Saturday, December 20, 2014

False Progress

I've been thinking about why I feel like I'm at the end of my rope with Bombay.  I decided it is because I'm tired of being fooled by false progress.  With most horses, you train them until they master something, and then you move onto the next thing.  Most horses do need refresher courses every once in a while, but with Bombay, there are days in which I feel like we have to go all the way back to square one and repeat everything he's been taught over the past 17 years of his life.

I remember one of his selling points was when his breeder told me that she is known for producing horses that can be put out to pasture for a year or two, and when you put them back to work, they are as good as they were when you left off in their training.  They remember everything.  That has been far from my experience with Bombay -- the exact opposite, I would say.

Not too long ago, I enjoyed the challenge of training horses, but I have changed.  I think my increased awareness of my own mortality and roughly how many years I've got left in my lifespan have made me impatient.  I don't want to keep taking two tiny steps forward and three giant steps back.  I want to see some real, solid, permanent progress with this horse, and I'm just not getting it.  He has had at least five different horse trainers work with him over the years, excluding myself, and there are times when he acts like he was born yesterday.  A 17-year-old horse should be better than that.

I was asked if I am considering selling him.  That's a tough question because I have always thought that when I take ownership of any animal, it is my responsibility for life.  But I admit that I am changing my perspective on that topic.  If there is someone out there who has the skills and desire to work with him, I wouldn't want to cheat him out of that opportunity by making him a pasture ornament.  Also, horses are expensive animals to keep.  I feel like they need to make use of themselves if they expect free food, board, and health care.  My own children contributed to the family unit by doing chores throughout their lives, so I want my pets to do the same.  A horse who turns every little request into a struggle is not doing his job.

There are days when I think about how much more free time I would have with one less horse to feed and clean up after.  But then I also think about how removing one horse from the herd would disrupt the herd dynamic and probably result in disputes among the remaining horses.  The horses I keep would miss the horse I sold.  I know people buy and sell horses every day, and horses adapt well being moved from home to home, herd to herd, but they do experience some level of stress during the process.  Plus, I know that Lostine is at the end of her life span, and I may find myself down to three horses sooner than one would expect.

Ultimately, I think if the perfect person came along and really wanted to own Bombay, I would sell him.  But I don't think I'm going to go out of my way to find a new home for him.

He did redeem himself today.  I took him for a hand-walk on the trails and my husband hand-walked Rock.  I had heard children's voices in the desert, so I wanted to expose Bombay to as much activity out there as I could.  Of course, as soon as we got out there, everyone was gone.  We saw one hiker with dogs way off in the distance, but nothing within spooking range.  I wanted to run into hikers, horseback riders and loose dogs, and I wanted to make Bombay stand politely while people petted him, other horses sniffed him, and dogs ran circles around his legs.  But it's my dumb luck that such things only happen when I'm in the saddle, and when I hand-walk him or a horse trainer rides him, the desert is deserted.

Rock turned out to be the troublemaker, taking nips at my husband, leaning on him, and stopping to eat without permission -- all stunts he doesn't dare try with me anymore, but horses always have to see how much they can get away with each time a different person works with them.  My husband commented on how impressed he was with Bombay's behavior.  He said he was the perfect gentleman.  It was true.  Bombay walks on a loose lead, stays out of my personal space, always lets me go first when we pass through narrow areas and gates, and despite walking a ways along a road with cars rushing past, he didn't spook once.

The problem is that it would be a completely different story if I were in the saddle.  He is willing to accept leadership and totally trust me when I lead him from the ground, but he feels vulnerable when I am on his back.  He doesn't think I can protect him if I am on his back.  He worries constantly when I am over him and not beside him.  And he loses his mind over the dumbest things.

The lack of trust goes both ways.  He doesn't trust me on his back and I don't trust him to even give me and my welfare a second thought when he's got his own agenda.  The only difference is that I have never hurt him when I have ridden him, but he has hurt me.  So, I guess the question is, do I keep him because he's such a great hiking partner?  Do I keep him because he makes me laugh?  Do I keep him because he was my first horse?

I can ride him fairly safely in an arena.  He has occasionally bucked in the past, and he does spook in the arena, but he doesn't bolt, because he knows he's got nowhere to go but in circles.  If he does buck me off, at least it will be into soft footing.  He still has to contend with hikers, horseback riders and loose dogs around the arena, though.  If people would just respect my NO TRESPASSING signs, my life would be so much easier.

Here's a funny story about something that happened the other day.  There is a barrier at the back of my property that was put up to prevent drivers from going off the cliff into my backyard.  One of the four sections of fence blew down in a macroburst last summer.  I called the county to send someone out to fix it.  A man showed up, picked up the broken section of fence, leaned it up against another section, and left.  Of course, it blew back down in the next storm.  Then a neighbor propped it up, and it blew down again in the following storm.  I hiked up there to see if I could fix it, gave up, leaned it up against the standing section, and of course, it blew back down in another storm.  (Do you see the false progress theme here?  That fence is a lot like Bombay.)

So, my husband hiked up the hill to nail it in place.  He came back down the hill to get a metal rod for reinforcement.  I was out cleaning stalls and I saw this nosy neighbor come running up the street to inspect the work that my husband did on the fence.  The man started shaking the fence and then he put his hands on his hips and stared at me.  My husband came up out of the arroyo and I told him some man was up there, and I think he wanted to talk to him.  The man waved, and my husband blew him off because he was tired of hiking up and down the hill, and he just wanted to get the rod and finish the job.

I have no doubt that the man wanted to put his two-cents in on how to repair the fence.  It's a good thing he didn't talk to me, because I probably would have bit his head off for sticking his nose in where it didn't belong, giving unsolicited advice, and attempting to supervise my husband when the man could have repaired the fence himself anytime over the past six months that it had been laying there broken.  I really don't care for people who won't take the initiative to do something themselves, but as soon as someone else attempts to do it, they have to control their every move.

Back when my daughter was a baby, I had to live next door to an elderly couple who were total sourpusses, and they always had to come running out of their house to tell me everything I was doing wrong in raising my baby.  I couldn't do anything without them inserting an opinion.  I discovered that they were spying and eavesdropping on me when I was inside my house with the windows or sliding glass doors open.  Of course, when I questioned them about how they raised their own children, I found out that they didn't have any.  They kind of conditioned me into believing that when an old person comes around, it's because he or she intends to meddle in my business.

I don't know what this man's intentions were, but I'm just so tired of people standing up there on that cliff staring at me while I do my barn chores that I won't give them the time of day anymore.  I'm too busy, and I know they wouldn't appreciate it if I walked into their backyards and stared at them while they did yard work or laid out by the pool.  Their behavior is kind of reminiscent of those old cowboy movies where a wagon train is coming through a valley, and a bunch of Indians on horseback stand up on the surrounding cliffs looking down on them.  The pioneers know that they are about to be attacked.  I think I need to get myself a megaphone, so that I can ask people what they want without having to stop what I'm doing and hike all the way up there.  The problem is that I already know what most of them want.  They want permission to cut through my property, and I won't give it to them.  They usually stand up there and stare a while, then scratch their heads and walk away when they realize that I won't welcome them with open arms into my backyard.

But I digress...  Back to Bombay.  I don't really have any plans for him beyond knowing that I don't want to put anymore time into training him on the trails.  Maybe someday if he's in a really mellow mood and begging me to ride him, I might ride him out there again, but I'm not willing to put pressure on myself to keep him tuned up anymore, especially since my efforts rarely bear fruit.

If he were my only horse, I probably would hire an equitation instructor to help me gain his respect from the saddle.  I hate to say it, but Bombay was at his best when I had that instructor who made me smack him with the riding crop over every little digression.  If he spooked, I had to smack him.  If he bucked, I had to smack him.  If his head popped up, I had to get in his face.  If he broke gait, I had to scold him, rein him in, or kick him back up to speed.  I didn't like riding that way, but maybe he's the type of horse who needs that kind of structure.  My last riding instructor made me put my riding crop and martingale away, and made me promise to never use them again, but that's also when Bombay began giving me grief.

On the other hand, if he were my only horse and I had a terminal illness or became dangerously fragile as I aged, yet still had this burning desire to trail ride, I'd definitely sell him to make room for a trustworthy mount who can carry me in my final days stress-free.


achieve1dream said...

I think if you're happy with him being an arena horse and companion to the others you should keep him. If you're going to be constantly stressed out that you aren't doing enough for him or he's not progressing enough you're probably better off selling him. Life is too short to worry and agonize over a horse that just does not suit your desires (such as trail riding), personality and situation. It's really sad letting them go, especially since he was your first, but it's also a huge relief when you finally accept there isn't anything else you can do and allow someone else to take the reins. I believe in animals being for life, but horses are too expensive to keep if we don't click with them or if they are at risk of hurting us. I support your decision either way. You have to do what feels right to you. That's probably really not that helpful, but I have to try to show my support somehow hehe.

Cheryl Ann said...

Nuzz, I HEAR YOU! I'm at that point with Scout. She really is too much horse for me and I would LOVE to find a new home for her! I'm going to retire in 1 1/2 years and frankly, I can't afford to keep all 5 horses. With a mortgage, bills, and medical care costs, I'll be lucky just to make it through retirement. I can afford to keep 3 horses, but not 5. That's what I'm going to have to face shortly and yes, I wake up at night worrying about it.
Cheryl Ann

Laura Lee said...

Riding with the crop and spurs-riding like some mean ass person with no petting on the horse and punishing every little error....that's what Rosie responds positively to as well. And like you, I don't want to ride like that. The other stuff you do with normal horses, she responds to when she feels like it. And the progress is inconsistent, well nonexistent really. I wonder if this is an arab thing and theres some secret to working with them that nobody is telling us. Or maybe the strict dictatorship with swift and severe consequences is what these kinds of horses might require.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Laura Lee - I've learned that Arabian horses are not just a different breed, but almost a completely different animal and it does take special skills and knowledge to train them. Now that I've ridden a lot more Quarter Horses, I feel like the QH world has it easy. I observe all the different horse breeds on the trails, and those QH's always have their heads hanging low like they are half asleep and they don't even look at me as I pass them. But whenever I see a rider on an Arab, she is clinging to the reins, not allowing any slack, or grabbing the saddle horn while the horse is jigging all over the place. I have asked trainers why no one ever does a weekend colt starting challenge with Arabian horses, and they've explained the Arabs require a lot more time to settle down and accept tack and a rider. They have a sensitivity that almost goes beyond six senses.

Cue all the people who will tell me stories about great Arabians and crazy Quarter Horses...

FoxLair said...

I just went thru this decision with my horse, remember? She was a saint to ride out alone and never spooked at anything, but kicked other horses and had to be in the lead or would try to buck me off. Since I want to do the ACTHA trail rides and join some trail riding clubs, I had to cry and cut her loose. I still feel bad, but I have to move on. Shopping for new horses now. It's misrepresented horse's age and soundness and acted like I did not know how to tell age by looking in their mouth...oh well, some dumb ass that wants a really AGED horse can have him. Others try to give the hard sell, and two declined to have me ride the horse in a big arena that each had for some nefarious reasons I'm sure. I'm glad I also bring a very experienced friend to watch from ground...anyways, wish me luck. When I get my truck and trailer, maybe we can ride out together sometime...and hopefully my horse won't kick yours! LOL

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

FoxLair - Good luck. I know that horse shopping really sucks. I remember looking at a 17-hand Thoroughbred and asking the gal to ride it. The horse was dancing on air and the poor gal had terror in her eyes. She was really high up there. After just a couple of minutes and the horse spooking big at some chickens, I begged her to get off before she got hurt.

I'd love to ride with you. I haven't trailered my horses anywhere yet. Bombay had a couple of bad accidents after freaking out in a trailer, so now I'm more scared of hauling horses than the horses are of being hauled.

achieve1dream said...

Well you know there was this one crazy Quarter horse... just kidding hehe. I couldn't resist!! I pretty much agree with your assessment. The only crazy Quarter horses I've seen are the ones used for speed events that don't ever go out and do anything else, no trail rides, no slow work, etc. all they know is RUN! So they do lol.

Even though Arabians are high spirited I think Bombay may be a special case. Lostine and Gabrielle aren't that bad... :\

achieve1dream said...

Foxlair, do you have a blog? I want to get into the ACTHA stuff so I would love to read it if you do. :) Good luck with your horse shopping!!!

How Sam Sees It said...

That's always a tough one. I've found with my Friesians that if I show them one thing, and then don't return to it for a while, it has given them a chance to think about it and they have it mastered. I'll admit - they've spoiled me!

FoxLair said...

Achieve...don't have a blog, but might start one when I get my new the time I get one it will probably be too hot to ride!

achieve1dream said...

That would be awesome! If you do decide to make one pretty please leave the link here or on my blog so I can find you. :D I'll keep my fingers crossed you find the perfect horse soon! Good luck!!

Katharine Swan said...

I've often thought Bombay sounds a bit like Panama. Panama definitely needs the structure of getting into trouble for misbehavior, although I tend to growl at him, circle, or halt him first and save the smacking as a last resort. But I also dole out praise liberally when he's doing what I ask. With consistency and regular riding, I've found I don't have to scold him nearly as often.

Panama is also similar in that he's much more confident when I'm on the ground with him, rather than in the saddle. That's something we've had to work at over the years, and I've also gotten more confident as a rider, and I think that has helped.

It's all been a lot of work, though, and no one can blame you if your own personal limitations mean you can't put that degree of effort into just Bombay. I certainly understand your hesitations over selling him, though, as I would have a hard time with that too. I think if he seems happy enough as a pasture pet, you don't have to, but if you think he would thrive with a confident rider and more activity, maybe consider doing a partial lease. You might get lucky and get a really nice leaser as you have with PS, and that way it's also not an irreversible decision that you might regret.

Katharine Swan said...

Pasture pet and arena horse, I should have said.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Katharine - Not a bad idea. P.S. never leased Gabbrielle. She was just a friend who wanted to put some time in on her and she was thinking of buying her when she could afford her, but I never made her pay money to ride Gabbrielle. I just asked that she help with the barn chores.