The Dad-Friendly Horse

I haven’t had a full-on lovefest over my horse in too long, guys. It’s been all blah blah blah competition blah blah blah improve our flatwork blah blah blah consistent correctness.

So strap in, because today I just wanna gush about my pony.

My dad came to visit this past weekend, and he got to meet his grandpony. And from the very first moment, Frankie was so SO good with him.

Let’s rewind the clock a few years: my dad came out with me to fetch a horse, they were all going nuts and galloping around, and he ended up getting kicked squarely in the thigh. To this day, there’s a dent in the muscle.

So when we rolled up to fetch Frankie, and saw him playing Wild Island Stallion with his best buddy, my dad was understandably leery about wading into the ruckus to fetch him.

So I went out there, put Frankie’s halter on, and walked him out of the paddock. No dramatics involved. Because Frankie knows that it’s time to play nice and be gentle when mom is there. And if one of the other horses pin their ears, Frankie will move in between us. He may not come to the gate when I call- but Francis knows to be careful with his mama.

So off the bat, Frankie is impressing my dad with his ability to say “OK, let’s not kick anyone when there’s a two-legs in here.”

Then we headed inside….walking right past the tarp that had blown free from the shavings pile, and was flapping like a sail in the gale-force winds.

I think Frankie may have looked at it as we walked by….but he also may not have. He was busy leaning into his daily neck scratches.

Another check in the box for my dad: Frankie does not care about killer tarp animals. Frankie cares about neck scratches and food.

We tacked up- my dad helped brush him- and he stood stock-still to receive the loving. He moved only to greet the cats and to give kisses.

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U FEED ME NOW???

Check: pleasant to handle.

Then I hopped on. In the raging winds. Buildings were creaking, gravel was splatting against the wall, birds were zooming around the indoor. Francis responded to all of this by sneezing four times and going around on the buckle during our walk breaks.

Check: pleasant to ride, even under less-than-ideal conditions.

Naturally, I decided that a pony ride was in order. We lengthened the stirrups and legged my dad up, and sent him off towards a crossrail!

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Happy dad, happy daughter, happy horse

JK LOL. We kept it simple. My dad has been on a horse before so I had him do some basic stop-go-turn left-turn right. We then enjoyed Frankie’s neck reining skillz (seriously his turning radius is impressive) before hopping off to put him away.

Check: calm and happy enough to take care of anyone on his back.

Frankie then spent the rest of our time there mooching on my dad for treats- he always hopes that new people won’t know his mean mom’s rule of no treats. Even without treats, Francis was leaning into the brushing my dad gave him, soaking up every spare scrap of attention because his mean mom never EVER pays any attention to him. Obviously.

So we didn’t do anything crazy with the Beast this weekend- just rode around to get our muscles moving and ask for some correct work. But in this week where we reflect on what we’re grateful for, I’m so incredibly grateful for the fact that I can feel safe handling and riding my horse at all times. Because safe for me equals fun.

And I’m so SO grateful that my dad finally got to meet his grandpony! Of course we did plenty of other fun things during his visit- but let’s be real here, folks. We all know that Francis is my fuzzy child and deserves center stage.

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My three main men ❤

I’m already planning for my dad’s next visit- I think he needs to come join during show season, amiright???

Do your parents like to come to the barn? How are they with your horse?

 

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The Francis Rules

I had another lesson this week, but I won’t bore you with the same courses I did earlier in the week. The only change was that my trainer made me do the second course without stirrups and we learned that apparently Francis takes that to mean it’s time for zoomies. Nothing wild, just a bit more pace than he usually carries. Good to know. My legs hurt. Ow.

Anyways, I was thinking of what my “rules” for Frankie are. Like if I had to go out of town and have someone watch him for me, what are some basics of how to take care of him. There aren’t many, but here they are:

1.No hand feeding treats.

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Even when he looks this adorable.

I know, I am the worst horse mom in the world. And I literally have a 5lb bag of treats sitting in my tack trunk. But homeboy gets really excited about treats. REALLY EXCITED. Like every time he senses the presence of a treat within a 2 mile radius it’s the biggest thing that’s ever happened to him.

He does not nip or get mouthy or anything, but Big Guy doesn’t realize just how big he is and tries to crawl in your pocket to be like “here look how cute and snuggly I am you should feed me” and meanwhile you’re like Jesus Christ horse get off me you’re the size of an battleship. So he gets tonnnns of scratches and pats for being good and tons of verbal praise (his life is one long string of “Good boy!! Good man!”) but treats do not factor into the equation. Sometimes the treat fairy will visit and leave a few morsels in his bucket for him to find, and that’s it.

2. No face smacking.

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How could you even think about smacking this sweet mug?!

I don’t personally spend time anyone who actually does this, but I have seen people discipline their ponies by bopping them on the face. Um, if you hit my horse in the face you’d better brace for a jab in the eye because no. You do not do that. I’m a big proponent of a well-timed smack to discipline problem behaviors, but you do not hit the face or ears.

Things you may do with his face: scratch the itchies, rub the donkey ears, smoosh the snoot, snuggle the fluffers, present hands for licking, and give lots of kisses. Things you may not do with his face: hit it.

3. Make him pick up his feet.

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All four legs are functional. All four legs will come off the ground.

He will do it. You do not have to convince him for 5 minutes that it’s a good idea. He will pretend it’s really hard for him. He’s lying. Ask firmly and he will immediately present his hooves to you, ask halfheartedly and he thinks you don’t mean it and will keep all four feet planted on the ground.

4. As mentioned in Rule 1, Homeboy often forgets that he is gigantic. Remind him.

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He literally towers over my 5’9″ frame. He be huge.

Demand that he stop/turn/move promptly when leading and then throw a party when he does. He will not try to run you over and is quite well-behaved to handle, but needs reminders that he is not a lap dog and snuggles must be initiated by Mom.

And that about does it. I’m pretty sure anyone could safely ride him so I don’t have any rules there. What it all boils down to I think applies to many horses, not just Francis: be firm but fair.

Do you have any “rules” for handling your horse(s)?

Frankie Updates!

It’s still kinda hard to believe that I own a horse. And not only that I own a horse, but that I own THIS horse. I’m not sure what I’ve done to deserve him- did I stop Jesus from tripping over a tree root in a previous life, maybe?- but I’m not gonna question it too much.

He’s been home with us for almost a week now and has settled in like he’s been here forever. He goes out with a group of geldings that he gets along with wonderfully, we’ve ridden in the indoor, outdoor, and all over the property, we’ve spent time in both barns, and he has handled it all with the same relaxed curiosity I noticed in him when we first met.

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His main question seems to be “Is this a thing I can eat?”

I have to thank whoever owned him before me- this horse has been loved. He has not felt tense or anxious at all in any of the situations we’ve been in over the last few days. He certainly takes a look at new things, but has shown a remarkable trust in me and has done every single thing I’ve asked him to without hesitation.

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Including the endless selfies. This is the face of a horse that is humoring me.

He’s quite different from Addy so I’m definitely still adjusting to his style of ride! He’s been very patient with me as I work some new muscles and figure out how to rate his stride properly. He’s shown that he’s willing to wait to the base as long as I’m not leaning up his neck (bad habit confession), and with every ride I get a better feel for his pace! He’s tolerant enough to handle my ammy mistakes, but when I manage to get my life in order and ride properly he gives me WONDERFUL work. Basically the best combo: he’ll jump the jump no matter what, but if I give him a good ride he’ll give me a great ride.

Handling him on the ground has been super easy too. He LOVES being loved on! He’ll stand in the crossties for hours if it means he’s getting attention. He does tend to get a bit mouthy when he thinks I have treats- he hasn’t tried to take a nibble yet, but he does get a little pushy. Now he only gets treats when he’s NOT mooching. Other than that (very) minor thing, he’s a perfect gentleman to lead, tack up, groom, and spend time with!

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Do you even see how shiny he is?!?!?!

I’ve also managed to finish up my shopping list- all we’re waiting on now is my order from Riding Warehouse to come in! I have a few bills to pay off, but it looks like the river of cash is slowly adjusting to our basic monthly expenses. Which still gives me a bit of a panic attack, but at least it’s not, you know, BUYING A HORSE. The only thing left to figure out is saddle fit. My beautiful saddle that I’m in love with and fits me perfectly does NOT fit Frankie well. I’ll be talking to the saddle rep to see if this is something we can adjust, or if I may need to trade in for a new saddle. For now, I’ve got a shimmed half-pad to keep his back comfy.

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We’ve got another lesson on Wednesday and I can’t wait to share how it goes! In the meantime, you can check out my Instagram (@hellomylivia) for videos and pics of Frankie being handsome!

PS- In a funny full-circle twist of fate, Frankie is wearing my old gelding’s halter. I was going to swap out the nameplate, but it’s kinda a nice homage to the bay gelding that taught me as a junior. My new bay gelding doesn’t seem to mind too much.

Wordless Wednesday- Face Rubs

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Addy LOVES getting her face brushed. When she sees me coming with a brush, she sticks her nose out and puts her head down and snuffles into my face while she gets her face scratches.

Ground Manners

I’ve talked a ton about Addy and our journey together under saddle. It’s by no means linear improvement, but we’ve been working hard to click together and achieve our goals. She can be a little complicated at times but she throws her whole heart into it, and our training journey has been fun every single step of the way.

But training under saddle is only part of it. A horse that goes beautifully under saddle is useless if he’s unsafe to handle on the ground! Lot’s of you fellow bloggers out there have discussed groundwork, and I’m going to chime in here.

I’m not going to mention Addy in the rest of this post for one simple reason: she has absolutely perfect ground manners. Seriously, I’ve never met a horse who so completely epitomizes the phrase “no vices.” She even keeps her ears pricked up and gives kisses as I’m tightening the girth. Who does that?!

So she came pre-trained on groundwork. Lucky lucky me- she’s a total puppy dog on the ground and I would trust a 4-year-old with her without hesitation. Gentle giant.

You know who did not come pre-trained? My boy Star. Here’s our story:

My trainer at the time brought him to the barn for every client of his to try- he absolutely loved this horse and wanted him in his barn SO badly. I, however, did not go near him. I had my 20-year-old free-lease that I was doing the short stirrup on, and Star was a big medal horse. No need for that. He also tried to bite me while I was blanketing him one day, three girls fell off him in one week, and he needed a chain over his nose to go outside for turnout. I was terrified of him.

Flash forward a few months- I had won a Short Stirrup finals and realized it was time to move up. My parents had realized how serious I was about riding and agreed that we would look at horses to potentially buy so I could keep progressing.

Of course, the first horse I tried was the horse my trainer wanted all along: Star. My stomach dropped when he revealed that I’d be trying him that day. But once I was on we clicked PERFECTLY. I hopped on one other horse briefly, but hopped right back off. Star was my boy and I had to have him. Riding him just made sense to me.

So we took him home for a trial. He was a bit snotty, but we chalked that up to limited turnout and the stress of a new barn. He even got loose as my mom was signing the sale papers. He just went sailing right past her as his previous owner snickered and said, “he’s yours now.”

An auspicious start.

We did go on to do the mini-medals and win all over the place. On good days it felt like we were one creature. He was my best friend in the whole entire world, certainly more so than the teenagers I went to high school with. I also fell off him more times than I can count, but goshdarnit I learned how to sit deep in the saddle. That type of shenanigan hasn’t been able to unseat me since.

But like I said before: he did not come with nice ground manners. He did not lead well, he bit often, and was- as my Dad likes to say- a juvenile delinquent. He wasn’t gelded ’til he was 4, so he also had a studdish love for the ladies. Such a handsome flirt.

Pair up a 16.2 studdish beefcake of a horse with a 110 lb scrawny 13-year-old, and you’re going to run into trouble. At least, at first.

I made it my mission to make this horse LOVE me as much as I loved him, but I knew that for a horse respect needed to come first.

So we started with the biting. Those bruises were getting real old. So every single time he bit, he got bit. Right on his soft pink nose. With teeth. Hard. Call me a weirdo all you want, but he stopped biting within the week and the behavior never came back. He would nip at clothes when he wanted scratches, but would be so so so careful not to get skin.

Then we worked on leading. We kept the chain over his nose, and we spiraled. Every time he wanted to trot, we did the tiniest possible circle. Because he always wanted to trot, we always circled- our tracks were one long spiral. But he figured out that he was supposed to walk, and later would actually turn himself in a circle on occasion.

We tackled each one of his vices like that, and by the end of my time with him we had the sweetest moose who would give kisses on demand (best trick ever!). His ground manners finally matched his manners under saddle (though he never lost his mischievous streak).

If you’re wondering, we sold him when my schoolwork and nerves made showing too much of a commitment for me. He took another kid up to 2’6″-3′, and then another, and at last check is destroying the college circuit as a dressage horse at Dartmouth.

That’s my ground manners journey, and I’m just as proud of that as I am of moving up from 18″ to 2’6″ with him. It brought us so much closer than we would be if I hadn’t spent the time and effort to bring out his sweet side. But I certainly don’t mind that Addy shows no inclination to nip at me. Traveling that journey once is fine for now.

How were your horse’s ground manners when they came into your life? What “odd” techniques have you used to make a horse behave?