Saturday, April 21, 2012

he has a jenna problem

When I arrived at Riding Right Farm yesterday for my weekly lesson with Merlin, I wasn't sure what to expect. I told Andrea and Hollie (head instructors) about our disastrous loading and unloading and his lack of response to me in the saddle. Andrea takes out Merlin for a training ride every Wednesday as part of our boarding agreement, so she would have just experienced the same animal 48 hours earlier. If his problems were the same for her, that means he could have something seriously wrong with his health or tack. I am grateful for this comparison of amateur and experienced rider. It means that while I am riding him and learning the ropes, he is also getting a really decent training session every week. Andrea is evaluating him for me, as is Patty, and Milt (the Natural Horsemanship Trainer we will work with soon).

Andrea told me she took him out in the fields and her trail ride with Merlin went swimmingly. It wasn't perfect, but darn near it. He balked at the water crossing, but with some encouragement went right across. In the open field of lush grass he didn't fuss, and rode across the landscape without so much as a hitch. She said there were times he acted like a pony, but she was firm and direct in asking what she wanted and Merlin responded without complaint. She didn't have to get off him once, and at his worst he just stepped back a few times and shook his head. He did just fine.

This was good news, mostly because it validated that the problems I had with him last weekend were problems with ME. He isn't in the wrong tack, or in pain, or dealing with poor hooves or teeth. He is dealing with Jenna, and that is no easy task.

He has Acute Jenna Communication Deficiency (AJCD). Symptoms include exasperation, confusion, frustration, and an irrational exposure to kilts, chickens, goat milk, and fiddles. It can never be truly cured, but the remedy is simple: spend more time with Jenna. You don't heal up, but you get used to the beast that smells so much like dog and soil and she grows on you, starts to make sense.

It's all I can ask for.

So our lesson was about my goals with Merlin. After a few minutes in the outdoor arena working on leg yields and a posting trot, Andrea had us go for a walk around the property. Every time Merlin refused a path or started to balk she taught me exactly what to do, how to react, and every single time Merlin chose to trust me and move where I wanted him to go. It was great progress, and not the traditional English Riding lesson. But that is what I love about my Barn. Hollie and Andrea are interested in what YOU want out of the experience, and if I want a trail pony I can hitch to a cart than that is what they will help me achieve. They'll just make sure I look damn good doing it.

I asked Andrea, while she walked aside Merlin and I, what she would recommend to a person buying their first horse? If money wasn't an issue, and the new rider could get any breed, age, or sex of horse, what was her professional opinion on a safe bet for a great experience?

She looked up at me, walking confidently with Merlin's. Her student was finally starting to understand the language between equine and human she knew so well. She thought for a moment, and responded with wisdom I have yet to achieve:

"Take three years of riding lessons on a school horse first."

photo by jon katz.


Blogger damnyankee said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

April 21, 2012 at 10:24 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth from the Berkshires said...

"Take three years of riding lessons on a school horse first."

That's just not the Jenna way.

April 21, 2012 at 10:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

great advice....three years on a school horse...

the good thing about your "syndrome" is that it is totally curable!!

April 21, 2012 at 10:57 AM  
Blogger Lelainia N. Lloyd said...

Animals are instinctual. They can read energy like nobody's business and the smarter the animals (like horses & dogs) the finer they are attuned.

I am betting that because you feel tense and worried about how things are going to go each time, he's totally picking up on that. You need to set your intention before you even arrive that everything is going to go well and the experience will be good. You can't hold onto what happened last time-he's going to know and react accordingly. Keep your head up, your shoulders back and walk with confident authority.

Horses are going to reflect whatever energy you carry, so make sure it's positive energy. Be in the moment. It's a universal truth that you will get what you give.

Good luck!

April 21, 2012 at 11:06 AM  
Blogger Goat Song said...

Excellent advice! I took lessons for four or five years, and then started training greenbroke and problem horses for other folks. Learning the ropes on a trusty school horse is priceless, and it has helped my training immensely. :) I haven't gotten to train any horses in a couple years due to time and space, but oh goodness do I miss it...

April 21, 2012 at 11:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your instructor is right on the money. From the age of 11 to about 17 I rode at an urban rising school that followed British Horse Society Pony Club course of study but with a heavy emphasis on dressage, and also on precision team drill - this was all on school ponies and also included lots of hours in instructing beginning riders from horseback using a leading rein technique. Following my graduiation from that programme, I cadged rides where I could and 'babysat' other people's horses until I found a small harness racing horse stable where I was allowed to ride and train a barren brood mare that I ended up buying. She was a regular handful and needed to have her old racing habits extinguished and new manners and behaviours as a riding horse developed. I was more than ready for this, and thank heavens I was because there was no enclosed place I could use to school her and we had to proceed through heavy city traffic to reach a park area where we could trail ride.
The most important factor in developing a rapport and patnership with your new horse will be putting across a message of calm determination and using thinking that heads him off at the pass before he ever knows he might have refused to cooperate. Best of luck - you have a good team working with you!

April 21, 2012 at 12:13 PM  
Blogger DarcC said...

Sounds like you and Merlin have the right trainer for yourselves! Glad to hear that steady progress is being made!

April 21, 2012 at 1:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

At least he you picked an older been there done that kind of horse with cold-blooded breeding that makes for a calmer animal. Many people want that young hot blooded Arabian or thoroughbred for their first horse with no riding lessons or horse experience. Or worse yet, a stud!!
Heather in PA

April 21, 2012 at 1:13 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

AJCD... Love it! From the QOA (queen of acronyms), I'll give ya 5 stars for that one...haha

You are for sure on the road to becoming JICH (Jasper's in control human)- keep on keepin on, love seeing this relationship bloom~

April 21, 2012 at 3:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No worries, Merlin will have you trained properly in time. It is very interesting to hear how you are learning about Merlin and how to ride.

I have never been around horses except twice. Both times the horses threw me off. Never was told how to ride. Had no idea there was stuff to learn about horses. Thought you just got on one and rode if he didn't throw you off. At least that's what the owners' of those two horses told me when I said I didn't know how to ride.

April 21, 2012 at 5:21 PM  
Blogger admin said...

great post...AJCD!

April 21, 2012 at 6:22 PM  
Blogger Dawn said...

As someone who is training my neighbor's 5 year to become a horsewoman, I think this is great advice. The main thing is that you have the determination and the proper guidance so you will achieve your goals. Have fun!

April 22, 2012 at 1:13 AM  
Blogger Dancing shepherdess said...

The thing that gave me the most confidence while riding, was riding bareback and with only a halter- on trail rides. You learn that the saddle and reins are crutches, and to use your legs and body to center yourself. Speaking of that, have you ever read "Centered Riding"?

April 22, 2012 at 7:27 AM  
Blogger Kelsie said...

I second the idea about riding bareback with only a halter and lead rope. I took many Oregon mountain trail rides this way. You learn a lot about trusting yourself, trusting your horse, and trusting your body when you're cantering up a hillside with no "handles" to hold onto. I credit those rides (which at first, I had to FORCE myself to take) with making me a stronger, more confident, more in-control rider. Merlin looks like he'd make for a super comfy bareback ride. :) Something else you might try, for your own benefit, is asking your instructor to lunge him while you ride bareback--with your eyes closed and your arms straight out from your body in an "I'm flying" sort of position. The first lesson I ever took was done this way--it was the FIRST TIME I'd ever been on a horse, and the instructor had me with only my legs and center of balance holding me in place. We walked, trotted, and cantered this way. I was terrified at first..but eventually, had a blast. Just some ideas!

April 22, 2012 at 3:00 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

AJCD...that made me snort out loud.

April 22, 2012 at 5:44 PM  
Blogger Heather Ann said...

But you fall in love with the struggle as much as the riding itself. The personal besting of a worthily onery opponent. I trained on a gentle-at-our-house pistol-everywhere-else-pony. She gave me confidence and riding ability I never would have achieved in such a time. Through tears I learned to laugh, get back in the saddle and make the beast mind. It sure is hard, but oh so rewarding!

April 22, 2012 at 6:51 PM  
Blogger Bovey Belle said...

That's good news. Nothing that can't be put right with some practice and confidence.

I knew someone who had a horse she always had loading problems with. He died, and she bought a new horse who was perfect to box, but within a couple of months, he was refusing to load. In her case, you can guess who really had the loading problem!!

I bet you can't wait for Merlin to join Jasper back at home and to start driving him.

April 23, 2012 at 4:19 AM  
Blogger SHJeffers said...

That's not the Tiff way, either. :-) I'm more of a dive in and make it work kind of gal. I started riding at 9. I sat on anything people would let me ride, broke, schooled, or not. I bet I have ridden 1000 different horses in the course of my journey and I have learned something from each and every one of them, even if all I learned was yet another way to perfect my emergency dismount!

Oh, and I second the motion on "Centered Riding" by Sally Swift. It is hands down THE BEST book on riding, ever. I have an copy somewhere you are welcome to have.

April 23, 2012 at 11:53 PM  
Blogger beccaWA said...

Why would you delete my post??? I said nothing untoward.

As a single mom, I am REALLY busy around my own little homestead-in-the-making. I won't bother spending the time to comment if it's just deleted.

Good luck with your ventures.

April 24, 2012 at 9:56 AM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

Becca I have not deleted a comment since I started moderating. I don't know what you are talking about. are you sure you submitted your comment ?

April 24, 2012 at 10:11 AM  

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