Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Small Victories are Worth Celebrating

She's got no muscle and a clubby foot, but we're working on it.
The season of Spring has been slow to show it's face this year, and as such, the horses have been restlessly waiting for outings far more interesting than hand-walks and green grass to lip at. I can't say I've blamed them - the last dump of snow we received put a huge damper on most, if not all, of my March-related goals. 

It's left me in a bit of slump - thinking of all the things I should be/could be doing with my horses, especially Annie. There isn't even much room for in-hand work, and the ice has been preventing walk-hacks around the neighborhood.

After a somewhat disastrous farrier appointment (wherein Annie literally could not horse), I felt embarrassed, frustrated, and completely out of my league. She acted like she hadn't ever had her feet done before. Throughout the appointment, she danced, jittered, and kicked out on several occasions.

The farrier assured me that a lot of young horses can act that way, and it'll get better so long as I put in the time and effort but I was still mortified at her antics given that Suzie can literally be shod sans halter. I mean, Annie is four. She should know better than that!

Trust is built upon a positive relationship.
I had been lifting and cleaning out her hooves a lot when I first got her, simply because she had attempted to kick out when I requested she lift one of her hind legs. Admittedly, I've been bad about continuing to rinse and repeat the exercise, especially since I've had zero problems with it since that day and subsequent attempts afterwards.

The appointment was good in a way, because the farrier gave me some really sound advice and made me feel much better about the whole situation. He basically said that ya, she's four, but she hasn't had a lot of life experiences and from his expertise, he guesstimates she hasn't been trimmed more than a handful of times.

His biggest piece of advice? Don't get mad at her for being unsure or scared - kicking, biting, and bucking are absolute no's and she can get into serious shit for that, but anything else? Comfort her within reason and ask the right questions.

That advice hit a nerve with me - in a good way.

This is my first greenbean, and despite her being older than most greenies, she still deserves the same amount of understanding. Sure, she may be good with having her blanket heaved over her back for 2 weeks in a row and then on the 15th try, she might spook and bolt. And that's OK.

She is still figuring herself out and she is still TRYING.

She isn't dangerous, and the farrier highlighted that fact numerous times when he saw my horrified face. She was very, very unsure and very nervous about the whole situation and did what she knew to prevent herself from getting hurt or in a bad situation.

As her owner and partner, it's my job to show her there is nothing to be afraid of.

I stupidly had thought the best way to deal with her uncertainty, balkiness (or whatever) was to punish her. Whether that be by a jerk on the leadrope, a stern growl, or a smack on the neck. This isn't to say I just beat her all the time, but I can say without any kind of uncertainty that I was unfair to her in some situations simply because I expected her to be fine with _____ because she had been fine with it the day before or because other 4/5/6 year olds are fine with it.

I tacked her up yesterday after hand- walking her the day before. A friend who is here visiting drove Spud while I rode Annie. She was silly for the first 1/4 of the ride - not wanting to stop, not wanting to walk with Spud, bracing against the hand, not listening to the reins, etc - but nothing too dramatic or bad, especially for a greenie that's been off for over a month.

Awkward stance, but looking fancy for an
exciting walking-only hack!
As I settled into the ride and changed my viewpoint - praising her when she did as I requested and ignoring when she didn't - I could feel her temperament changing. She seemed so much more relaxed, walking around on a buckle rein and standing halted quietly until I asked her to move off.

It seems like such a simple and trivial thing - halting quietly. But it's a huge step and it's a building block of the foundation to come. Every time I patted her and reassured her, she soaked it up and felt like she was becoming more reassured of herself.

I've known older horses to be less quiet when returned to work and that's something to celebrate.

The small steps. The small victories.

And those don't come by with a misunderstanding of eachother - it comes with understanding, patience, and once in a while, a little pat or two to say everything is OK.

They are becoming friends <3


  1. Such a great reminder. I went through this with my two...they were both old enough to theoretically know better, so it was hard to not have expectations or compare them to others their age. Annie is looking beautiful, I just love her type, and i like how it sounds like she really wants to try to do the right thing.

    1. It really is tough sometimes, but she really just hasn't had that experience before so I have to remember that and be fair.

  2. I can completely relate to this post and I started with a 6 year old! I've learned the hard way to not get caught up the 'I should be doing' thing. It's not helpful.

  3. My "greenie" is almost 5 and danced for the farrier this week even though she knows better. Definitely less about age, and more about life experiences and temperament.

    Sounds like you're making good progress, despite the weather!

  4. i love it when someone can say a thing in such a way that i'm just like, "OH. aha. got it now!" haha. i totally hear you on being frustrated when a horse can't do a thing that either they could do before, or that we feel like they really ought to be able to do. one youtube series that i find myself watching again and again tho to learn new tactics on patience, attitude, and training exercises is Stacy Westfall's Jac series. it starts with an unbroke 2yo colt and progresses through to when he begins competing as a reining horse. obvi the reining stuff isn't as interesting to me, so i usually don't keep watching once she's gotten through the early riding stuff. but all the ground work and training tips and whatnot that she goes through is really really valuable (imo). one thing she says that really struck a nerve with me was that she doesn't "take it personally" when the horse makes a mistake or gets a wrong answer. bc damn that's hard for me sometimes haha! anyway.... long unsolicited recommendation comment later, if you're interested in checking some of it out, the first video is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QBiv66nAvj4

    1. THANK YOU!!!! I've started to watch the videos <3

  5. First of all, let me say how lucky you are to have a farrier like that with great insight and positive advice. Also, Emma's suggestion of watching the Jac series from Stacy Westfall is a good one--it shows some of the best "emotionally nutral" training sessions I have ever seen. Congrats on your small victories with Annie!

  6. It's amazing all the things we so easily take for granted with a solid citizen type horse. But! You're learning so much, and as long as you always treat the horse with compassion and do your best it will turn out well :-) Life's a journey, enjoy it