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.