Saturday, April 17, 2010


Yup, I'm channeling the Queen of Soul today.
(Hey Nineteen, that's Aretha Franklin.)

I'm still high from
last Saturday's ride on Poco, accompanied by my friend Kristen on Jazu the Wonder Horse. Poco surprised and delighted me with his willingness and attention. The big chicken trusted Jaz and me to keep him from being eaten on the road. I needed the quality of that ride. We'll continue to work on the buddy-bound behavior another day. For now, I pronounce it bueno.

Mare owners, don't get your chaps in a wad here, but sometimes Poco reminds me of the more hormonal, bitchy mares I've met (I know nice ones, too.) We can argue all day about the emotional capacity of horses, but the best way to describe Poco is that he's moody and brooding. Thinks too much. You never know if you're gonna get the sweet, tell-me-again-what-a-good-boy-I-am pony, or the head case, although
I have improved in my ability to predict how he'll behave based on his attitude when I catch him and tack him up. Admittedly, Psycho Gelding's appearances have become less frequent, but every once in awhile, his ugly head still pops up (literally).

I've had respect issues with Poco since the day he got here. Without going into the 'why' details
, he respected and feared men, but had no regard for women or children. Obviously, I've had to work on the latter, but to this day, he is distrustful (if not downright fearful) of strange men. I would have been embarrassed for you to have seen him the first time he met the farrier, Jason (Heather's BF), or the vet. Those were the days when I heard a lot that I should get rid of this horse before he killed me.

Because Poco was too much horse for this newbie to just jump on, Heather gave me a regimen of ground work, starting with the basics: respect my space, walk on a loose lead, stand still, pick up your feet, move over, take a step forward, and my default win when nothing else was going right, BACK THE HELL UP. At some point, I assume he knew all this stuff, but he had been allowed to revert to rudeness. The ground work was as much for me as for him.
It helped build my confidence by giving me a safe way to interact with my horse other than grooming him.

Bringing Jaz home in January of 2007 made a big difference. Jaz's manners are impeccable, and Poco seemed to rise to a new level of expectation. Poco is the dominant horse, but without fuss or fanfare, I began to defer to Jaz: I greet him first, he gets treats or dinner first. If I'm riding, he gets ridden first. If Poco is pushy or ill-mannered in any way, he'll find himself ignored while Jaz gets all the treats, praise, and attention. If I'm grooming or tacking up Jaz, I don't look at or speak to Poco unless it's to make him move.

Kristen's comment about how well-mannered my horses are made me stop again and realize how far Poco and I have come since 2006.
  • I can make him step back with a look, subtle body language, or pointing at his chest.
  • He stands respectfully by his feed pan instead of trying to grab the bucket out of my hand. Even then, I make him take at least two steps back from me before dumping the feed.
  • I can lay a finger on his hip or shoulder and he'll move, or he'll respond to me pointing in the direction I want him to go with the verbal 'over'.
  • He understands the difference between 'stand' (we're going to be here awhile) and 'wait' (we'll move when I say so in a moment.)
  • He will freeze at a darkly uttered 'uh-UHH!'
  • When tacked up, he will walk with me and mirror my movements. Look ma, no hands.
Winter commented after last Saturday's ride that maybe Poco was tired of being left, and I think there's a good bit of truth there. He hates not being the center of attention and HATES (as in hissy fit) being alone, both of which I use to get what I want. If I have any energy left after taking Jaz down the road, I'll ask Pokey if it's his turn. I swear he about dives into the bridle. It's as if he can't wait to show me that he's a much better horse and why am I wasting my time with than that scrawny lil Arabian?

The point here is that even if you are not a highly-skilled horse person — which I absolutely am not — you can still accomplish a great deal by getting into their heads and using it to your advantage.


Cactus Jack Splash said...

So true, great work with your horses

AareneX said...

You are absolutely correct! Keep goin', gal, you are heading in the right direction with the little miscreant. His issues sound similar to Fiddle's (ooooh, but at least she's a pissy MARE! >G< ) and I've done a lot of the same stuff with her. I also encourage people to hop into her pen and "work" her (round pen-esque) if she pins her ears at them. She has gotten a LOT better about that..."hmmm, pinned ears means work, bahhh."

City girl turned Country Girl said...

GREAT post!!! So much truth to be found in your words!!! I am so glad to hear how far you have come with him! I too agree in finding solid groundwork to get them to respond before trying them out in saddle!!

Rising Rainbow said...

I think good ground work is the foudnation good riding work is based on. If you have holes in that respect on the ground it will surely show up on their backs at some point. Too bad more people don't get that figured out.

The cowboy I learned a lot from wouldn't even begin to ride a horse he had in training until he'd gotten the respect he expected on the ground. So you're in good company. Go Girl!

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Yay you! Look how far you've come, baby!

And you're totally right. I need to do more groundwork with Apache. I think she's been spoiled and just hopped on and rode, and not worked with on the ground much. She will try to walk circles around me if she's impatient or excited. And she will barge into my space sometimes unasked for, too.
But she's awesome under saddle.

Whereas Baby Doll was perfectly well behaved on the ground and very respectful and patient, but under saddle, a spoiled grouchy brat.

Is it too much to ask to have perfection both on the ground AND in the saddle?

Great post.


Sherry Sikstrom said...

Sounds to me like you have gotten his number . He has a little Appytude (no always a bad thing) Thanks for stopping by my blog. Off to look around a bit more

C-ingspots said...

Indeed, this is a great post, and you couldn't be more correct!! Way to go with Poco horse!!! If momma ain't happy - ain't nobody happy!! That's the saying around our house... :) Groundwork is THE way to go with all horses, and should preclude riding. As someone commented here, if a hole shows up on the ground, you can bet it will show up as a much larger hole in the saddle. You can count on that! You have done amazingly well with Poco, and sounds like you have his respect now. Good for you!! Keep up the good work. Don't you love how very different horses are? That's what makes them so much fun.

Once Upon an Equine said...

Sounds like you've made great progress with Poco and that you've really come to know him well. Very good advice in your last paragraph.

Unknown said...

When we go on horse time, things do begin to happen. We just want everything microwaved.

Horses are definitely more like a crock pot. :)

Congrats on seeing the wonderful progress you've made.

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