Sunday, August 1, 2010

Head Games

Head games, it's you and me, baby.
— (Mick Jones)
Title cut from the 1979 Foreigner album "Head Games"

Faithful reader Lisa got me thinking after her comment on my horse personality post, thinking more after a comment she left on Winter's post about her problem child, Cibolo, and thinking even more with her own post about Bella's bucking episode with one of her sons. Lisa eventually parted ways with the mercurial Baby Doll (who twice caused serious injuries), and Bella just blew a cushy spot as sweet Apache's pal and light mount for the kids. Winter announced that Cibolo also has a new owner.

And I've had crazy Poco for 4 years. What's up with that?

Well, for one thing, he makes great blog fodder. If it weren't for his shenanigans, this blog would be even more boring than it already is. How many uneventful rides down the road on my perfect little Jazu can you possibly stand?

I've made no effort to conceal my naiveté when I bought the big lug.
I was too dumb to realize the danger or the improbability that it could ever work. I once said that I was Poco's last, best hope. What I meant was that no one would buy, much less put up with a horse like Poco. He'd likely end up on a greasy paper plate in a Juarez taqueria.

I lucked out when I met Heather and her family. She and Sig (RIP) were the only people who didn't tell me to get rid of Poco before he killed me. Heather's been there for me every step of the way. Let's not forget that she sold me darling Jazu. Where would I be without my Steady Eddy?

Having Jaz took a lot of the pressure off me, and allowed me to view my situation more realistically. That's a euphemistic way of saying that I lowered my expectations for Poco to less than zero. As I began to understand the nature of horses in general (because I knew nothing), and Poco in particular, I was able to accept him for what he is, and both of us for what we're not. It was okay that Poco might be suitable as nothing more than Jaz's pasture pal. Selling Poco has never been an option for me, not only because a taco shell calls his name, but because I am and always have been completely smitten with his bad boy ways.

I must note again that Poco has never kicked, bitten, reared, or done anything intentional to hurt me. The only time he has bucked has been out of fear, and right there is the key to everything: the bluster is a clever ruse to hide the fact that he's just a big chicken with hooves.With him, it's all
about intimidation.

I'm still a novice rider. I've gotten better, but I'm still lousy. What has enabled me to progress (besides Jaz) is that Heather has taught me how to get in Poco's head. Once I had Poco's number, I began to enjoy interacting with him. My primary job is to be a calming, neutral, yet assured presence. He can spot an agenda clear across the pasture, and he's so hypersensitive, he can pick up the slightest uneasiness in me. Because I let go of my expectations for him, I stopped fighting with him. Want to act up when I saddle you? Fine, next time, you can't go. Bubby and I will go, and he'll get all the treats and all the attention. You will be invisible. You want to back up when I ask for forward, or go left when I say right? I will make you back up or turn in tight little circles until you're dizzy. I've learned to redirect and rechannel his energy. I think the game got to be less fun for him when I learned how to play. I honestly can't remember the last time he gave me a hard time. I finally feel like he and I are on the same page.

My choice was that I would keep this horse for better or for worse. Believe me, it's been both. Let me be clear: there is nothing wrong with a decision to let a horse like this go, because they can wear you out — or hurt you. But, as Beth at Fearless Riding has noted, they have choices, too. I believe Poco has started making better choices. And that, as Robert Frost said, has made all the difference.


Jeni said...

Thought provoking... not sure if that's a good thing or not...

Anonymous said...

Sounds like you two have made an accommodation - sometimes it takes a while to get to that point.

Sherry Sikstrom said...

Interesting insights.I think the difference with you and Poco, is you are still progressing with him,you haven't officially "hit the wall" and I hope you won't .Lisa and Baby Doll had in fact hit the wall and she made an excellent choice for her . And got that darling Apache . Here's hoping Poco and you continue to grow and learn together

Leah Fry said...

I hope that my intent with this post is clear. It's just about my choice, and no judgment whatsoever on anyone else's.

Anonymous said...

Well stated. I'm sure this will be helpful for many who read it.

Unknown said...

I think its about where the line in the sand is drawn. For me, bucking is the line (although rearing would be too), but not just one buck. It had to be a pattern that was going to repeat unless something changed.

In the case of Cibolo, what needs to change is in me, really, not him..

I agree with fern - you are making progress with Poco. He has come a long way. With so many of us who have moved to different horses, we realize that we weren't just not making progress, we were backsliding.

I actually forgot how to sit properly to cue a canter!

Now that I'm riding a friend's horse my skills are getting better - not overnight, but definitely better!

There are many shades of silliness with horses. I think Poco is just the right shade of silliness to be workable for you and to challenge your skills.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Poco is so lucky to have you. I hope he learns to appreciate you more as time goes by.

Excellent post. I love how reading fellow horse owner blogs helps give us new insights into why we ride horses, or are willing to keep riding and working with particular horse....or not. I believe we all have the capabilities to help one another by sharing our experiences, ideas and opinions. I learn something new every day.

Yes, Baby Doll was a dissapointment, but surprisingly Bella, even though we only had her here for 2 weeks, was an even bigger disappointment. Why?

Because she had done so well for so many other people who had ridden her, and I'd never seen her act up for anyone else. She even toted around a never-ever ridden a horse 10yr old boy on a 6 mile CTR.

We had treated Bella like gold here and didn't expect her to react so violently for her first ride at our house.
Colleen rode her after she brought her back to the horse rescue and said Bella did just fine, but she did say that Bella is only 6 years old and was getting in 2 new teeth.

Still, like Beth said, Bella had choices. She didn't need to buck off a young boy who was only asking her to carry him at a slow walk.

Also, like Winter said about drawing the line at specific behavior, bucking is one of those for me. But not just any bucking....violent "I want you the hell off my back" bucking.
Apache gave me a tiny buck while I was riding her at the ACTHA ride, but she was only doing that to get my attention so we could slow down and safely maneuver our way through the prairie dog holes.
Apache also had choices. She needed to communicate strongly with me since I had been ignoring her, but she chose not to send me to the moon.

I think that says a lot.


Leah Fry said...

One night about 3 years ago Mr. Fry's tongue was loosened by a few beers, and he said, "You'll never be able to ride that horse." Jeez, how long have we known each other? Don't say crap like that to me, it just makes me more determined.

My friend Nita said it took 5 years to come to an agreement with her mare Keeley.

If one is spiritually inclined, my entire experience can be summed up in one word: grace. Think of all the possible alternate scenarios.

morningbrayfarm said...

A great, thought provoking post. I continue to learn from your posts... thank you.

AareneX said...

Interesting observations, all.

I rode a "head case" for more than 8 years, and together we did more than 2,000 miles of endurance competitions. I think that if I had owned the Toad, I would have sold him. He was a lot like Poco, a complete coward and a game-player. His games were sometimes pretty scary. As it was, he belonged to somebody I could tell myself that I could quit riding him any time I wanted. Hmmm.

I did finally quit riding the Toad when Fiddle (who really is my horse) came along and needed my attention. Within 3 months of riding Fiddle, I trusted her more than I ever trusted Toad--because she wasn't a screwball and didn't spend her time being scary. What a huge change.

I guess MY head was ready for the change, just like Winter and Lisa and some others. Interesting indeed!

Pinzgauer said...

This is a great post Leah.

I take in horses with issues. I never look down on the owners for deciding to give up their horses (I do look down on some that don't treat their horses well though) but instead I think it takes a lot of guts to say "this is more then I can take".

For Leah, she had a situation that made keeping Poco viable, even if he was a headcase (er, is). For others, it's just not fair to the horse, and kudos to them for admitting it!

And now... Poco is turning into a gentleman. He actually tries to be good, and freaking out isn't his first response any more. Leah's situation that allowed her to give him time, love, patience and understanding (without getting herself killed) has made it work out.

Not every one has that ability, and not every horse is smart enough to "get" that they are getting a chance.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

You said, "If one is spiritually inclined, my entire experience can be summed up in one word: grace. Think of all the possible alternate scenarios."

And I bet you looked oh so graceful flying through the air off of Poco's back last year. *wink*

(sorry! I couldn't help myself.hee hee)

But seriously, when you say 'grace' what exactly do you mean?


Leah Fry said...

Good one, Lisa! She flies thru the air with the greatest of ease...

The grace of God — I am surrounded by God's favor. And if y'all don't think I'm enough of a nut job as it is, I'll tell you that I pray every day that I will be the leader and the rider my horses need, especially Poco because he needs it most. Every time we ride, I pray for safety and guidance.

Beth said...

I love this post, I love when one person's blog leads to a post on another blog and etc.

If you enjoy your horse that is all that matters in my book. I think it is great that you have a horse you can have fun on and one that offers a bit of a challenge AND a trainer that can guide you. Your making progress and that is important too.

I actually talked to my trainer about keeping Abby. Abby is too much horse for me right now, she may always be. Although part of me really wants to ride her again, I have been told in no uncertain terms that I can not even do that at the barn where I board. I'd have to bring her home because my trainer thinks it is such a bad idea and nothing good could come of it that he wants nothing to do with that. I am taking that to heart and am not taking her back. He is doing his best to get her in to a home where she and the owners will both be safe.

I agree there is a point that every horse owner has to decide what they will and will not put up with. It is such an individual thing. I was not pointing finger at anyone and their horse. Having found a horse that I can ride, and then reading some posts where people are keeping horses that they can not ride at all and are getting frustrated and discouraged I really feel for them.

Yet a challenging horse can be a lot of fun to work with. They end up being some of the best horses in the end. I know my first rides on my first horse, Hope, where anything but easy. In the end, she was the best horse I have ever owned.

We all have to do the best we can, ya know?

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Aaahhh. ok, I get it.

"There but for the grace of God, go I"

Stay safe, my friend.


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