Making of the Horse
Last week, we talked about our babies. This week, let’s talk about our greenies. Who trained your horse? Is your ponykins still in the process of figuring out this whole monkey-on-my-back thing, did you send off for thirty or sixty or ninety days, or did you buy a horse with all the bells and whistles? Who has helped your horse become what he or she is today?
As I mentioned in my history post about Phoenix, he moved from Iowa to Michigan, then to several locations in Michigan in his younger years. It is my understanding that until he was sold to the woman in Hastings, Michigan in April of 1992 he was being trained as a western horse. The woman in Hastings was a trainer, and bought him as her own fun horse to work with and retrained him english, taught him to jump, etc. So when I got Phoenix he knew his job pretty well already, except that he was taught to land on the correct lead, not do flying changes. Honestly that is the only thing I really taught him when I was younger, and I can’t say we had an easy time. Most likely because I had no idea what I was doing! Phoenix has taught me way more than I could ever teach him, and I’m forever grateful to have such an amazing horse in my life!
“If he were only a memory I could call him back – horse of my childhood who continued with me into womanhood. But he outstrips memory, runs through my veins, pulses luxuriously like the still yet trembling fissure of halloed light around a full moon on a blue-black night above hemlocks.” -unknown
Stampede’s story is a bit more interesting for sure, and is a bit more detailed on my about Stampede tab although I took pieces from there.
As I was finishing up my final year of college I contacted a barn where I had previously leased a horse, looking for horses to ride and possibly buy. I was told Stampede was out in a field somewhere else, but they would bring him in if I was interested. I said sure. I went with the barn owner and picked him up March 2006. He hadn’t been worked in at least a year, so I was surprised when he calmly got on and off the trailer and was immediately at home in the barn. I decided to lunge him and he did everything I asked for by voice command. I have no idea where that came from, because his lunging was really bad later on!
Now Stampede was not without issues, there were several reasons he was living out in a field. He had laryngeal hemiplegia, which caused roaring. Basically one of the two flaps that open and close when he swallowed was paralyzed. When he would work hard, the paralyzed flap would swell, cutting off his breathing and making sounds as the air went through the small space. This creates not only the characteristic roaring sound, but an upset horse as well. If I had understood more about the condition I probably would have run from it, but I didn’t and I could work with him for free. Of course we all know working with a horse for free can quickly turn into love!
Otherwise, his base of training was pretty horrid. The plan all along had been to train him fast and sell him for a good sum and move on. Between being pushed too hard too fast, his large size causing coordination issues, and his breathing problems, things hadn’t gone as expected and Stampede was put out in a pasture.
We started slow and worked on things like steering and the various gaits. His breathing was not much of an issue in the early conditioning phase, so I was able to get a good feel for him. We jumped a little bit and I thought he would be a great project for me. A few months later after a prepurchase exam, I signed a deal stipulating that he would have the tie back surgery on the seller’s money and if he was usable afterwards I would buy him for a set price. Stampede went to MSU for his surgery, and recovered with no issues. Once he proved he was sound under saddle with no roar I purchased him officially.
I spent several months doing mostly flatwork and starting him over small fences all on my own since there wasn’t an english trainer at the barn. Eventually I decided I needed some help to progress, so I moved him. Honestly it was a bad choice, as the trainer turned out to be not so great, and we didn’t really progress much over the winter there.
In March of 2007 I was riding on a Sunday morning in the outdoor ring. He was being nice and quiet and we were trotting around. I was going down a long side on the quarter line near the woods when it all went wrong. I felt his right shoulder start dropping, and then the whole front end. We dropped together, me going right and landing directly on my shoulder, him somehow going left and landing on his side. A sink hole sat between us in the riding arena, the reason he fell. He got up slowly, stunned, stood there for a moment, and then trotted off to the gate of the arena. I got up, but soon I realized I wasn’t okay and quickly it progressed to the point where I had to hold my right arm or I was in horrible pain. Others showed up and took Stampede in, and I was taken up to the barn owners’ house. My future husband was at work at the time about 45 minutes away, so I called my parents who came and got me. We went straight to the hospital, where I was diagnosed with a broken collar-bone that would require two surgeries to fix.
While I was out of commission I put Stampede into training. The horse I got back on after the time off was nervous and running away. I’ll never know if maybe this was the start of his back pain after the fall, fear of the ring itself after our fall, or a result of the training he received while I was recovering, but he was in a very bad place. I would take lessons where all I did was trot and try to get him to relax. Jumping over a small flower box was so scary for him he would leap in the air.
In the end, a change in ownership of the barn and drastic downturn in care caused me to finally leave the barn after Stampede became sick with an infection, ulcers, and was very underweight. I moved to my current barn from there in 2008, and things began to improve immediately. It was like Stampede took a deep breath the minute he escaped the old barn and was much more relaxed. The running I had been battling melted away quickly on the flat, although he remained spooky about things outside the ring (and still is when his back is bothering him). My new trainer rode Stampede and figured out that he ran more when he was being held to fences, and that change really improved his day-to-day jumping.
My friends pushed me to be brave and take Stampede outside of the arenas, and he very gradually got more brave there. In the beginning we were lucky to get out into the field without a 180 and try to run back towards the barn! Last summer I only had one really bad ride in the field, and it was near the end of the show season when his back was really flaring up. Stampede has even been on trail rides and walked calmly along.
I really learned that I could push my horse and over time he would learn to assume the role I was asking for. I learned that if you want your horse to do something consistently you must ask for it consistently. I also learned that if you think something is wrong with your horse, follow your gut!
In the end, the majority of the training Stampede has had is from me with the help of some others, mostly from the ground. I’m very proud of the things my horse can do, and I feel like we’ve accomplished a lot for all of the issues we’ve had along the way!
The link is closed for this hop too, but you can view Beka’s post and the other linked posts here.