Working from the ground with Eli has been an adventure since day 1. What was day 1 like, anyway? I was just a horseless client begging for rides at the time and there were more than enough sales horses that needed the exercise. I said “sure!” when asked to ride Eli, knowing he was slightly messed up but whatever, I wanted to ride and I didn’t much care what. (I think my only stipulation was no ponies.)
So day 1 goes like this: get grouchy horse from stall, put in cross ties and watch grouchy horse pin ears and shift weight around a lot. Start to brush grouchy horse (had been instructed not to bother with currying … hint 1). Does not go as planned. Skip brushing. Go to pick feet. Pick out front feet. Try to pick out back feet. Value life therefore stop trying. Throw tack on while dodging bared teeth and hind hooves. Bridling does go surprisingly smoothly …
The ride was just as … fascinating … but I remember thinking and saying I think I kind of like him and would like to ride him again, if that would be okay. Which it was. The rest of that story is all over this blog, so let’s go back to the ground stuff.
And let’s say guidance instead of rules here, because I have never had to work quite so diligently and creatively on manners with a horse until I encountered Eli. So I fully admit to not really knowing what to do with some of his behaviors.
My primary strategy with grooming Eli initially was to ignore the undesirable stuff. He had a significant amount of apprehension about everything underneath the aggressiveness. I think smacking him would have made it worse.
This strategy proved very successful. I went I went to trim his whiskers at one point before I owned him. As with any horse I was allowed to ride, I liked to keep them ready for shows or trials as they were all on the market. I was allowed and even encouraged to bathe or clip and didn’t bother to ask about trimming Eli’s whiskers. When I turned the clippers on he seemed okay but a bit fussy so I undid the cross ties just in case. As I got the clippers closer to his muzzle, he started turning his head away and throwing his shoulder at me. I didn’t want him to associate clipping with punishment of any kind, so we went back and forth in a shoving match a few times before Eli gave up. I had to go slow with the clippers but he stayed quiet about it. The pro rider saw he had been trimmed and was like, how did you do that?? Did you drug him?? He’s awful about it! I replied I didn’t realize he was awful but he was a bit rude until he gave up.
He now tries to eat the clippers if I trim his whiskers.
Over time, he settled into a grooming routine. Does he still pin his ears and grind his teeth if he dislikes something? Yep. But he isn’t afraid any more and he even likes certain curries and brushes. If he gets a little out of hand with protests, all it takes is a reminding light poke from me and he goes back to all 4 hooves planted on the ground. He falls asleep while being shod and he might not hate his vet quite so much any more. He had some skills even early on that simply didn’t need work. Bridling was one. He loads easily, too, and always has! (I probably just jinxed that.)
But we had more than just ground manners to tackle. Eli had two gears on a longe line. Stop and gallop. The stop was iffy. “Gallop” meant more of a scramble like a rabbit running for his life. Eli fell more than once on the line because of this. I finally said no more longeing, for a long time. I was too worried about Eli injuring himself even worse than he already had.
But over this past winter, the weather gods rottenly barfed all over central Texas and we had only sporadic opportunities for turn out or riding. This led to a lot of zealously energetic horses, and Eli also gets back sore not only in the cold but also without regular work. He wasn’t fun to sit on this winter.
I had been working with him periodically in the round pen on trying to teach him that longeing wasn’t a free-for-all or something to be worried about. He started to get it. And of course one cold evening he was particularly explosive but it was already dark so I had to longe in the arena. In this instance, the work paid off and Eli of course threw some bucks and thought about taking off, but he held it together.
On another occasion, longeing went less well. We were even in the round pen. Going left, he was fine. Going right, he took off and kicked out, a little too close to my head to be quite honest. (I do wear a helmet while longeing Eli.) I tried to pull him back up hard, but a metal swivel piece on the line snapped when Eli tried taking off again.
Okay. Time to re-evaluate. Maybe just clipping the line to one side of the bit is not so great. And maybe we are going to walk and halt many, many more times on the line while tracking right. I like my head the way it is. And I kind of hate nylon longe lines, anyway.
I ordered a converter thingamajig and a cotton line. These are good things and I like them a lot. I wish I had ordered them sooner. I wish I had worked more diligently with Eli from the ground sooner, too. Can’t learn from mistakes if you don’t make them, though.
I try to work with Eli from the ground once a week now, if not a little more. He is not one I care to ground drive (Any volunteers? No?), but we can work on the line much better now. He spends more time listening to me instead of looking around at everything or spooking at random crap (like the orange tabby who is quite obviously a jaguar). The warmer weather helps a lot, too.
Maybe the next thing to introduce to Eli while on the longe line is some ground poles? He’s totally fine with them under saddle. I am still handling him like he’s green on the line, though, so one thing at a time. Maybe one day I’ll even dare to try the Pessoa rig on him?