Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Not One Bit

I still consider myself a novice rider. Although I ride my horses and manage to stay in the saddle 99.9% of the time, it ain't pretty. I'm working on my seat, but it sure feels like it's taking forever and like I'm still all over the place. I'm just now learning to post a trot. Like most newbies, I tend to be heavy-handed and apt to confuse my horse with unwittingly given conflicting cues. Jazu, being the consummate teacher, is patient and tolerant and can usually figure out what I'm trying to do. I've seen him with a child on his back who is yanking the bit almost clean out of his mouth, yet he remains collected and sweet. Poco, on the other hand, has zero patience for greenies, and will take advantage every chance he gets.

Poco was neck reined. I know the theory of neck reining, but I'm not good enough (yet) to put it into practice while paying attention to all the other beginning stuff -- posture, hands, heels, etc. -- so I direct rein. Poco's mouth is super sensitive and there's the slightest hint of scarring. The vet said his teeth aren't the worst he's ever seen, but they aren't the best either. We tried several different bits with him and he wasn't crazy about any of them. Though most of his non-compliance was and still is bad behavior, he does have a genuine issue with his mouth. The best experiences I had with him to this point were bareback with just a halter and reins.

Jaz and I continued our rides down the road, which were mostly incident-free. We did have one encounter which ended my streak of sticking to the saddle. One day as we rode past a property we pass every time, we were greeted by 3 large, loud dogs. Although they were behind a fence, their sudden, noisy appearance was enough to spook Jaz. He zigged, I zagged and was almost completely prone with my head on his butt. Unable to right myself, I decided it might be better if I just let myself come off. No harm done; let's just say I hit the ground with a part of my body with abundant padding. I have a helmet but was not wearing it -- I know, I know -- but this experience cured me of that.

By this time, whenever we'd get back from these rides, Poco would follow us like a puppy. The "Me, me! Pick me!" attitude rarely translated to, "I'll be a good boy." More often then not, it was like Charlie Brown and Lucy with the football -- "SUCK-ER!" After one particularly frustrating time with him, I came upon an ad in Horse Illustrated for Dr. Cook's Bitless Bridle. One line in the ad made me go to their website: "You have a better horse than you think." I certainly hoped so. Every single negative behavior they listed could be applied to one or the other of my horses, and the premise made sense to me. They offered a 30-day "no questions asked" return policy, so I decided to give it a shot.

To this day, it's probably the nicest, most well-made item of tack I own. I asked my friend Nita (left, Heather's mom) to help me fit it and to be here just in case anything went afoul. I knew it would fit Jazu's little Arabian head, but Poco is part Percheron and has a massive head, so I wanted to make sure it would work for him in particular. It did, but just barely, on the loosest holes. He was confused, therefore nervous, but he didn't fight me. I only stayed on a minute or two, then got off and praised the heck out of him.

A few days later, I fitted Jaz with it and we went on a ride down the road. He took to it right away. When we got back, the Pokey Puppy came right up beside us as I was tacking Jaz down, practically sticking his own head in the bridle. I tacked him up as he stood there untied. It felt like a good day to die, so I took him outside the fence, walked him down the road a few hundred yards, turned him around, got on and rode back. He behaved perfectly. I was afraid it was a fluke, but we did it a few more times over the next couple weeks, lengthening the distance each time, and he did great. Feeling confident, Nita and I began riding together down the road, she on Jaz (I bought him from her) and me on Poco. He did FANTASTIC. We rode for hours and miles on at least two occasions with not one incident. The photo above is two very tired ponies after our ride and lots of grooming and pampering.

Well shoot, I'm feelin' downright cocky at this point! I think we must have passed some invisible marker that says everything from now on is going to be A-OK. And it was...right up until a few days later when I tried to ride him by himself down the road and Psycho Gelding acted up worse than I'd ever seen! We ruled out tack again and also ruled out being herd-bound. This was the event that caused me to load him into the trailer and take him to Heather's so she could see what was going on and offer advice.

This may always be the way it is between him and me. He's always going to challenge me; that's the kind of horse he is. As I have gotten better and more confident, his antics have escalated, which makes perfect sense: the little crap he'd pull in the old days isn't enough to intimidate me anymore. He keeps raising the bar and I'm better equipped now to deal with it. As Jon (farrier) noted the first time he met Poco, I'll never outgrow this horse.

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