Mean Mom

You all know that there is nothing I love more than gushing about how much I adore my Francisco. He is truly the light of my life and I need everyone to know it. Constantly. I’m even happier when I can get people out to the barn to bask in the presence of the Sweet Sleepy Boy.

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My MIL loves to come see him, and he loves soaking up all her praise. It’s very heartwarming.

For my non-horse friends and family, there has been a pattern of some surprise when they come out and see how I handle Frankie. Apparently they often have certain expectations based on my unceasing verbal adoration. I’m not sure what those expectations are, but I imagine gazing adoringly and softly cooing sweet nothings feature prominently. Reality, however, is quite different. More than once, I’ve had someone tell me:

“Olivia, you’re kinda a mean mom.”

And you know what? They are totally right. I am kinda a mean mom.

I don’t feed Frankie any treats, I never let him rub his head on me, I give regular “course corrections” in the form of a smack when he’s not focused or behaving. I’m (surprisingly to them) strict with Frankie.

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I put ice boots and BoT wraps on him every time we jump I AM SO VERY MEAN TO HIM

But here’s the thing. Francis is a very large horse. Francis also loves treats more than anything in the world, and forgets that he’s big when he thinks he might get one. His excitement about the treat trumps the lessons he knows about respecting personal space. This is absolutely something we could fix with groundwork and practice, but I don’t see a need. The Treat Fairy will sometimes leave him something in his bucket, and I praise verbally instead. He is an enormous fan of verbal praise, so the lack of treats does not ruin his life (I promise).

And no, I don’t let him rub his face on me when untacking. You know what he likes to rub his face on? Fenceposts. And the younger horse in his herd that he sometimes likes to pick on. You know what I do not want my horse to see me as? An inanimate object or as lower in the dynamic of our own little herd. Not exactly the precedent I want to set in terms of who is the leader here.

And yeah, I’ll give him a slap or a poke and a bit of a growl when he moves into my personal space. He’s the one that has to move his feet out of my way, not the other way around. Again – you know who moves their feet for Frankie? That younger gelding. Again – I’m not particularly willing to be low man on the totem pole here.

Frankie gets plenty of face scratches – but only when I offer them to him, and he happily accepts. He gets to go for nice long walks and get nice long grooming sessions – respectfully holding still when asked, and only coming into my personal space when invited. Every time that he offers the right behavior (which is almost all the time), he is praised with scratches and pats and a hearty “good boy!”

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He doesn’t even have to get up, I will bring the face scratchies directly to naptime

With all my strictness, do you know what I end up with? A horse who has clear boundaries, who respects those boundaries to keep us both safe even in tough situations (like his Very Bad Day recently), who can relax because he never has to guess how he should act. There is consistency around it – he doesn’t get away with something one day, and then punished for it the next. By being a fair and consistent leader for my horse, I’m allowing him to be a contented follower.

So yes. I am strict with my horse and I can kinda be a mean mom. But I also have a horse that I can hand off to a child and know he will be careful and polite. That almost never spooks, because he has faith that I’ll take care of things for him. And at the end of the day, I have a horse that is relaxed and happy because he knows and likes his role in our dynamic.

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You can even basically drop the reins while nervously waiting to propose and he’ll keep chillin’

I’ll take the Mean Mom moniker happily if it keeps Frankie as wonderfully content as he is.

Soapbox: Routine

You know what I’ve been thinking about a lot lately? Expectations for our horses, and how reasonable those expectations are- and by extension, what we can do to make those expectations more reasonable.

I admittedly have very high expectations of the Frankenbean. I expect him to jump anything I point him at, perform at consistently high levels, and to behave in a calm and civilized manner. So how do I set those expectations up for success?

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It boils down to spending lots of time with this view

Jump anything: create positive experiences for him. He came to me with a great deal of confidence (seriously forever grateful for the people who brought him along so wonderfully), and we work very hard to keep up that confidence. By creating a variety of experiences for him and setting him up to do well in all of those experiences, he knows that things will be ok even if they’re slightly different from the norm.

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Snoozefest over the liverpool. It doesn’t really occur to him to look at it too hard.

Perform at consistently high levels: give him the fitness, support, and knowledge necessary. He can’t jump the big jumps if he’s fat, has sore hocks, and lacks adequate body awareness. He can’t give me truly obedient lateral work if his hind end is weak, he’s stiff through his body, and dull to my leg. Those basic building blocks of conditioning, health, and training MUST be in place for any sort of progress to happen.

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Wearing the Hat of Knowledge to preemptively check for lameness

Behave calmly: manage his energy levels with a consistent routine. This brings me to the crux of this post, and is something that feeds into everything else I’ve already mentioned. Horses are creatures of habit, and creating a steady routine is key to creating expectations.

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This view. Rain or shine, hot or cold.

Yes, Frankie is a naturally very relaxed dude. But we don’t take that for granted- we work with that to create a program for him that allows him to meet (or often in his case, exceed) our expectations. He is worked with enough intensity to build fitness, with enough variety to build experience, and with enough frequency to maintain/improve condition. And when he’s conditioned up fully, to maintain a healthy energy level- we all know that a truly fit horse is going to have a bit more fire than a tubby one, no matter how naturally relaxed that horse may be. When other adult responsibilities get in the way of maintaining that type of schedule, the two options that make the most sense to me are (1) enlist help, usually in the form of a professional or (2) lower our expectations for a bit until we can support them better.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying hopping on once a week, five times a week, twice a month, however often. Everyone is on their own journey with horses, and no two people are going to enjoy being in the exact same program! But the expectations must fit that program. The higher the expectations are on the horse, the more consistent and deliberate that routine must be to help them succeed.

I will now get off my high horse, and get back on my big brown high horse 😉

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It’s time to get to work. PC- Liz