Groundwork for moi

At my last lesson, I was semi-responsible for letting David*out of the pasture and into the riding ring.  I was trying to put Stalker out to pasture for the evening and wound up letting the gate stay open too long.  This enabled David to make a run for it and wind up in the ring.  He was fairly easily caught and returned to the pasture but I felt kinda dumb because keeping Davidin had been the whole point. David doesn’t make anything easier on anyone because he hangs out right by the gate.  He’s not like a cat, which one can pick up (usually) and put down in a place of one’s choosing.

So I was in the pasture with David, trying to turn Stalker loose and also shut the fence. And when David went thundering past me, I swore a blue streak in front of the younger generation at the stable (Sorry kids!) and I was scared.  I shrank out of the way, although I’m sure there was no expectation that I somehow stop David with my entire will and being.

I’ve thought quite a bit about this during the day and I realized that I’m kinda scared of horses when I’m down on the ground with them.  This is a theme that has re-occurred during the last two years. 

I know I was scared when I went to look at the Enourmous Halflinger a couple of weeks ago. And Phylliss used to scare the dickens out of me with her snorting, half-kicks, and pinned-back ears. And once when there was some whinnying and squealing at my first stable, I assumed a position face up against the stall door, back to the noise, in an attempt to preserve my vitals. I thought again how scared I was just watching the Irritable Mare back in the spring as she tore around and around the indoor arena at the Empire. 

Do I need to spend time hanging out in the pasture and let the horses mill about me?

I’m not sure what to do about this.

*I have an excellent friend who finds it hilarious when horses have names like “David” or “Phylliss.” She says if she ever owns her own boat, she’ll name it “Steve.”

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One response to “Groundwork for moi

  1. I hate bringing horses in or out of a paddock with other loose horses in it–I’m not convinced one handler can really manage a horse on a lead, the gate, and a horse determined to escape. I’m glad no one was hurt!

    Your post got me thinking about my last year–last fall, I was horribly intimidated by some of the horses in the barn, to the point that I didn’t want to bring them in–although that was my job. I felt like I *should* know how to handle them on the ground, but I didn’t, really.

    I finally had to admit I was intimidated to my trainer. I felt like an idiot, but it’s the best thing I could have done. She pointed out, basically, that we have to learn ground work just like we have to learn how to ride–that there’s no reason I should “just know” what to do when the young TB goofball decides to buck his way from the paddock to his stall.

    Ever since then, she and her daughters have worked with me on ground work. It’s never a huge deal–five minutes here, five minutes there. But they know I’m interested, so they take time to answer any questions I have and tell me about anything that happened recently I might like to know. I also spend more time watching them work with the horses–I pay attention to the body position and their tone of voice, as well as how the horse responds.

    I’m not sure anyone else in the barn even realizes I’m being “taught” ground work–that’s how informal these “lessons” are. But they’ve made a world of difference to my confidence and my general handling abilities.

    Can you ask your trainer about shadowing her (him?) for a couple afternoons? Or even shadowing an experienced barn worker? Go with them while they bring in/turn out/tack up. You’ll be able to watch what they do, ask questions if something unusual comes up, and work with more difficult horses in supervised situations–where you can get immediate feedback/help. Or even at the beginning or end of your lesson, ask one or two questions– “Dobbin pins his ears when I do this, and it worries me. What can I do?” Half the fear (for me, anyway) was not knowing how to respond if the horse did X. Once I learned how to respond, that fear went away. (Except with the stallion, but that’s a different ball of wax.)

    I guess, in a long-winded way, I’m saying that learning ground work (and how to handle the unexpected in horse behavior) isn’t something that we all learn by osmosis. It has to be taught–but sometimes we have to ask for the lessons, because people forget we don’t just “know.” I bet your trainer would be more than happy to spend time helping you–either in little bits here and there, or in a few concentrated lessons.

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