Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Horses Who Made Me: Mack

My middle school to high school transition years were sort of "lost years" in the realm of my time with horses. My two best friends had horses of their own (Luke and Apache) that I would ride from time to time, but as we all got older and became more worried about our social lives, riding was less and less. This never seemed to greatly bother either of my friends (Barbara would later sell Luke to a little girl), it was killing me slowly.

A friend I became closer to during this time whom I'd met in 4-H and at Teri's in previous years introduced me to a lady with a boarding facility just outside of town during my junior year. This was the answer to the horse withdrawal I had been experiencing!

My friend Carly was boarding her horse at this place, known affectionately as The Pony Garage. Sonya ran it, but needed help with cleaning stalls, so she employed Carly and myself at $6/hour. It wasn't much money, but it was something to a high schooler!

Carly worked there to help pay off her board, I picked up hours to help gain access to some horses to ride and work with.

My schedule up there differed based upon the time of year (horses were inside at night in the winter and inside during the day in the summer). My duties consisted of mucking, feeding, turn out, and bringing them in dependent upon the season. If there were horses with special needs, I would provide them with their specific grain or medication. Anything that needed done in and around the barn I did.

And boy, oh, boy did I learn a ton!

With a little time, Sonya learned to trust me. She started letting me ride each of her horses, starting me from the bottom up. I began riding her more seasoned mares who'd really been around the block a few times. When Sonya realized I had a good seat and really knew what I was doing she turned me loose. I rode almost whoever I wanted, whenever I wanted.

I tried out so many different horses in such a short amount of time. She always had new boarders, training prospects, and other random horses in and out. There were never more than 30 horses AT MOST, usually we kept around 18. This was plenty to keep me busy!

One horse in particular that was kind of an "a ha" moment for me in the realm of working with green horses was a horse named Mack. He was a red QH gelding, a show prospect for someone, I believe, who was at Sonya's for some training miles. He was young, 4 or 5, and had never ever worked outside of a ring. While at The Pony Garage, his turnout situation wasn't even as grand as the other horses as he was confined to a small paddock most of the time, not the field where the others were.

Mack - the only photo I have of him

One summer day, a group of folks from the area was set to have a big trail ride. This crew over here really knows how to ride. They head out for 4-6 hours (long due to the fact that we'd have a group of 2 to 3 dozen folks we had to try to keep together so there was lots of stopping and waiting for stragglers) through the woods, over the mountains, and through all the streams and obstacles in between. No ride is complete without some crazy obstacle (old bridges where horses fell through) and plenty of alcohol (including WV white lightning).

Sonya said I could ride Mack for this ride. Sweet, I thought, this horse looks fun.


Green was more like it!

He was so green. So very green. Everything was new to him. Everything was a cause for alarm. Mailboxes, trashcans, trash bags, chickens, cows, ponies, lines on the road, gates, other horses, other people, random trailers, bright houses, running water, you name it, he was alarmed by it.

I stayed patient though. He was very honest about his concerns, and I never came off.

Throughout the day he went from, HOLY SHIT THIS IS CRAZY OMGOMGOMGOMGOMG. To more of a weary and defeated, Holy. Shit. This. Is. Crazy. IsitoveryetOMGOMG. The terrain we covered was enough to chill him out.

I'd never ridden a horse prior to this that I got to watch change so drastically in a few hours time. I knew his exhaustion attributed much to his change in demeanor, but it was still so very interesting to me. I've ridden many horses since who are still so freaked at the end of a similar ride; Mack was unique in his acceptance of so much so quickly - or maybe he really was just SO out of shape, but I don't think that was it so much.

I only rode him that one time. But it's stuck with me to this day. I learned that miles and time with a horse can really help them. Not necessarily from one ride like with Mack, but inevitably, a horse will calm down as you spend more time exposing them to many things. Its worked with Griffin and with Q. Both are much calmer than other horses because of the time I've spent with them. Mack helped teach me this.

(And keep in mind, while this lesson seems so obvious to so many due in part to the eruption of the natural horsemanship training these past several years, it wasn't obvious to me in high school. I had ZERO exposure to a horse world outside of what I directly experienced. I knew professional events and training existed somewhere, methodology behind reaching the pro level though? ZERO KNOWLEDGE. ZERO. I honestly didn't even start reading into training methodologies until I got Orion in 2012. Everything I learned prior to that was direct, hands-on experience. No trainers. No horse camps. Nothing. The fact that I picked up the knowledge I did in the manner I did still amazes me to this day.)

My horses have Mack to thank (in part) for the time I spend with them exposing them to as many things as I can. Q's been in a multitude of parades - complete with sirens and flashing lights. Griffin has been all over the farm and the surrounding property these past two years - we hiked it a lot before we ever rode it - which has helped turn him into a solid little greenie on the trails. He's not flummoxed by much!

I don't know what became of that red gelding, but I'm thankful for the short day we had together and the lesson I learned from it.

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