I have a tendency to push my limits. Living outside of my comfort zone really is a constant state of existence. There is no better teacher than failure, if you are the right kind of student, and I like to give myself ample opportunity for maximum knowledge acquisition. That can be a good thing, but sometimes with horses its best to scale it back. Having the judgement to know when you can push a little harder comes with experience. I’ve had my horsemanship improve exponentially from experience gained outside of the comfort zone, and sometimes I just got a life lesson. You get that lesson from having bad judgement. Vicious cycle really…
Anyway, bad judgement was that my first ever solo mustang training choice would be with a four year old emergency round up gelding. Translation, this horse was a wild stallion surviving on the range for four years. From the scarring on his body, I don’t think he was exactly thriving out there, but better the devil you know (living in the wild) than the devil you don’t (life on the GHLHF) in his mind. The BLM rounded him up, gelded him, and adopted him out to me two months later. Patience, perseverance, a little help from my friends, and some pain killers got me through the gentling, groundwork, and first bareback ride. Good judgement earned through the gentling phase told me to send this horse to a professional for the initial under saddle portion of his training.
I spent a year competing my domestics, dragging my mustang along for experience with no expectations. At home we just focused on learning that humans are generally good and not every man made obstacle will eat you. Experience has taught me that if I don’t start treating this horse like my main competition horse, he won’t get the rides he needs to really improve beyond what Nate Eicher has already given him, which is amazing by the way….Johnny Cash has also sent a loud and clear message that he is not ready to become an eventer. He may never be much of a jumper, and that is totally ok. I have two appaloosas more than willing to gallop cross country with the scope to take me over anything I’m brave enough tackle.
One of our local show venues offered clinics on Working Equitation. For those of you that don’t know, and I really didn’t until a few weeks ago. Working Equitation is a combination of dressage, timed trail, and working cattle rolled into a single event. Since the lower levels don’t require any jumping and even the highest levels max out at 24 inches, a flat not talented jumper may find his calling in this sport. Also, the obstacles will go a long way into building Johnny Cash’s confidence. It comes with the added bonus that you can switch up your show attire and tack. I could ride full on dressage, or use my western tack, awesome custom chinks, and custom flat brim if the mood strikes. So I packed Johnny Cash up for what I thought was an all day clinic. As it turned out you sit around and watch other people all day and have 2 hours of ride time for yourself.
My goal was to make the day entirely stress free and enjoyable for JC. So I let him graze for an hour once we got to the venue, then the clinicians were kind enough to let us do all the obstacles in hand for 2 hours as long as we stayed out of the way of the scheduled participants. I warmed Johnny Cash up under saddle around the obstacles during the lunch break and then tied him to the trailer for an hour or so to eat hay. We spent 45 minutes warming up outside of the arena in the pasture/trailer parking area. Johnny Cash gave me some decent, balanced canter work out there. By the time we actually did the clinic, I couldn’t have been prouder of my little range rat.
Johnny Cash was calm through all of the obstacles and only freaked out a little when I snatched up the garrocha pole and accidently bumped his rear while I was trying to get the feel for it and spear a ring. He even tolerated two more passes in which we did the full obstacle, snatching it from the barrel as we rode by, spearing the ring on the bull’s head, and depositing everything in a 2nd loud blue plastic barrel. He was still squirrelly about standing still near the clinician, and during one of the obstacles I had to ask her to step away just to see if he would actually stand still minus a person. He paused, but was less anxious. In competition there won’t be someone standing near the obstacles so we’re good for shows, and we’ll work on being able to do that with a person there. That is still a necessary skill, relaxation around pedestrians.
There were a few moments that Johnny Cash was a little anxious around certain obstacles, but he worked through the anxiety and relaxed the more we attempted them. Throughout the entire clinic we only had a few minor spooks mainly because of shadows, and the rest of the time he was completely calm. There were domestic horses with years of show experience, that displayed more anxiety than Johnny Cash. The entire day was a HUGE success. It was a sign that even when I feel like we’re making the progress of a herd of turtles stampeding through peanut butter, that we’re still moving forward.
I feel like I gave Johnny Cash the best possible off property experience yesterday. No stress or even excitement for either of us. It was just a leisure day with my mustang. He also ate at least a full scoop of treats throughout the day, so I’m hoping those are good memories he retains for the next excursion. Depending on the weather, I’m planning on taking Johnny Cash for one more schooling event, and then we’re off to our first Dressage outing this weekend. Johnny Cash is going to get a crash course in blanketing. The weather is supposed to be incredibly nasty this weekend, and the morning of the show isn’t exactly when I want to attempt blanketing for the first time!