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Sunday, January 19, 2014

Tig Week 1 - Part 1

I had expected a young horse to teach me some humility...I just hadn't expected it to happen so soon.

I had a choice.  Keep quiet, pretend everything went perfectly since in the end everything was okay, OR in the spirit of my dedication to blogging and telling the whole story, share the story in the middle that is behind the cheery Tig updates you've been getting.

I decided my loyalty to my readers and dedication to honestly share my horsey life overrode my embarrassment that K* might read this. (Although in hindsight, now that the week is over and it's obvious this was a small blip - if even that - in working with Tig, I can laugh at myself. But at the time I was RACKED with insecurity and doubt of whether I had really screwed up).

Thus today you'll finally figure out why I've been going on and on about how sensible and well-minded she is.

Week 1 was all about getting to know Tig and to get Tig to buy into the idea that I was *her person*.

In my opinion the first week in a new home is critical for the horse - the horse is already stressed from being in a new environment with new people and new feed. Here's my chance to show the new prospect that *I* am the center of calm and order. So, my priorities for week 1 weren't about "training". They were to establish guidelines, routines, and above all keep stress low. The plan was to keep everything low key and work within her comfort zone and figure out what does she know, where are the glaring holes, and what motivates her.

Which is why, in this first week on an evening that represents ride #1, I'm horrified as I watch the cute little grey thing bucking so hard on the lunge line the pad under the saddle goes flying out from underneath the saddle.

But I get ahead of myself.

I'm under contract to ride Tig 3x per week. At least once a week on the trail. Monday I hauled her in. Tuesday I fed her carrots and haltered her. Wednesday I was feeling the pressure to get the first ride done and accounted for.

I know the importance of checking and double checking the tack with a young horse - because often you don't get second chances if something goes wrong - so I wanted to make sure there was a minimum of equipment. So, I was smart and stripped everything off my saddle that wasn't essential for the arena - saddle bags, breast collar, etc. But left my caged stirrups on - which I didn't think anything of. They aren't much bulkier than a lot of western stirrups.

After stripping the saddle, I had to find a bridle that fit (she has a TINY head), switch out bits (which I invariably put on backwards and twisted the first time), and make a million other minor changes. And of course, being a young horse who has pushy's not like she was standing there quietly and cooperatively for the mind numbing task of switch-this-piece-of-tack-out-for-a-smaller-one.

By the time we were tacked and ready to go it was dark and much later than I wanted it to be. This process was taking FOREVER. If this had been my personal horse, I would have called it a day and thanked the heavens that the next time I went out I wouldn't have to play the the fit-the-tack game.

But, I don't have the luxury of time with Tig. And besides my own laziness and pending dinner there was no reason to not move forward.

After making sure the girth was tight we headed out to the arena on a lunge to see what I had.

What I had was a horse that apparently had never been lunged in a saddle with stirrups that were hanging (instead of being slid up).

Now, when I used to break 2 year olds, the first time they were saddled we tied up the stirrups to make sure they wouldn't hit the horse in the sides. No reason to add to the excitement. However, at some point before mounting we would untie them and allow them to swing around as the horse trotted and cantered around as part of the saddle desensitization.

Tig gave a little buck and I saw that my trail stirrups were goosing her on her sides.

"No problem", I thought. Surely in the 4 months that Tig has been ridden someone has lunged her with stirrups down.

Maybe so maybe not...…

Now she was really bucking and I saw that the light weight stirrups were swinging back and goosing her in the flanks with every buck.

This was the perfect example "escalation".

About the time i decided this had gone on long enough and I was going to fix the stirrups so they didn't hang and count this as "something to work on", to my horror I saw the saddle pad under the saddle shoot out from underneath the saddle and land on the ground.

The saddle, now loose because of lack of pad, immediately starts to slip down her side.

I felt like an IDIOT. Of COURSE I should have switched out the darned stirrups to begin with.  Stupid stupid stupid. I know better.

Let's reiterate the situation.

1. I have a young horse
2. At our first session together
3. in a lighted arena after dark (her first time in a lighted arena?)
4. Who is madly bucking on the end of the lungeline
5. With a saddle that is halfway down her off side

I walked towards her and asked her to whoa in a soft voice.

She did.

I asked her to stand.

She did

I unbuckled the girth on the near side and realized it was so far over I couldn't pull it back to my side, but I couldn't let it go and have if drop on the ground either.

She continued to stand calmly.

I spotted one of my biothane bracelets that I had buckeled to a front D-ring. A Handle.

I grabbed it and pulled the saddle towards me.

She continued to stand quietly.

I reassessed the situation.

1. This would make a really good blog story, if I could ever get up the courage to tell it knowing that the breeder who had entrusted her to me might read it.
2. Had I just set her back months in her training? Would she let me retack her up? How the HELL had I gotten myself into this situation? Why had I ever thought I wanted a baby? Obviousy this was a huge mistake.
3. On the other hand.....she hadn't freaked….

I asked her trot on the lunge, now naked, and she did so without drama. Past the pad on the ground and the saddle on the ground without a second look.


I was tired. I was stressed. But if I didn't get on her it didn't count as a ride.

So I jerked my trail stirrups off and managed to dig up a pair of more traditional iron+leathers. Because exactly what I wanted was yet MORE tack adjustments. I did a quick visual look at the length and then I tacked her up again. She didn't even flinch. Good good good. Maybe I hadn't broken her on our first session after all.

So I took her back to the arena and I mounted up.

She stood perfectly and walked forward when asked.

I breathed a HUGE sigh of relief.

We just walked that first session. Which was quite enough for both of us.

I learned some very important things in that first session.

1. Even though Tig could be pushy and fussy, when the sh*t hits the fan she trusts humans.

2. If she didn't kill me that night, it was probable we were going to be OK.

3. She doesn't hold grudges and once the scary thing is past she gets back down to business.

4. I still "have it". I'm not a brave rider.  I take personal safety really seriously.  But when it counts I can be calm, think on my feet, and deal with it. It's been so long since I've worked with young horse I sorta wondered whether or not I was still a capable. In some ways having this sort of thing happen on the first session was stressful, hard, and nerve-wracking.  But on the other hand, it gave me confidence in myself and Tig - I don't have to be perfect for her, I just have to be good enough. Which is enormously reassuring.

I care very deeply that I am doing "right" by horses that come into my care, so most of my self doubt comes from "can I give this horse what they need" and not necessarily "can I handle and ride them successfully". Having to be "perfect" for a horse is very stressful so my biggest concern with Tig in the beginning was that she was going to need "perfection".

Turns out she isn't the type that needs perfection - she needs a job and a partner. Both of which I can give her in the next 3 months.


  1. YIKES! Go, Tig, and glad you're both okay. Bouncing endurance stirrups on the longe freak out even my guy, who's been longed with stirrups slipped down a billion times.

  2. I'm just so impressed that Tig stood quietly to let you remove the saddle. I suspect that experience was not a setback, but probably a fast forward.

  3. In that it was trust building instead of breaking? You might be right...


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