I know some of you people filled in a certain noun at the end of that title. One we always hear in Bruce Willis’ voice. Yeah. I know you did. This isn’t that kind of Yippee Kay Yay, though. This one is Pure and Innocent. It’s a Roy Rogers Yippee Kay Yay. I say this because it’s been a Yippee Kay Yay kind of day here in Western Massachusetts.
It’s been a Horse Camp kind of day. Not, I am happy and sad at the same time to say, the kind of Horse Camp where you put ribbons in the horses’ hair and paint their hooves with glitter. But it is the kind of day that results in a better relationship with your horse.
Huey The Wonder Horse has had a little vacation. Somewhere in his Former Life as The Master of the Showjumping Ring he had some kind of…wreck. When you’re a horse going full speed over a series of jumps that are five feet tall, Things can happen. Bad Things. Just watch the streaming video of the eventing or showjumping from the Olympics. You don’t see too many Bad Things this year, thank heavens, but there are a few. Huey’s Bad Thing broke a couple of teeth out of his lower jaw. This is harder to do for a horse than it is for a person. Horse teeth grow constantly and have to get filed down every once in a while if they don’t wear down fast enough on their own, from eating sand or something. Busting horse teeth so that they never grow back requires something special. Somewhere in there, he had another Bad Thing – or maybe it was the same Bad Thing – and it messed up his hock. Horse hocks are that joint on the horse’s back legs that looks like it’s bending backwards. It isn’t but that’s because it’s not a knee even if it’s in the same place you’d expect to see a knee, right in the middle of the leg. Whatever Bad Thing that was, it wasn’t so bad that he had to get put down but it was enough that he couldn’t do the super-tall jumps any more. And it was enough that it comes back to haunt him once in a while now.
It’s been haunting him lately. Thank heavens I get lessons twice per week, and my trainer is thus in a great position to notice when any little thing looks…off. Which she did, a couple of weeks ago. We kept an eye on it, and we made a video so we could get a good idea of what was going on, and it looked like the hock thing, for sure. I called the vet out again and he agreed…and so I moved on to Intermediate Horse Ownership II: Hock Injections.
I tell you what, having Huey as a first horse has been a splendid Learning Experience. In every conceivable way. I can’t imagine how much less I would know about horses if I’d gotten a younger, mild-mannered, submissive, already-trained-in-what-I-want-to-do horse instead of getting a retired performance horse with a gigantic ego and an equally huge heart.
So here’s me, being gone all week for a conference, and here’s Huey The Wonder Horse, getting exercised a few times by a superior sort of rider. I like having her exercise him, because he’s always a better horse for the experience. Then here’s us, getting back together again at the crack of dawn on Thursday morning for the trip for the vet to, as they say in the Horse World, “have his hocks done.” This was its own brand of Excitement, but The Wonder Horse was a real champ about it all. And there’s another member of the Hock Injection Audience saying “Oh those are great! I remember when my horse had them done, it was like riding a new horse afterwards!” And then there’s him, getting a few days of R&R while the hock injections, I don’t know, settle in or something.
And this all brings us to this morning: Horse Camp Day.
Horse Camp started off with quite a lot of attention to handling the horses on the ground. This was really good for me and Huey The Wonder Horse, because he doesn’t seem to have gotten a lot of that “handling on the ground” thing in his Former Life. He stands still for the farrier and the vet, perfectly, and he stands perfectly still to be tacked and groomed. But on the lead line? Basic obedience while moving? Not really part of his world. It seems he got trained to stand still for that stuff, but once tacked up, I suppose they mainly pointed him forward and let him rip.
That’s not to say he has a bad attitude, because he doesn’t. If he were a puppy, he’d be a friendly Mastiff that wants to sit on your lap, or a Saint Bernard that catches sight of a squirrel and upsets three tables and an old lady in his single-minded dash to catch the critter. Only…he also has a regrettable tendency to freak himself out…so it would be the Saint Bernard that bumps into the table and then shoots 6 feet straight into the air while barking his head off because he’s been startled by the table. He’d be the sort of dog that when you say “Heel” sits down and gives you a blank look. Or heels for 3 steps, and then veers off to the side because he’s seen something interesting over there, and BOTH of you are going to have to go check it out RIGHT NOW. Or starts jumping on you instead. And when you go back to the drawing board again and go through every step of the training process leading up to “Heel” does it perfectly, and then says “Well, why didn’t you say that’s what you wanted?”
So the groundwork, which as far as I can tell is intended to get and hold the horse’s attention on you instead of on every other potentially interesting thing within a half-mile radius – and intended to get the horse responding to your requests every time and not only when the horse is so bored with other stuff that it might as well listen to you, and not only when the horse wants to take control and issue requests to you instead, etc… the groundwork is really important. I got some basic lessons in this over the winter, and they’ve really helped make Huey more generally manageable in the barn and in the paddock.
Unless there is food involved, that is. But I’m guessing that with The Wonder Horse, “behaving in the presence of food” is going to be advanced, possibly graduate-level coursework. We’re not there yet. We got an F in “turning around and going the other direction without stopping and arguing first” this morning and we didn’t even get to try doing the fun thing with the traffic cones because we had to go back and repeat a grade. We got a C in “yielding the hindquarters totally and not just kind of yielding them instead”. I thought we were going to get another F in “laterally flexing the neck and stepping across with the back foot” until we had one of those Wonder Horse Moments where the penny dropped, and he said “OH! This is much easier when I’m not arguing! And it doesn’t hurt!” and started doing it good enough for us to get a B-. Given his tendency to throw his head nine feet into the air at the slightest provocation, I was very surprised to find that we got an A in “drop your nose to the ground and keep it there.” Morning was a great investment.
In the afternoon, we actually got to ride the horse.
Now, I had to go off to a conference last Friday.
This means it had been almost 9 days since I’d ridden.
The Wonder Horse got exercised by the Wonder Rider a couple of times, but hadn’t seen any action like that since Tuesday. It’s Saturday now, so that’s 4 days since he’s been ridden.
The hock injections were first-thing Thursday, so that’s 2 days since he’s had much in the way of exercise.
In retrospect, I probably should have lunged him to get the bugs out of his brain before getting on and riding.
But. But. But this is my first horse, and this is my first experience with a lot of this stuff, and I thought “Hey, we were out in the ring doing turns and stretches and all kinds of games for an hour and a half this morning…he’s being fine with all that, I don’t have to worry about bugs in his brain.”
And so I mounted up, with the three other people in the clinic.
Now, I don’t know what explains what happened next. Was it the freedom from pain from the hock injections? Was it the four day vacation? Was it my nine day layoff? Was it the presence of three (3) other horses in the ring that needed to know that they were in the presence of The Wonder Horse?
I don’t know.
All I do know is that when I gave him the lightest possible squeeze to get his attention so that he’d be ready for the real request to move out at a trot, he responded by giving me a trot I did not know he had. He had three speeds before: comatose, compliant, and interested. Today, I discovered a fourth speed: escape velocity.
I mean, this trot was fast. It was not a Good Trot. It was loose and runny, not at all nice, but it was fast.
And, I discovered, he was not in the mood to listen to me. He tant want to listen to the reins. He tant want to listen to the bit. He tant want to listen to my seat. All he want is to go Super Rocket Horse Fast.
And? He wanted to canter. He wanted to canter NOW. He wasn’t wanting any kind of signal to canter. He didn’t need any stinkin’ encouragement to canter. He was just ready to GO. NOW.
And thus began a fairly exhausting conversation, which went on his part “I WANT TO GO FAST NOW!” and on mine “NO. THAT IS TOO FAST. SLOW DOWN.” And on his “I DO NOT FEEL LIKE SLOWING DOWN!” and on mine “DO IT ANYWAY.”
Rinse, lather, repeat.
For the most part, I knew how Wile E Coyote feels every single time he straps a massive rocket to his back and lights the fuse, and then realizes what he’s done. I thought we might be able to catch up to the Mars robot, at this rate.
It was ugly riding. Very ugly. It was ugly trotting, and pretty ugly cantering on his part, and ugly posting and ugly cantering on mine. And, in the words of my trainer, “Good thing we discovered this before we took him to a show!”
No kidding. I don’t need that much hatred emanating in my direction.
It was bad enough just disrupting the small group clinic, and those were all people we know, and who know him, and get along. Riding Huey The Horse Rocket in a big crowded arena full of tense strangers and their tense horses? Holy crap.
So the Number One task now is to find out which one of those factors played into this, or whether it was some kind of Perfect Storm. I’ll ride him alone in the ring tomorrow, and if he’s still Huey The Wonder Rocket, I’ll know it was the hock injections…and move forward from there. If that’s the case, I’m going to have to get to be a better rider, and fast. If he’s back to my regular Wonder Horse, I know it wasn’t the hock injections, and then I just have to figure out whether it was not getting lunged, or needing to impress the Power Of Huey on the other horses. That means I’m going to have to get some company in the ring, probably through a group lesson. If he behaves then, we know it was just the lunging…and I’ll be a lot happier about taking him into a show.
I really hope it was Option 1: Failure To Perform Necessary Lunging. That will be the easiest to deal with. Whatever it was, I’ll get to the bottom of it, right sharp, and we’ll have another Learning Opportunity, I’m sure. Never a dull moment, that’s for certain, when you’re living with The Wonder Horse.