Thursday, April 29, 2010

New Tricks

My only resource when I owned my first horse was the breeder who I bought the horse from. I boarded my horse with her for the first year I owned him while my family built a barn and installed some fencing. I have always been grateful that this breeder was willing to work with me and teach me all she knew after 60-some years of experience raising horses.

Every now and then she'd teach me something that didn't make sense to me. I didn't agree with it. I wanted to do it my way, but if she caught me doing it my way, she'd correct me and make me do it her way. After a while I started feeling stifled and couldn't wait to get my horses onto my own property where I would have the freedom to raise them how I thought was best.

However, even after I moved my horses onto my own property across the street, my mentor could still see me from her window, and she'd throw it open to yell out at me, "Don't groom that horse without tying it first!" or "You're using the wrong brush on his face!"

It was especially frustrating when my trainer would tell me to go out and buy a specific item of tack, and then my mentor would see me using it and tell me never to use it again. Yet, despite all the things I was doing wrong, I could clearly see plenty of things my mentor was doing wrong, like not wearing a helmet while riding, putting splint boots on backwards or upside down, and not getting all the rusty nails and sharp sheet metal out of her horses' corrals.

When I broke my arm bailing off a bucking horse, I couldn't bring myself to tell her how it happened. I gave the vague response of "I fell." I feared she may become more controlling if she knew I got hurt while riding a horse, and at the same time I felt that she was such a gifted horsewoman that she would never injure herself around horses. Ironically, she suffered the exact same injury and had to go through the same surgery as I did after a horse slammed her into a wall a couple of years later. I realized that my belief that really good horse people don't get injured was just plain silly. You can talk to any of the best horse training clinicians today, and they'll have plenty of war stories to tell. But sometimes getting hurt is how you learn safety.

After my mentor spent hours working with me on teaching how to get a horse on the correct lead, I watched her blow a horse show by riding half the class on the wrong lead. I started taking much of what she said with a grain of salt. At first I felt all her years of horsemanship made her a God to me, but then I began to realize that she was so stuck in her own traditions that she wasn't willing to learn anything new herself.

I started attending horse training clinics and studying topics such as natural horsemanship. I tried discussing what I learned with her, and she'd shoot it down. I tried lending books to her, but she'd return them years later claiming she never had the time to read them. I realized there was no point in trying to convert her to some of my beliefs.

Eventually, she stopped trying to control my choices in horsemanship and let me do my own thing. She watched me from a distance. I'd hear her on her mobile phone in her yard telling someone about some crazy exercise I'm doing with my horses. She seemed to think that desensitization was especially silly. Next thing I knew, she was talking to me about desensitization as if she invented it. I suspect that someone she respects explained to her what I was doing with my horses in a way that made sense to her.

Years ago I had several truckloads of decomposed granite piled in a mountain on my property. I spread it in the stalls and around the paddock to soften the ground. I discovered that a horse could pee in D.G., and the wet spot would instantly disappear. If I remember correctly, I had just called a construction company and asked for a suggestion on what kind of material to use for soft footing, and they suggested D.G. My mentor told me that was a bad move, because D.G. is like sand and can cause the horses to colic. She scared me so badly that I spent hundreds of dollars on various feed troughs in hopes of keeping all the feed up off the ground. Of course, nothing worked, because the horses just throw their feed out of the troughs onto the D.G. and eat off it anyway.

However, they've been eating off the D.G. for many years now and the vet says he doesn't hear any sand in their guts. Ironically, the other day my mentor informed me that she just had a truckload of D.G. delivered to her place. She loves it and uses it in her stalls. I guess, like me, she's getting tired of having to pay $8 a bag for wood shavings that only last a few days and triple the mucking time by requiring you to shake every loose shaving off your fork before depositing the manure into a wheelbarrow. With D.G. the horse can lie on soft ground, have it's pee absorbed, and protect its hooves. You can pick up the manure with a fork and the grains fall right through the prongs, so there is nothing to shake out. I guess my mentor discovered that maybe some of my methods aren't so bad after all. Horsemanship is a learning process that can sometimes be extended beyond a lifetime into many generations.


Reddunappy said...

Ah Yes, taking things with a grain of salt is a good thing.
The one thing I have learned, if you think you know everything about horses, you have a long way to go! As long as I live I will learn something new about them.

Maery Rose said...

Your post is so on target! I can well relate to your experience, only I had several horse "experts" that I listened to as if they were gods. I had no confidence in my own knowledge and intuition. I took a lot of hits to what little confidence I had with horses from comments the gods made.

The funny thing that changed all that was finding my biological family and discovering my biological Dad was quite the horseman. I started to trust my instinct, read and went to clinics, tried out what I learned and modified or threw out what didn't work with my particular horse. There is no such thing as one way to do things with horses as they all differ so much in confirmation and personality.

You are so right - horsemanship is a learning process that lasts a lifetime. As my Dad told me when he gave me tickets to a Clint
Anderson clinic, there's always something new to learn.

lytha said...

wow NM, so much of this post sounds like a post i could have written!

my first and only mentor was baasha's breeder, and boy did she get on my case when i used a stiff brush on his legs! but, gee, they're dirty and the soft brush doesn't cut it!

she was pretty wise about horses though, and started me on the right path.

you know i hate to tell horse people what to do, but as i was riding with an endurance rider here in germany every week, i was getting pretty annoyed at how often we cantered. we cantered and cantered everywhere. i have no idea why she thought this was the way to train, but it really isn't. a heart rate monitor will show you a horse works harder trotting up a hill than cantering. cantering is preferred by the horse cuz they use momentum. a trot or sometimes a walk can be more difficult. i mentioned that trotting is good conditioning, but she didn't listen. well, she went to a clinic and came back and said "get this, i learned that trotting is actually harder work than cantering up hills." *sigh* after that, her horse started really working. now she knows, endurance riders trot almost all the time. sports bra companies love endurance riders.

what is this granite you are talking about!!!??? it sounds awesome, i've never heard of it! can you describe it - or better, take a pic of it in your stalls? it sounds like your arabs really do live naturally, like wild horses on healthy ground.


Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Lytha - I'm actually due for more decomposed granite. My stalls are a mess. However, if you look back at any pictures of my horses in their sandy paddock, that ground cover is the D.G. It just looks like sand. Construction companies keep piles of different types of landfill around, and D.G. is usually one of those piles. You can call a construction company and ask if they'll deliver a few truckloads to your place. One truckload should be enough for stalls, but I spread mine all over my paddock, which took 7 truckloads. Once this lousy weather comes to an end, I'll call for a load and take pictures while they deliver it. I'm just a little wary, because they could barely fit their smallest dump truck in here last time, and since then we've installed an air conditioning unit right in the path they need to take.

baystatebrumby said...

This post was really funny even if you didn't mean it to be. Don't misunderstand me--I know how annoying it can be to have someone say you are doing things that are crazy just because they aren't the things that that person does. You probably influnce that lady more than you know! She's probably got a secret diary with your name all over it!
Grain of salt, grain of salt.

fernvalley01 said...

IO truly believe the day I think I have nothing left to learn is the day I hang up my saddle and call it quits! There is always something to learn ,from horses and in life. And the rankest beginner to the oldest seasoned pro will all teach us something

Paint Girl said...

The lovely trainer that wants everything done their way! But I am lucky in that I haven't actually had to deal with that. The trainer I work for is a very well respected and good trainer, and if he thinks he needs advice on a training issue, he will ask another well known trainer what they would do. I like that, and he is very good at explaining training techniques that anyone can understand. I feel pretty lucky that I have the job I have and I am learning so much.
It always cracks me up that certain trainers always have to do things a certain way, or that they take credit for something they didn't do!
I will have to look into the DG, I was thinking about bringing sand into parts of my pasture this summer, so it doesn't get so muddy next winter. But will check out what you use. Thanks for the tip!

Fantastyk Voyager said...

Working with horses is a forever learning process! And, I've learned that there is never only one way to do anything.
Gosh, I'd always be on her sh@t list. For one thing, I almost never tie my horses when I groom them. I guess she was trying to teach you the "proper" way to do things, maybe? "Do as I say, not as I do?"

I am interested in this decomposed granite. I've got some really mucky areas.

Once Upon an Equine said...

Good post. That would be really annoying to have someone watching so closely and constantly pushing their ideas on you. Sounds like you introduced a lot of new ideas to her that took awhile for her to accept. You are right, a good horseman never stops learning and considering new ideas. My driving instructor has over 40 years of training experience and he continues to learn and says horses are the best teachers. We never stop learning and getting better (hopefully).

With the DG, do you ever have to scoop out any wet areas? I have rubber mats in the stalls and have recently switched from wood shavings to wood pellets. The pellets have helped a lot, but I still have to scoop up the wet clumps, but not nearly as much as the shavings. But DG might help me in the paddock where the horses create a big pee spot in one place that gets really nasty in the summer.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Once Upon - When I get fresh batch of D.G., I don't see any pee spots anywhere, but it do pour the D.G. on fairly thick. I remember watching Bombay's pee disappear while he was peeing. It's been four years since my last load was delivered, so now I see the pee spots and sometimes scoop them up if they don't eventually go away.

My last load was a bit of a bust, because no sooner did I have it delivered and spread it out, and we had to dig it all up to lay down a leach field. A lot of that D.G. just got buried with the pipes. So, make sure you're not going to need to do any digging after a delivery.

Rising Rainbow said...

I think one of the first things I learned was those who think they know it all are probably best avoided.

Unfortunately with closed minded people, it's the horse that suffers most.

I've never heard of DG. Don't know if it's available here but will have to check into it. It sounds interesting.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

What?! You're supposed to tie a horse up to groom them? Noone ever told me to that before. lol!

Really, ever since Baby Doll pulled back and broke the weld on the pipe railing, I just never tie any horse now at all. I'm just too scared something will go wrong.
I've seen several horses pull back while tied to a trailer and the moments have been tense until we've cut the rope and released them.

Baby Doll always groomed at liberty usually when I feeding her. With Apache we are building trust. She at first was nervous about us grooming her. I think she thought that it meant we'd be riding her. So, I've worked alot with just walking up to her while she's eating or grazing with a brush and spending time grooming. And then I walk away. It's funny because the first few times after I walked away, I looked back and she had the most confused look in her eyes, just standing there as if she was waiting for a saddle to make an appearance. lol!

I'd love to get some DG for my stalls. They've gotten so tamped down and uneven and one section is exposed to rain and snow and turns to mud and melted poop. How thick can you spread it? Does it also help in wearing down the hooves so more time can fo between trims?

Great post!

Once Upon an Equine said...

Thanks NuzMuz. Disappearing pee would be much better than standing pee.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Lisa - I think D.G. is too soft for wearing down hooves. You can probably spread it as thick as you want in the stalls. However, if you put it in a riding area, you probably wouldn't want it so thick that you strain the horse's tendons. If you've ever walked through thick sand, you know it can be strenuous.