Thursday, November 17, 2011

Adventures in Amateur Academia: Part 1

I go to school, but I never learn what I want to know. - Calvin, from Calvin and Hobbes.

Teaching is hard, especially when your students won't listen to you. But I'm getting ahead of myself. As with most stories, it makes the most sense to start at the beginning.

In August, a family moved their new horse to the farm. The horse owners of the family consisted of a mother and two of her daughters, none of which had ever owned a horse before or even ridden much. No horse-sense whatsoever. And they bought a flashy painted Arabian-mix, who turned out to be very neurotic and barely trained. Anyone who's been in the horse world for a while know this is a recipe for disaster, and disaster it became. When they actually tried to ride the horse, he bucked them off. Again, they had no real horse experience and no idea what to do.

So, my barn owner and I went into action. She offered to do groundwork with the horse (she does Clinton Anderson) and I offered to give them riding lessons on Royal. I figured it would be a good base for them since Royal is sensitive but no longer explosive. In a pinch, he'll listen to me. Plus, I thought their horse moved a lot like Royal so it would be good to learn on him.

The first lesson was a nasty shock to me. Not only had one of the girls decided not to show up, but the mother's husband was there. He was a real piece of work, being rude to me and the ladies. He didn't see the point of all this groundwork and lessons; just get on and hang on. I had to fight the urge to tell him what a terrible idea that was and instead tried to stress the important of a well-rounded horse and rider. I don't think I got through to him. I had all three of them get on Royal and do very basic things: one-rein stop and passenger lessons at the walk. None of them could sit well and all lost their balance quickly. Luckily, Royal was a very good boy and tried to help them out as best he could. Although the dude had to eat some humble pie when he accidentally cued Royal to trot and didn't know what to do, even though Royal gave him a slow trot. But, they all seemed happy enough and the ladies wanted more lessons.

I was cautiously optimistic, but had a bad feeling.

To be continued...

Farewell West Point

Yesterday, Linda Parelli's magnificent horse West Point died. I don't know any details yet, but heard it was an accident. My condolences to Linda and everyone at the ranch. Westy was a joy to watch and I learned a lot from him.

You amazing horses need to stop dying. First Gogo, then Hickstead, and now Westy. It's too sad.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

8 years

November 8th was my birthday and the 8-year anniversary of when Royal really became mine. What a crazy time it's been, full of ups, down, zig-zags, and flip-flops. I've posted before about how I found Royal and of our first tumultuous year together, and I think it's fair to say that I sort of rescued him. He would never have made a safe camp horse, and the farm where I bought him has seen been raided by the MN Hooved Animal Rescue Foundation. It's still in operation, but on a tight leash, I think. But the reality is much more than that.

The truth is, we saved each other.

The year before I met Royal was the toughest of my life. My friends turned on me, and I was being bullied in my small private school. I was depressed and suicidal, even trying to figure out the best way and place to kill myself. No one would care, I figured. I thought my family would just go on and no one would miss me. All I had to do was do it.

There was one problem: I hadn't owned a horse. The only thing that kept me alive that year was that I had not completed my life goal of owning my very own horse, and I wasn't going to let myself die before that happened. Whenever things go too bad, I just thought of that horse. I didn't know what it would look like, but it existed in my mind and that was enough to keep me going.

After seventh grade, I changed schools and my parents said the money that would have gone towards tuition would instead go toward leasing a horse. I decided on the barn that had been my favorite horse camp, and that's where I was introduced to Royal. I knew from the start that he was a problem project horse, and I think that was actually just what I needed. Something more important than all my emotional angst and needed my help. Royal once crawled out of a 3'x1' trailer escape door... and followed me right back into the trailer 10 minutes later. Soon after starting to work with him, I was the only one he would let near his hindquarters. He trusted me more than any other human.

Of course, that wasn't saying much, as the post above illustrates. But there was something about him that made me think he was worth it, and I still think that. He tries so hard and has a genuineness about him. I remember our first bareback rides where he had to figure out how to move so I wouldn't get all bounced around. He shortened his normally huge stride and gave me his best western pleasure trot. We've learned how to watch out for and take care of each other, especially while jumping. Our performance at Steepleview was the culmination of everything we've done, and I've never felt so happy as when we flew over that last cross-country jump. We did that together and nothing can take that from us.

I've been so privileged to have him in my life, and I can't imagine life without him.