, and she was right. Jaz was fine and happy to be back, but if I remember correctly, shortly after the photo at left was taken in early July 2007, Psycho Gelding ran me into a tree.

The first six months and maybe even longer after the horses were back, Poco was my problem child 24/7. He was totally uncooperative no matter what I asked him to do. I think it was still linked to the "foster child" mentality: he still thought he was going to leave any day. Every time I tried to ride him, the behavior I first witnessed at Heather's -- and rationalized away -- escalated. He was unwilling, though completely manageable on the ground. Whatever I asked under saddle, he'd do the exact opposite. One time, we were standing by Jaz when Jaz decided to have a nice roll in the dirt. I don't know how I knew, but I KNEW Poco was going to do it too -- me, tack and all! Thank God I already had my feet out of the stirrups and was halfway off by the time I felt him start to go down. I jumped off and got in his face, kicking and screaming. He's never done that again.

We had dominance issues. He became bossy and just plain mean to poor Jaz. I had to stand between them when I fed them or Poco would block him from both feed pans, if he let him near the loafing shed at all. I had to start carrying a crop because he tried to challenge me to steal Jaz's food, or he'd try to crowd Jaz and me into the corner. I used Heather's chest butt move more than once. I kicked and I threw buckets. Conversely/perversely, he became very possessive of me, biting Jaz and running him off whenever Jaz tried to approach me. Although he seemed to seek and enjoy my attention, his behavior in the saddle did not reflect it. Over time, he would do pretty much anything I asked of him on the ground, but it got worse and worse under saddle. He was a total BRAT and a JERK, and his behavior was dangerous for a me as a novice rider, albeit unintentionally so. I never felt as if he actually wanted to hurt me; he just wanted his way and knew he could get it. He took advantage of me every chance he could, which was every time I got on, because I lacked the experience and skill as a rider to best him. He was in no way tolerant of my newbie mistakes and his lack of respect for me on his back was clear.

Heather and I put our heads together and tried several different approaches to turning him around.
One of the techniques called for completely ignoring him unless he was tacked up. The only attention he got from me was related to being tacked up and ridden or worked. Only then would he get hugged, praised and sweet-talked, which he loves. He also loves to be groomed but he only got it after he was tacked down. I learned to drive him with lines looped thru the stirrups. He doesn't like it at all (BO-RING) but I made him do it anyway. If I got on and he misbehaved, I hopped off and drove his sorry ass. Heather said he wouldn't make a distinction between a win on the ground and a win in the saddle, but he most certainly did.

When Jaz got attention and he didn't, he would turn his back, sulk and pout. If anyone did try to walk over and give him attention, he'd walk away or at least turn his head away from them. The most amazing behavior I observed happened when some little girls visited and rode Jaz. I had asked everyone to treat Poco like an invisible horse and explained why. Everyone was paying lots of attention to Jaz, and the little girls were just gushing over him. Poco was acting like a dog does when they are trying to engage in play -- sort of crouching down in the front with their butt sticking up in the back. He was literally dancing and leaping like a Lippizaner: "Look at ME, see how pretty **I** am! Watch ME! Watch ME!" It never ceases to amaze me how beautifully and effortlessly this horse moves in spite of the fact that he's built like a barge.

Because he got himself so worked up when he was saddled, we checked the fit of the tack and had the vet look at him to be sure there were no physical problems. I tried different headstalls and bits, bought a really nice thick wool saddle pad. I doubted this explanation all along; I really felt like this was all just BAD BEHAVIOR, but I believe in due diligence. There were no problems. I tried putting a halter and reins on him, riding bareback, allowing him to wander and graze. "It's all good. We're all friends here. Nothing bad will happen." We did fine as long as we did what HE wanted to do. As soon as I tried to assert myself, Psycho Gelding would start the shenanigans. I'd say left, he'd yank right. He'd simply plant his feet and refuse to move at all. He'd take me under low-hanging branches or plow into the cedar trees. Then it got to where if I gave him his head, he'd march back to the place where we'd started and just stand there until I finally got off.

Those were dark days. Every small step forward seemed flanked by several steps backward, if not abject failure.

Next time: A Study in Contradictions

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