In which the Dragon didn't overcome all obstacles overnight

I was so proud of the Dragon for touching the 
Plastic Marshmallows of the Apocalypse..

Suspicious, but eventually, willing to touch.
Cookie now, please.

And so many people seemed so...impressed.  I know lytha in Germany was feeling envious, because her young mare is at that stage of training where every little thing seems like a Major. Roadblock. To. Fun.

But I gotta confess:

It wasn't easy.  And it wasn't fast.

It took us almost SEVEN YEARS to touch those things.

Yeah, sure, if you were watching us there, in the field the other day, it would look like about 10 minutes of negotiation, promises of cookies, and eventual draconic capitulation.

But we didn't start this process in that field the other day.  We started in the dead of winter, 2006-2007.

At first the conversations went a lot like this:

**SWISH**

Whack!  Whack!  Whack!  "Thou shalt NOT kick at me, you un-publishable expletive deleted!"**

**SWISH!  SWISH!  SWISH**

"Oh, no you don't, cussword not repeated here!  Back your expletive butt up NOW!" 

*STOMP.  SWISH.  backing up, ears pinned, bad words implied via body language.*

"There.  Thank you.  Good girl."

*Ears pinned. Denial of capitulation.*

(moments later)  *SWISH*

lather, rinse, repeat.


2007
I'm smiling because she's gaiting instead of bucking.


2008.  She's just finished trying to kick somebody at a "fun" show.
I am not pleased...and have no intention of giving up.

Our training program was a mixture of force, in case you've been following the conversation about that training technique over at the Equestrian Ink blog, and praise
2009

...whenever she did anything remotely pleasing.

Like standing in a field wearing a pirate hat and not trying to kill anybody...for a minute or more!

Goooooooood girl.  Have a cookie.

We made plenty of forward progress.

Her first "endurance" event:
the 25-mile LD ride at Home on the Range, 2010.
But there was still plenty of attitude.  Negotiations about what we would do, dadgummit, were daily events.

I always won...but the conversations took a lot of time and energy.

I know the Usual Suspects were wondering why I continued to ride the snarky not going to write that word here, and I'm not sure I have a really good answer.

I certainly wondered it myself, a lot of days.

Training ride, 2011.
Gradually, we could see some progress.

In 2011, we officially re-nicknamed Fiddle "The Dragon."  It was a much nicer name than any curse word not printed here we had been calling her prior to that.  The name didn't trigger a change, but it did label a change we were all seeing, and that was a good thing.

But there was still a problem with the Dragon.

Springtime for the Dragon
I had pretty much run out of training ideas to get the Dragon moving forward with some degree of happiness...and I had definitely run out patience to keep clobbering her.  So, I got a little help from Modern Science:

Spay surgery, spring 2012

Changing Fee's hormonal balance has literally changed her life.  It didn't make her a better horse...but it took away (I realize this now, more than a year later) some of the chronic pain that has been affecting her, probably for most of her adult life.  And without the pain,

Both of us, visibly happier
I love this photo.

she's a happier, nicer horse.  

She has a longer attention span.  She learns new things more willingly.  

She is still a Dragon, of course.  Ten years of nastiness doesn't evaporate in a few months.  But we can definitely see major changes.

She will now listen to me...not only because I never shut up, but also because I am now a source of comfort for her.  And a comfortable horse doesn't need much force to get stuff done.

Could we have saved a bunch of time and angst if I'd dropped her into surgery in 2007?  

Maybe.  Maybe not. 

I guess that the comfortable space where we are is the sum of all the discomfort she and I have endured together for all these years.  

I'm busy, she's waiting for me to finish so we can go do something Fun.
That's how we are, now.

Don't despair, lytha.  You and Mara will get there.  And we'll all be cheering for you, all along the way.

Because...

it's good.

Comments

  1. I had a gelding who DID kick somebody at a fun show; my friend on another horse. We were supposed to be trotting in a hunt-seat class but he decided we were racing and that he was going to take out the competition. By kicking at them. And hit the rider in the leg instead. The judge did NOT throw us out! I had to demand to be let out of the ring, which I thought was strange. He had already dumped a youth rider in his first class of the day and brought the whole show to a halt while they loaded her up and took her to the hospital. I did not hang in there like you did, he was already on the market at that point and that show took away all doubts about selling him. He went to a barrel racing home which suited him much better and I bought an Appy mare that was a better match for my little-bit-of-every-discipline style and have never regretted it. Everyone has to figure out the solution to their horse's issues, it's never a one-size fit's all answer. Your mare is lucky she ended up with YOU and not someone unable to figure her out.

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  2. I love your description of your early training moments:) What I think is great about your relationship with Fiddle is not just that you continued working with your occasionally mare, but that you cared enough about her to look for what might be bothering her physically. I think it can be too easy to chalk up behavior issues to a horse's personality (especially with mares) and not look deeper into potential physical issues. So congrats on overcoming the giant marshmallows (my horse is still terrified of mailboxes) and I can't wait to see what the two of you do next!:)

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  3. This is a Great post Aarene! You really chronicled your life & times to date - with Fiddle. (The kick-out photo gets the hearts racing of your friends who've seen it first hand!) To see the two of you now, as I did today - totally having fun & being such a team - just drives home the point! Hard work, dedication (+ medical intervention) does produce rewards in abundance!

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  4. wow, how nice of you to chronicle the years for my benefit: ) it is really helpful and i'll keep coming back here when i feel discouraged. i had j read it and he said, "so....mara needs an operation?" *lol*

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  5. Thank you, thank you! This is a great reminder to keep on keepin' on - even when the times get a little rough!

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  6. Love this entry. My early road with Ozzy was difficult and full of tears and cuss words (which I DID publish online). It seemed hopeless at the time, but it just built a stronger bond. Now when people praise what a nice horse he is, I smile and laugh on the inside, remembering where we started. (And his stubbornness wasn't fixed by medical intervention, but his early NASTINESS was...)

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  7. Wow - I didn't realize that there had been such a change! It's noticeable in the pictures.

    and....you acually made me giggle outloud in class. BAD AARENEX - those sort of posts have to have warnings on them!!! :)

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