Jitterbug And The Seven Dwarves

Jan 11, 2018 - 2:53 PM

As a professional trainer of Humans, I’m always a little wary of treating my students impersonally. I’ve found it’s unhelpful to make sweeping stereotypes about Bipeds, because it discourages us from thinking about them as individuals. Placing Humans in figurative boxes ultimately detracts from the training process. (There are times when putting them in actual boxes might provide a helpful respite, though.)

However, I have found in my vast experience there are a handful of basic “personality types” that are present at almost any boarding barn. Identifying which type you may be training can help you foresee likely challenges ahead and begin to plan for them.

Humans are fond of classifying each other on the Myers-Briggs system. Personally, I’ve found the Seven Dwarves are more appropriate. The following are my observations on the classic Human personality types and associated training challenges:

  • Grumpy – Supremely talented in finding the disappointment in any situation, frequently fretting about the one jump in stadium where she thinks she let her lower leg swing (often failing to realize she flopped through the whole course). Supremely possessive of her tack and often cannot be bothered to scoop poo out of wash stalls. On one hand, she’s inclined to reflect back on rides and lessons in an attempt to improve. On the other, she does not take direction well and is inclined to grumble about the Quadruped’s suggestions that she spend some time without stirrups. Take this type out of the ring whenever possible, whether for an unscheduled hack (read: dash out the open arena gate) or a jaunt around the yard, chasing after you during stall cleaning time. The more sunlight you can get this one, the better her mood is likely to be.
  • Happy – Cheerful to a fault and most likely to comment on, ‘What a beautiful day it is!’ even when it isn’t, particularly. Thinks she is “enlightened” due to her tendency to stop and smell the roses but can be easily distracted in the saddle. Subtlety does not work well with this type, as she will be too busy being merry or Instagramming “Behind The Ears” photos to notice tactics like Lead Head In The Dressage Bridle. I like to pull out my quick-thinking exercises like Drunken Sailor Jump Approaches that require her to drop the act and ride.You must avoid souring this one by dropping her on her head too often, as Happy is easier to deal with than Grumpy or Bashful. Do your best to spill any coffee or soda cups she sets on the tack trunk, as the last thing she needs is more caffeine. Plus side: She can always be counted on for prompt payment with cookies and will likely share her beer.
  • Sleepy – Usually shuffling around with Starbucks in hand on horse show mornings and has to be stopped from entering the dressage ring with her coat buttons misaligned. Most likely to forget stadium course or to wander out of the sandbox without saluting, but ironically is quite a light, natural rider when she remembers which direction left is. Sleepiness is often remedied with a few stiff bucks or a convincing spook at a harmless bucket or shadow outside warm-up.If you are talented enough to combine a rear and buck into haute ecole, that’s worth a shot, as well.
  • Bashful – Well-intentioned but has serious confidence issues. Probably paired herself with a Quadruped Trainer who’s a rescue horse with lots of “go,” and then spent the first two weeks being run away with daily. Now completely frightened to use her heels for anything but won’t have to be taught to leave the spurs in the tack trunk. As a result of her terror, she is very easy to train and probably won’t harass you if you want to say, grab a snack in the middle of a riding lesson. On the downside, you may struggle to get her in the saddle at all, and while vacations are nice enough, she can’t improve herself simply by reading George Morris’ autobiography.
  • Dopey – I’m pretty sure I got this one. Probably well-meaning but attacks the cross-country course with all the enthusiasm of a Labrador puppy: lots of energy every place but where it’s helpful. Dopey combines the challenge of Sleepy, who has trouble remembering courses, with weak lower legs and flopping elbows. With Dopey types, you need to try a combination of teaching techniques to figure out how they learn best (or, if they learn). The Human could be a visual learner, requiring a demonstration of the dressage test (from the sand in the arena); an auditory learner, needing to hear the wind whistle through her ears to gauge the proper mach speed for cross-country; or possibly, a tactile learner, who will only learn the sting of a stadium fence rail by hitting it herself now and then.
  • Doc – Would like to have gone to veterinary school. Frequently offers management and training advice, whether or not it’s requested. Accuracy of this advice is often about 70 percent. On the upside: She will prove a great source of comfort and perspective when your Biped has a meltdown about that turn-out blanket you just shredded. She’ll also make sure you end up with an Irish name brand next time. Essentially, she’s a good ally if she doesn’t belong to you. If she does, be prepared to deal with a heavy dose of ego and probably hands that are heavier than she realizes.
  • Sneezy – Is allergic to horses, cats, dogs, dust, pollen and molds, but interacts with all of them anyway. In fact, she probably owns the barn. Most likely to be the problem-solver of the crew, dispensing allergy pills, baling twine, and the use of her pickup truck when requested. Biggest training challenge: She probably controls the hay supply and doesn’t like to hang around it long enough to be too charitable with portion size. Most likely to face off with you at the bottom of a trailer ramp and, when she isn’t complaining about her sinus infection, is pretty stubborn. Be more stubborn and be ready to pull a giraffe move if it looks like she may sneeze in your face. Ew.
Jitterbug is a Michigan-bred Professional Draft Cross who skillfully avoided saddles until age 5. Since then, she has been lauded for her talent in successfully managing humans while training herself to one day achieve eventing greatness. Jitter and her human live in central Kentucky.
Read all of Jitter’s COTH columns.
Follow Jitterbug on Facebook! Photo by Dark Horse Photography.

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