What’s Next


What a terribly emotional time this has been.  The disappointment has been weighing on me, heavily.  Not a few tears have been shed, and none of them caused by my physical pain.  I was even doubting Mrs. Shoes.  (Foolish, foolish me.)  It didn’t help, that Kevin, always a cynic, was painting me a picture of a woman who just wanted to get rid of a horse—that she was hiding the fact that he had a bucking problem—just because she wanted to get rid of him.  Though I kept defending Mrs. Shoes, it did cross my mind that I may have been gullible.  But surely, if she was trying to trick me, the least she could have done was sent me better pictures of him.  He really, really does look so much better than the pictures—I trusted her with that, and I trust her with everything else.  She gave me a horse that has great potential, and I just have to find the key to unlock it.


He bucked once for the trainer when she initially asked him to trot, and he did the same for me.  Chances are, if I had been able to stay in the saddle, that would have been the end of it.  I would have used less leg pressure and all would have gone well. 


The day after the “incident” I didn’t even want to look at MerryLegs.  I did take him out and work with him, but there was no joy involved.  I could have been working with a stranger’s horse, for all I felt.  He actually did really well that day. 


The following day, I heard from the trainer, and that lifted my spirits.  I went out to the barn in the evening, and this time, when I first looked at MerryLegs, my heart smiled.  All hope isn’t lost.  Nobody tricked me into accepting a lemon at all.  He is just a “Special” horse that is going to be a bigger challenge than I expected.  We had an even better training session, that night.


After a lot of thought (and it seems that’s what training is all about—a lot of thought,) I am forming the basis of a plan.


Since MerryLegs bucked with both his trainer and me on the trot request, I have to get teach him to trot reliably from a voice command.  I am sure he used to know how to do it, but he seemed to forget so much when he crossed the border.  I have been working on it the last few lounging lessons.  I ask him to trot twice from my voice, and if he doesn’t respond by the third request, I wave the whip.  Sometimes, he still didn’t, so I waved harder.  By the end of the second session—he was getting it.  He was trotting to my voice only.  That meant—it was click time.  I am hoping to get him so good at it that when I ask him to trot in the saddle with a verbal command, he will understand.  After a bunch of successful clicking transitions, I may not be so nervous about asking him to trot.  Clicker training is a funny thing—it seems to increase the rider’s abilities, too.


The two times he got upset about the stirrup hitting his side while lounging, it was a surprise to him.  My saddle’s stirrups are notorious for slipping free.  It is evident he doesn’t like surprises.  Mrs. Shoes said she lounged him with a western saddle that flapped on his side, but he would expect that, so it wouldn’t bother him.  If I run the stirrups down intentionally, they don’t bother him.  I will let them work their way down from now on.  He can get used to surprises on the lounge line.


Long ago, when I got Cruiser as a 2-year-old, he was the most distracted horse.  I could get nowhere with him.  Someone suggested the TTeam book.  I bought it, did the massage routine, took Cruiser into the indoor arena, and for the first time, ever, he looked at me—he knew I was there.  After that, things went pretty smoothly.  That isn’t MerryLegs problem, but since I had such a good experience with the massage, I don’t think it will hurt one bit to try some of it on MerryLegs.  I got the book out and was reviewing it.  The full massage routine will indicate if he has any pain, and I really don’t think this is pain, but I will give it a try.  I think what he will benefit the most from is the TTouch in the girth and behind the girth area.  Maybe he gets tight and sensitive there.  I could try it before and after work, and see what happens.  It may help him to accept pressure.


Another part of my plan might sound silly, but why not try it.  I got out my old surcingle—something I haven’t used since I taught Mingo to ground drive when he was recuperating from one of his operations.  I thought if I should hold it around his belly in different spots, maybe he could get used to the feeling of being trapped by pressure. Quiet reactions would get a click, of course.  I have been pressing my hand and arm in the leg pressure area, and it hardly bothers him, now. 


You see, one thing that Mrs. Shoes told me was that he doesn’t like when the farrier would trap his front legs between his knees when he was trimmed.  I made a point to work on this so that my farrier won’t have a problem.  At first, MerryLegs would lean backwards and pull away.  I just did it for short periods of time and clicked him for it.  He seems fine with it, now.  We’ll see how he does with the farrier.


What if MerryLegs is like this with everything?  What if he is adverse to the feeling of being trapped?  This seems like a safe way to possibly get him used to it.


Once I can ride him and get a trot transition without leg pressure, he will still have to get used to it.  Let’s say he should spook and I reflexively hold on with my legs—that would scare him even more.  Also, if he is used to light contact with my legs, if I should use heavier contact—he wouldn’t get as surprised as sudden pressure—like he does when the stirrups slip down.


I’m sure I will have more ideas, but this is where I’m starting.  I sure hope it works.

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Comment by Jackie Cochran on July 2, 2015 at 5:11pm

I had one mare that was a balk or bolt mare.  I HAD TO wear Prince of Wales spurs or she would refuse to move at all, but heaven help me if they touched her by accident.  Can you tell I learned to keep my feet parallel to her sides quickly? 

Try getting the voice commands first.  Then see if giving your leg aid with your calf muscle is less irritating to this horse (flex your calf in time to the strides and relax it, it is a slow pulse with the calf muscle.)  This will move your signal further up on the rib cage.  Also practice gripping with your calf muscles, you can still give aids by making the gripping a little stronger.  If your horse accepts this then you will still be able to grip in an emergency.

Another possible "driving aid" is just stepping down into your stirrups, both feet at the same time.  This way you do not have to touch the ribs at all.  Uh, I never really succeeded with this one but then I was not using clicker training either.  Of course since my horses all obeyed my voice commands I did not need that particular aid at all. 

Good luck!

Comment by Judi Daly on July 2, 2015 at 4:13pm

Ooooh...I like your theory about horses with new owners.  That actually makes some sense.  And that you have had en equivalent level of problems with new horses--yet succeed,--makes me feel good.  I don't hear much about Tteam around here, so your positive view of encourages me, too.  I will keep you updated.

Comment by Jackie Cochran on July 2, 2015 at 3:42pm

You have a good plan there, Judi!  In Forward Seat training the first step in formal training to saddle is training voice commands on the lunge line.  I trained voice commands and I used voice commands A LOT when trail riding by myself, not using my legs at all and using the reins only for turning signals.  I got my first horse so I could stop him from a gallop by just using my voice, it was not an instantaneous stop by any means, but we could go from a full gallop to a halt without me touching the reins.

The Tteam stuff can be amazing.  I really hope it helps him with his ribs.

Good luck!  By the way each and every time I got a new horse I was faced with an equivalent level of problems, I never had a smooth and easy time with a new horse.  Maybe horses try to hide stuff from their previous owners but decide that you, their new owner, can learn to deal with their problems. 

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