Friday, April 25, 2014

Part of the Deal and Setting The Compass

Elvis's former owners loved Elvis.  When Elvis had been given to me it was with the understanding that I give him a good home and care/love him as much or more than they did.

The day we met Elvis and his owners, Elvis was in cross-ties.  I noted that each time Elvis started to get restless or paw he received a mint (which resulted in more pawing and more mints).

Same when he was in cross-ties and the hose was turned on.  Elvis would frantically paw until he was fed water from the hose.  The running hose would be applied to Elvis's mouth and Elvis would lap it up.

Once he decided he was finished the hose would go back to the job at hand until Elvis decided he wanted more water (more pawing).  Pretty soon the task at hand was forgotten as Elvis determined he'd rather have the water vs where it needed to be.

Elvis had been a handful the day we'd gone to pick him up.  He didn't lead well, didn't want to load and when loaded had violently kicked and stomped in the trailer all the way home.  I was surprised the walls of our trailer weren't dented when we got to the barn where I planned on getting to know him with the assistance of my Frainer (friend and trainer).

Once unloaded I'd taken him directly to the round pen to get some of that trailer stomping freshness out of him.  It was a long walk from the trailer to that round pen and I had moments where I thought he was going to stomp all over me and/or get loose.

I still recall the first few times I put Elvis in the cross-ties and had to head into the tack room to grab something.  There would be the loudest ruckus in the cross-ties and my barn mates would dash into the tack room wide eyed to report that Elvis was rearing.  I can understand their concern - it was quite a site to see when Elvis reared in the cross-ties.

I inherited these traits and they needed to be addressed.

Elvis is a smart horse.  He couldn't figure out how come he wasn't getting mints or water. My lack of understanding what he wanted incited him.

But I've been down this road before and as a result I have a rule about treats.  I love my horses to death but it's rare that I feed treats to them. And if I do, rarely is a treat fed by hand.  Instead the treat goes into the feed bucket.

Elvis had a real problem with my philosophy.  Added to that was the fact that he didn't know me and I didn't know him.  I had brought home a fire breathing steed and with my rule of knowing what you have on the ground before you get in the saddle, I frankly didn't trust him.

My Frainer rode Elvis while I observed.  I took lessons to gain trust and learn how he ticked.  We both worked on helping him understand how one behaves in the cross-ties.  No treats were given and eventually Elvis figured out that it wasn't worth the effort to act up for no reward.  These days Elvis stands quietly in the cross-ties or when tied at a hitching post.

Part of the deal with Elvis's former owners was that I'd bring him home and let him be a horse.  Last May we had hauled Elvis home with very little drama in the trailer.  Not the ultimate haul but better.

Having Elvis at home was a good thing.  He got to be a horse, I hauled him up for periodic lessons and we bonded.  All those trips in the trailer (already saddled) added miles onto Elvis's travels and he became a good hauler.

Last fall I moved Elvis back to the barn for the winter so I could have access to an indoor arena. With our established relationship we had a lot of good rides but I still wasn't sure exactly what I wanted to do with him.  Was it Dressage, Western Pleasure, Trail Riding, Sorting? I just couldn't nail where we were going.

This really bothered me.  Being a goal oriented person I felt like my compass was broken and just spinning around.

In early January I found my answer.  A large answer...I wanted to try it all.

I sat down with my Frainer that second week of January and enlisted her help in exposing Elvis to various environments.  And from that meeting forward, our journey truly started.  These days my compass may swing from the north to the south.  But I always know where we are going.

Unfortunately, when you are the one on a journey that requires you to be involved, it's hard to take pictures.  I knew Elvis had been trained in Dressage and Western Pleasure but I can't show you how proficient I found him in showmanship or what fun he is on a trail course, backing/side passing, bridges, mailboxes, gates, poles, etc.

I can't show you how well he jumps or how he has no issue with being roped off of or dragging items behind him.

Sorting.  Something I'd wanted to do since I retired Bob.  He took to the cows but had issues standing still for long periods of time in-between runs (35/45 minutes). I think if we'd had any space to move (it was packed full of riders), we'd have been ok.

And only recently, the one discipline I now believe will be a huge part of our future...Elvis, compliments of my Frainer, went on his first trail ride.

When I look at this picture I hear my compass go DING!

The future?  Elvis comes back home on Monday for the summer.  He now hauls like a king and I will be going up to the barn each week to take a lesson and also to attend weekly Ladies Night sessions.

Thanks to the barn and my Frainer (Rachel Koehler, love you to death!), I've met some Cowgirl Pals who are avid trail riders.  Some do the yearly Chief Joseph Trail Ride with their Appy's (something Elvis and I are qualified to also participate in...a goal for 2015).

Some also participate in the John Wayne Trail Ride (which ironically actually starts about four miles from our cabin...another goal for 2015).

For 2014 I plan to ask some of my Cowgirl Pals to accompany us on some trail rides locally and also at the cabin so we can get some miles on us.  I also plan on playing with poles here at home and intend to participate in a local horse show this August.  Note the riding here at home.  Last summer I never rode Elvis at home because I was still uncertain about him.  To me, riding at home is a testament to how far we've come in the last year.

Part of the deal of receiving Elvis was the love and care I give him.  These days I have a good guy who stands quietly when tied and respects my space.  Elvis is a respectful, happy, content horse who no longer needs treats to behave.

It took some time but my compass is set and I know where Elvis and I are going.  What I'd forgotten about setting the compass was that it never points in just one direction.  It depends on where you are going on that certain moment (day).

Where we are going will allow Elvis to get to be a horse and me to continue to work on being the rider I've always wanted to be.

The Future Is Ours!


  1. What a good horse that Elvis is and you are obviously a great handler! I'm curious as to were your cabin is. I've rode my bike on the John Wayne trail and while riding, I've talked with my husband about taking our horses on the trail. Could it possibly be the same John Wayne trail in Eastern WA?

  2. Good for you; sounds like some really good goals - but then I am all about trail riding. It teaches you and your horse so much and the trust has to be there. It gives really smart horses a job to do; their favorite thing since they really, really need something to focus on! It's seldom boring because you never know exactly what's around the next bend, even if you ride that trail every day, due to weather, animals, etc.

    I do treat, but am very careful what the treat is for. I used clicker training when my horses were young; a great way to teach the PROPER way to give treats and the PROPER way for horses to take the treat. Congrats on getting past those bad traits Elvis had!!
    Bionic Cowgirl

  3. It is so fun to what you and Elvis grow as a team!

  4. I'm so glad you found Elvis! He's such a great horse!