Jean-Luc and I have been making pretty great progress in the month we’ve come together. One huge leap forward comes in the form of being able to lead him to and from the field without total melt downs and without the fear of being trampled. We have fallen into routines that I believe are teaching him “safe spaces”. For example, he’s learned that the barn is a safe place. Going to the barn means there will likely be grain with some light grooming – all for the price of some quiet standing in place.
Depending on our headspace, we then either tack up and head to the round pin for some ground work, or we just go straight over sans the tack. As a point of validation, those who say, “solid ground work is the foundation for everything else,” aren’t kidding! Since I really started understanding how to communicate through intension and body langue, things have really changed.
Our first few sessions together were tough. Jean-Luc acted like a hot horse, running as fast as he could with his head cocked to the outside, trying desperately to get to his buddies. But, more recently he’s started to perform a very calm and collected canter. In fact, in the past four days I’ve witnessed something I’d really like to sit. (Nope, haven’t tried it yet.)
Like I said, things were progressing nicely. Something new we tried last week involved saddling up and making our way into a field used for training. The field itself is full of jumps the aforementioned Wonder Woman Liz uses, and plenty of other terrifying things – like deer. On this particular day, we were alone. A thunderstorm was making its way towards us over the mountains. Jean-Luc and I made our way across the creek, and overall, he seemed to be in the mood for exploring – I encouraged him. Together, we walked around Liz’s jumps, and managed to keep our cool when two does darted through the far pasture.
Upon surviving all those scary things, I figured this was a pretty big step and took Jean-Luc back to the barn to unsaddle. The week continued on, and while I had some great quality training time in the round pin, I was unable to carve out enough time to repeat the field session until nearly four days later.
Cue literal hell. Occasionally I suffer from panic attacks. I can’t always pinpoint when or what triggers them, they just happen. However, the world isn’t going to stop, and nor should my breathing. Usually, that’s how I pass them – breathing. It just wasn’t working on this particular day, though. Nope, instead a thousand-pound imaginary critter had parked itself on my chest with zero intensions of moving.
At 10:00 AM it was already balmy. The temperature was a West Virginia seventy-two degrees. Meaning, without checking, I knew the humidity had to be floating around 100 percent. I didn’t care, it was Sunday and I had the entire day to work with my horse!
I rolled into the barn, exchanged pleasantries with BM, and started my usual routine, making ready for my session with Jean-Luc. In my head I was thinking, “Hey, I have the time. I’ll saddle up and maybe even find my way to the rail trail! It’s just over the river and through the woods. Or, something like that.”
And this is the part where my mother would chime in, “Dream on, Alice”. However, she clearly was not there to do so.
I retrieved Jean-Luc from the field. I could tell after a few minutes that exploring our way to the rail trail might have been a little too ambitions. “Fine,” I thought to myself, “adjust.”
That’s another realization I’m learning – patience and fluidity are paramount. Though I may have more patience than most, it still takes quite a bit of mental awareness to recognize things you or maybe your horse just are not ready for. I mean sure, others would clearly see the fact that Jean-Luc, a buddy sour horse, and me hadn’t even completed two successful sessions in a field on our own yet. Setting a goal to hit the rail trail alone was beyond unrealistic and unattainable.
The adjustment came in the form of tried and true routine. I typically do some round pin work before ever even getting on, so that is what we did. I saddled up Jean-Luc and lead him to the round pin. He is getting pretty good in there. He turns to the inside usually, and has started looking at me more while working – until that day.
On that day, he decided he’d try something new. Rather than running around the arena like we’d practiced, and turning when I stepped in front of his drive line, backed up, and pointed – he just stopped. He just stopped and did not faced me, but looked forward. He would not go left. I’m pretty sure hellfire and brimstone could have rained from the sky and he would have considered running off to be one of the four horses of the apocalypse was a better idea than going left. I tried all the things I remembered from the training videos I’d watched and eventually got one painful lap before we finally quit that part of the session.
I hate how frustrated I let him make me. Looking back now, I know it was only because I just didn’t have the answer. That must be where most trainers, and people for that matter, go wrong. When you’re trying to communicate, and your message just isn’t getting across, or someone just doesn’t seem to care. It is only days later I realize that some things require more patience and more understanding. Trying something that doesn’t work is okay, so long as you can both end on a positive note.
Regardless, the goal I had set for that day was to make it to the field, and we had to try. I hoped on Jean-Luc and made a few passes in the yard I felt safe working in. He really wanted to head to the shade where the other horses were. I could feel his energy every time we came within eyesight of the herd.
Eventually, I got to the point where I felt like we were waiting time. In retrospect, more time working in the small yard might have been good for us. Nevertheless, I took control with my hips and pushed us onward through the little creek that leads into the big field. The flies were terrible. A giant horsefly even managed to bite through my spandex tights. Though I fly-sprayed him, they were no less forgiving to Jean-Luc.
Things were far from perfect. Jean-Luc desperately wanted to head back to his horse-friends, but I knew that three laps around that field equaled one mile and we were not heading back until we did at least one mile. I did not care what direction, but we were completing one mile together, in the field, under saddle.
So that is what we did. I pushed through one very prissy, head shaking, prancy, pacey mile – but we did it. I can’t say I finished that afternoon feeling very good. In fact, I was pretty disappointed things went so far south. I had all the best intentions of have a magical afternoon with my Jean-Luc, and none of it happened. Instead, we fought like an old Italian couple – loud, tossing things around, with our limbs flailing everywhere at each other.
The silver lining is that we did complete our goal. We had never actually done a full lap in the field. Three laps in the field was huge step forward. Again, I am only able to grasp that notion upon retrospect.
Today, I didn’t have time to head back out into the field, and with the promise of a real trail ride tomorrow alongside Liz and Q, I felt we needed to revisit this developing bad habit in the round pin. I still cannot put my finger on what started the unwillingness to turn when asked, but I believe it has to do with the heat, and the fact that Jean-Luc is actually quite the cold-blooded creature.
He has learned how to get out of moving and thus takes full advantage of it. To combat this, I simply had to become more firm and direct in my body motions. I called to memory my first lesson with BM. She talked about how the communication link between a horse and their person is almost psychic. One key is to literally envision what you want the horse to do – so I did, and it actually worked.
It took time, but when Jean-Luc started to protest, I managed to rein in my frustrations. I reacted with patience, direct cues, and practically willed him to listen. I don’t have any better explanation that that. It wasn’t the prettiest session in the round pin we’ve had thus far, but I believe we’re back on track.
Who knows what tomorrow’s trail ride will bring? The past few days were a reminder to set goals, but realistic, attainable goals. Otherwise, you end up feeling like a failure, robbed of your hard-earned confidence. Surpassing a properly set goal helps to earn and maintain much that needed con
My name is Chelsey.
Generator's Cuevo Gold, or as he's known around this barn, "Jean-Luc Ponycard", was foaled in 2004 from Generator's Hurricane & Cheyenne's Little Bit.