Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Round Two of Confidence Building

As most of you know, I'm currently struggling to regain the confidence I worked so hard for and then lost as a result of being an absent rider.  YES!  MY FAULT!  I'm paying the price for my choices during this winter.  And indeed Clinton Anderson's article in February's Horse and Rider Magazine hits home real hard.

My last lesson started with the ground work that I'd been doing every day for a week.  I had noted positive results in the seven consistent days I'd been working with Champ - a new respect towards me but still some issues. 

Most of our issues center around when I ask Champ to reverse directions on the lunge line.  He'll change direction but then turns his head towards me and with teeth bared and ears pinned back, he seems to sneer at me.  He'll shake his head and either break into bucks or settle down until I reverse him, and then we'll go through it all over again.

On one of our reverses this day, he did his sneer deal and then broke into full rodeo mode.  He pulled away from me so hard I lost the lunge line.  As the rope burned through my hands I was glad I'd put on my leather gloves, but now I had a loose horse running around the arena.

Thankfully nobody else was in there riding.  I was grateful for Hero Trainer, who had been standing nearby.  Her advice was, "Let him run, let him learn the consequences of his decision."  She headed to the other end of the arena to ensure he kept moving.

Off Champ went around the arena at mach speeds, lead line between his front legs, flailing out between his back legs, sometimes stepping on it and jerking the rope halter.  Ugh! 

Numerous times he sighted me across the arena, penned his ears flat back and headed towards me at a full speed.  A Knight at the King's Court would love a horse like that!  As for me?  I stood my ground, pretended I was 8'3" instead of 5'3", 20 years of age instead of 50+, and just like Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry, I used my stick in a way that said, "Go ahead Punk, make my day!"  And with that stance, each time Champ got close he veered away from me. 

It seemed that this show went on forever.  It was definitely a good 15 minutes until Champ stopped in the middle of the arena, sideways between Hero Trainer and me, each at our respective ends.  Hero Trainer laughed and said, "Let's see which one of us he chooses."

Champ stood there panting and then he looked at me.  He came to me at a slow lope with his ears pricked, like he was asking for help.  Yet I still played the role of Dirty Harry, unsure of what would happen. 

He circled around at a slow lope as if he was on a lunge line.  Hero Trainer chuckled that it appeared he now preferred being back where he'd left me.  However, I was told to keep him going until he asked my permission to slow down. 

Eventually the licking/chewing started and then, taking a few moments, but not immediately, I verbally requested (in a calm voice) that he change to a trot (Champ knows voice commends for Trot and Ease (I chose Ease for Walk because Walk sounds too much like Whoa) and of course, Whoa means stop). 

He was now fully intent on me.  Down he went to a trot and then when directed to the ease (walk) command.  I put him back up to the trot and back down to the ease in both directions numerous times before I verbally requested he whoa.

He was now as humble as he was lathered and panting.  I scratched his head with my stick as I'd seen done and then walked him out some more in different directions.  Hero Trainer suggested I get on and walk him out to cool him off. 

Up I went without an ounce of nerves, (knowing there wasn't much left in Champ to threaten me).  We walked around and then I asked if Hero Trainer would open the gate and let us out of the arena so we could go outside where it was nice and sunny.  So off we went, on a low key ride around the property, just the two of us. 

It was heaven!  It took me back to the days of my rides with my old buddy Barnie.  I could have cried for the partnership I was feeling with this horse, who only thirty minutes ago was charging at me with flattened ears and teeth bared.

As I recalled my rides with Barnie, I thought about Champ's times at home with us in the pasture, always the lowest horse in the pecking order, the one always getting beat up.  Could it be that this guy doesn't know how to deal with being the Leader?  I realized that here is a horse who is looking for his Leader and that is ME!  I felt a new compassion towards this huge red Paint.

Since that experience there seems to be a bond that has been set between us.  He is anxiously waiting at his stall door when I arrive, he must recognize my voice.  There is a peace between us as we walk the property together after our ground work.

Yet when I'm out there by myself, I'm afraid to climb on and ride.  I'm uncomfortable being out there alone.  This is a demon I must face just as I did when I first rode Barnie.  But unlike Barnie, although I've witnessed positive results, I'm still not sold that Champ and I are finished with our issues.  I'll stay on task with the ground work, worried that if I stop we'll backslide. 

And as I did many years ago, noted in one of my earlier posts, "One Step at a Time", I'll count time as my friend, to help me build confidence each time I work with Champ and this in turn will give me the confidence to get back up and ride out there by myself. 

Sounds pretty simple, but it isn't.  But one thing is for sure, you can count me in as sold on the concept of ground work.  :)


  1. I admire your perseverance! I've been having similar confidence issues and it seems each day my girl pulls out a new card to scare me with. This isn't the first horse I've had who scared me. My last mare liked to occasionally stand on her hind legs. But I've decided to take a page from your book and I'm starting each session with ground work and I'm making myself work with her every day. I feel like I'm having to get to know my horse all over again. Hopefully the day will come where she chooses me as Champ chose you! :)

  2. I use easy and walk and soft commands, but when I ask for Whoa and I mean right this second I say HO! Sharp and quick.

    When I ask for a down transition's hooooooooooooo like eaaaaaaaaasy.

    Ground work is essential and as soon as we take it for granted we learn the hard way , and its usually a face plant of some sort!

    Good Luck !

  3. Beautiful story. You're on the right track. Keep at it and it'll work out.

  4. "Numerous times he sighted me across the arena, penned his ears flat back and headed towards me at a full speed."

    Oh my. Good for you for working through it.

    Champ is lucky. I am certain he would have had a taste of a lunge whip for coming at me like that. I also agree with Hero Trainer he can work all that ugliness off. If he jerks on his face by stepping on the line....that's his bad luck and he'd better figure out how not to do that, right?

  5. Good on you being able to muster up the courage to overcome these issues. Sometimes the rewards are small and sometimes they are big, but you're building a close relationship, and Champ seems to be wanting that, too. Kudos!


  6. Time IS your friend if you use it. I love your story, and sounds so much like me. Sissy has been sitting in the pasture all winter, and come the first nice days, GROUND work will be on top of the list. ALTHOUGH she is perfect on the ground. Like you I have to get my confidence in the saddle, and after three years of owning her, which actually feels like a life time, My plans are to bond enough with her, that I can ride her on the trails this summer. Good luck!