Monday, July 23, 2012

Merlin and Trainer Dave

Dave came over today to accomplish two things: trim Merlin's feet (he's a farrier) and help me with my bossy pony (he's also a great horse trainer). He did both, and by the end of his two-hour visit I was on the back of Merlin, trotting up forest roads and around the mountain with a huge smile on my face and my boy sporting a brand new pedicure. It was such a joy to have my horse back, to be moving across the landscape as a team and not fighting in the road. I learned so much today, and I want to tell you all about it.

Dave started with ground work. Teaching Merlin to respect his space and get out of his way. His tool for this was nothing more than a piece of plastic on a carriage whip, but it did wonders. Fifteen minutes of following orders on the ground (with lots of helpful explanation from Dave) and Merlin was a calmer, quieter, pony. I was amazed at this and pieces of things I was watching on videos and reading in books were coming together right in front of my eyes. A good horse in the hands of a good trainer is a beautiful, beautiful, thing.

After we did the flag-based ground work in a circle, Dave took him up and down the road on his lead rope, driving him ahead of him and controlling his direction with his trusty plastic bag on the stick. Merlin behaved so much better around Dave, and for a lot of reasons. Mostly because Dave knew exactly what buttons to push and started him out on the ground establishing himself as herd leader. That groundwork, I am quickly learning, is the gold standard of horse training. Everything starts on the ground and leaping up on Merlin and expecting to be a cowgirl was a recipe for disappointment. He and I both need that communication time on solid footing. The learning curve here is straight up, folks.

After much success with him on terra firma, we gave Merlin a break from training for his hoof trimming. Dave worked right in the front lawn, checking and clipping his feet while talking shoes and tack. Merlin is barefoot and Dave thinks he is doing well without shoes and unless I start driving him to town every day he should do well unshod. I agreed. Merlin stood like a statue for him, calm as a monk in deep zazen. Dave stood back, crossed his strong farrier arms, and said "This is a NICE horse. He's better than you realize. He may need some work, and so do you, but he is a NICE horse." I lit up the front yard with my grin.

After that we both took turns riding him. Merlin really put Dave through his paces but through consistent work we got him out of the driveway, up and around local dirt roads, and I watched a pro put my pony through his paces. I picked up some hints and tips and by the end of the two hours Merlin was doing exactly as I asked of him, little to no fuss at all. We rode better today than ever before and I was grateful.

Here's the two problems with Merlin: lack of foundation work and me. He was given a long break from regular riding (about four years) and then handed a green rider to start with him again. A rider who knew how to trot around a dressage ring with trained school horses but had little experience and confidence around a greener horse out on wild trails. I went from 0-60 in my expectations and now I am learning what it takes to keep up with my goals. It's taking guts, sweat, patience, money and dedication. But today was a huge step in building a healthier partnership with Merlin and learning how to communicate, correct, and convince him to work with me. Dave was amazing, and we already planned to have him come back in a week. We're going to ride Western next Monday, a first for me.

So stay tuned for more horse tales here. The story is far from over! After all, Merlin and I might enter the Washington County Fair in a few months, or at least start driving regularly. His cart is almost ready and I am growing so much out of these experiences. No regrets, only excitement!

23 Comments:

Anonymous Lynn K said...

Fantastic.
You are lucky to have Dave!
As a lifetime horseman (woman), we all must go through the humbling experiences to understand what is asked of us.
Even us old timers can benefit from refresher courses, and I think you would appreciate the work of Julie Goodnight, and Buck Branaman, if you do not already know of them. Good, sound and humane practical advice and training.
Keep it up!

July 23, 2012 at 1:06 PM  
Blogger Wellfleetgal said...

Fantastic.
You are lucky to have Dave!
As a lifetime horseman (woman), we all must go through the humbling experiences to understand what is asked of us.
Even us old timers can benefit from refresher courses, and I think you would appreciate the work of Julie Goodnight, and Buck Branaman, if you do not already know of them. Good, sound and humane practical advice and training.
Keep it up!

July 23, 2012 at 1:07 PM  
Blogger Deltaville Jamie said...

When I got my first horse Tim, he was a seasoned and spirited former racer and I was a 16 year old who thought she knew everything. It was a love hate relationship until one lesson where my farrier (and my instructor's husband) filled in. He was the one person who was able to teach me-and Tim- how to work together. Glad you found someone who is so helpful not only in teaching Merlin, but in explaining it to you as well!

July 23, 2012 at 1:13 PM  
Anonymous janet gordon said...

I am so glad you have a coach who is willing to work with you and Merlin. Inexperience and anxiety was/is at the root of the problem and it looks as though you and Dave will be able to work through that to bring out the potential that both you and Merlin possess.
This is going to take a long time with lots os stops and starts along the way, but will result in a happier pony and definitely a happier you.

July 23, 2012 at 1:25 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

thank you all for your support and encouragement! It is appreciated and needed!

July 23, 2012 at 1:27 PM  
Blogger Alison said...

So I'm wondering what's got you to try Western style? I wouldn't be surprised if you end up preferring it! (And I say this as a former English hunter-seat rider--I just think there's something about Western that might fit you.)

July 23, 2012 at 1:29 PM  
Anonymous Tracie Stivason said...

So happy to read this Jenna! I have to say everytime I see a picture of Merlin, I am just amazed at just how beautiful he is and how gorgeous those muscle and mane look! What a beauty! You two will work it out and now you are on the right track! I like the "sound" of this post! Way to go!

July 23, 2012 at 1:29 PM  
Blogger Rosie said...

Bravo Jenna. You are right, it all starts with ground work. That is where the control & respect starts. Good girl, I am so happy you have a capable coach helping you.

Keep at it.

July 23, 2012 at 1:45 PM  
Blogger Mary Schroeder said...

Glad you are moving forward with some help. Sounds like the old horse had the new rider's number and how to push her buttons. Keep up the good work - everyone starts somewhere.

Watching Merlin in that video - he is a gorgeous horse!! You really found a gem with him. So long as your minds start working together you guys will conquer a lot. I bet he would even do well in local halter shows - that is how "correct" he is put together.

July 23, 2012 at 1:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I sure do wish that they would teach groundwork when you take horse riding lessons. I didn't have a clue as to why my sweet horse of a few months suddenly turned into a huge brat.

I went through a very similar experience to what you are dealing with. It wasn't until I started learning about ground training and learning how to become my horse's leader that everything improved. It is all about who moves whose feet!

Think of it as a way of communicating with your horse. You will learn to read him over time, so that when he tests, you will know exactly what to do and his antics will become less over time.

Look for him to lick and chew after you teach him something or correct him-that means he is learning!

You can do it!

Heather in PA

July 23, 2012 at 2:12 PM  
Blogger redhorse said...

I agree with Dave, Merlin is a very nice horse. At this time, he just thinks you and Jasper might be a pain in his butt. He got used to being the boss of himself. I imagine he'll always prefer having his own way, but you can convince him to be willing to let you lead.

Are you considering changing to a Western saddle? I rode English for almost 30 years and now I ride Western. The "trail" saddles and endurance saddles tend to be lighter, which I like, you can get endurance saddles without a horn too.

Good luck, I enjoy the stories.

July 23, 2012 at 2:16 PM  
Anonymous cowgirl said...

GREAT!!! Way to go!!! (you too Merlin the Magnificant)

July 23, 2012 at 2:25 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Mary I am blushing!

and i have an email from you I read but have yet to respond to, I'm sorry, please be patient as I am behind in emailland

July 23, 2012 at 2:33 PM  
Blogger ladyfarrier said...

What a great "report". Good for you, Jenna.

July 23, 2012 at 4:56 PM  
Blogger J.D. said...

Merlin: Jenna's now has your number. The party's just begun.

My Lord, he's a beautiful animal!

July 23, 2012 at 7:07 PM  
OpenID domesteading said...

I think it's great you're going to try a Western saddle - whatever feels right. I cannot say enough good stuff about my new (to me) Aussie saddle! I am so glad I didn't just put up with saddles that weren't feeling right and kept looking, because it has made a huge difference in how I am able to work my horse. I just feel more confident and at ease and can focus more on communicating with with him correctly. Also, I say it yet again, Merlin is sooooo pretty! (drool drool)

July 23, 2012 at 7:41 PM  
Blogger Glyndalyn said...

Yes, Jenna, try western. Or better yet, bareback. It's fun.

From his photographs, Merlin has always looked like a nice horse. You can do this.

The Phony Farm in TN

July 23, 2012 at 8:19 PM  
Blogger Plant City Homestead said...

I love watching the videos of Merlin. As others have said, he is a beautiful horse. I have total confidence that you can do this Jenna. It is like the foundation work you did with Gibson. You had to establish you were his leader before you could teach him other skills. I was very impressed with Dave. He will be a great teacher.

July 23, 2012 at 9:49 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

That is awesome Jenna! Dave seems like just what you needed to get that condfidence back. You are learning a lot and I can see both by what an amazing animal Merlin is, and the determined woman you are, you'll be in that groove with him soon enough. I want to see a video of you galloping through a green field with him with joy in your face by the end of summer, k?! :)

July 23, 2012 at 11:24 PM  
Blogger Brenda London said...

I loved watching Merlin move and you must have puffed all out like a momma would hearing from a trainer the sincere highest praise: "He's a GOOD horse." My husband is a trainer, in the old days before all the horse whisperer hype, that was what he was called by folks. Now we don't encourage that, makes folks expect Robert Redford. Howard has his harness stable and horses in Saratoga and I have my 4 horses, pony, and standard donk here at home. Generally I am on my own with them but when bratty behavior happens Howard comes down to set things straight. He can just BE there and their behavior improves. (however, they love me more. they will not go to him as they do for me, I have to go get them and bring them to him. I feel a bit smug about that). When our 3 yr old baby of the stable won her first race a few weeks ago she was expected to go into the winners' circle for picture taking. She had never done that before and she stood out on the track, driver in the cart but she was glued to the ground. Howard walked a few steps towards her, signaled slightly with his arm and said (very quietly) "come to Pappa" and that was all it took, she calmly (hard to do after a race) and politely entered the circle and stood for pictures. It really is something to see a real horse trainer at work. You have such good instincts Jenna, knowing that you and Merlin need work and knowing that you can and should turn to Dave for that help. He is an AWESOME pony, please post more videos of him moving, it makes me shiver!!!

July 24, 2012 at 11:26 AM  
OpenID ruralaspirations said...

Jenna, I am so proud of you. Being a green rider with a green horse is a very difficult colour combination! But you CAN do it, it's just going to be more work. And obviously, you are not afraid of work!

I couldn't agree with you more strongly that ground work is key. It really, really is and you are lucky to have a Dave in your life who understands that. My trainer works the same way, and wouldn't let me or my husband up on her school horses until we'd had 3 or 4 lessons of just ground work, learning how to move a horse's body and thereby gain their attention, their trust, and their willingness to follow your leadership.

Good for you for knowing when to ask for help, and for being so darned willing to listen and learn!

July 24, 2012 at 12:32 PM  
Blogger Tiffrz-N-Kidz said...

There you go! This is wonderful that you found someone to help you at the farm. Working the basics is always a good idea.

July 24, 2012 at 4:15 PM  
Blogger farmhousewife said...

Bravo Jenna! You are learning that Merlin is YOUR MIRROR! When you know what you're doing, he will do what you ask! (wait, that sounds condescending, but not meant so)

This connection you have with Dave is a true relationship builder; he really has a connection with horses, and it's not rocket science but learned and intuitive.

You are blessed to be having this experience and to be able to articulate your triumphs and disappointments is a RESOURCE to your future relationship with Merlin; one that is FOUNDED on what you are currently experiencing.

I don't even know you and I'm BUSTLING with excitement about your learning curve - straight up - like a good stiff drink.

This is incredible.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, for sharing your journey with us!

July 25, 2012 at 5:27 PM  

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