Young Horse Training Diary: The Great And Terrible Life Of An Amateur’s Backyardigan

Jul 6, 2017 - 9:09 AM

Dear Diary,

Readers, gather round. It is I, the Moji—you haven’t heard from me since I was a wee 3-year-old, and I am now a very much older and wiser 4-year-old. I believe I have learned all there is to learn, and I have made a shocking discovery.

While most young horses are being taught all sorts of things by a professional horse teacher who has spent years honing their craft and knows what they’re doing, my investigation has revealed that my mother is naught but a fraud! She isn’t a professional teacher of my brethren at all! She’s an AMATEUR. Even saying the word makes me want to throw up the soaked alfalfa cube/two kinds of grain/treats/carrots/apple mix (to be served in a rubber dish that I Immediately flip) that she makes me every day.

Even more offensive, the barn I’m at isn’t even under a professional’s guidance—IT’S SELF CARE, as in that amateur her-SELF is left in charge of tending to my every need.

At first, the discovery shocked me. Here I am, attempting to listen to what she says and following her directions because I so naively ASSUMED she had some sort of knowledge base with which to guide me. I have come to know her true young, dumb and inexperienced nature, and being the magnanimous ruler that I am, I know we cannot be angry with our *gag* amateurs. We are just disappointed that they led us on about the nature of this relationship.

Who’s in charge here? Photo by J.J. Sillman

From henceforth, I will say when is enough work-y time, when I want to put my head down and graze, and when I want to run like a raging blind bull at fences. It would seem neither of us knows anything about training baby horses, but I am a baby horse, and therefore all decision-making power should default to me.

I ran this plan by my human at the beginning of this year when I found out about her fraudulent equine education scheme, and boy can these shrimpy humans put up a fight when they want to. She told me that she would be seeking guidance from a professional on how best to educate me, and therefore was still in charge, and she had the NERVE to put my dinner in a hanging fence bucket to prevent flippage!

I mean obviously I’m a genius and still figured out how to rip it off the fence and fling it everywhere, but it took a minute. Rubber dish is much more fun and easy to flip, and licking my carefully portioned grains out of the dirt is my preferred method of consumption, though I could do without the backing track of my mother extolling the virtues of buckets and saying gimmicky things like “I work hard to put food on this table,” WHEN WE DON’T EVEN HAVE A TABLE. She really is the worst.

Anyway, one of the professional guidance opportunities my liar of a mother availed herself to was the Lillian Heard clinic in our hometown of Lexington, Ky., on July 1 and 2. As was aforementioned I have been around the sun four whole times and as such have been to a clinic before, with Sinead Halpin, so this whole thing was totally old hat for me. I couldn’t wait to air all my grievances about my amateur to a professional. The morning of my first clinic day I stood mostly still while the human groomed me, I strutted up the ramp into my magical moving box and settled in to my hay net.

My mother bought her own magical moving box this year to tote me around in, and I must say it’s pretty rad. She put my name on the stall and everything. The radness comes to a full stop in front of the trailer hitch, however, because since she doesn’t own a truck she insists on hauling my throne around with a UHaul truck. The snickers I get stepping off that thing at shows—I am a majestic beast, people paint fancy oil paintings of my kind, I am NOT meant to be pulled behind a truck plastered with so many UHaul advertisements it almost seems like they should be paying us to drive it around.

But whatever, baby steps little human. I suppose it is a step up in the world to have my own box. She got me off my box at the clinic, put my proper clinic clothes on and we headed up to the arena. I can tell she thought I was going to be scared of the covered arena (I hadn’t been in one before) because she kept patting my neck and saying “Good BOIIIIIIIIIIIIIy” in that embarrassing overdone mom voice. I rolled my eyes at the other horse in my clinic group and mouthed, “Parents, am I right?”

We warmed up a bit on our own before Lillian asked our humans to direct us to trot over this series of a cavaletti followed by two poles. Presumably because my idiot human is not a professional, I had never seen a cavaletti before. I’d seen really small jumps, and I have done poles in lines, poles in front of jumps, I’ve jumped past “landing poles” behind jumps because I thought that’s what the human wanted (judging by the terror squeals it was NOT what she wanted) but that’s neither here nor there. Point is human didn’t do her homework, and now I was left to figure this out. Mane flip, eye roll, OK. Let’s do this.

Cavaletti acrobatics. Photo by J.J. Sillman

I never let my human’s dumb directions squash my impeccable work ethic, so I flung my feet forward over this odd collection of poles the best I could. I think the idea was to trot over the cavaletti and continue trotting over the poles, but I jumped the cavaletti and cantered and jumped the poles. I’d pat my own back for #overachieving if I could reach it with my hoof.

After repeating this performance a few times and getting some laughs from Lillian (I know, it IS hilarious to watch the little human on my back try and get me to trot, isn’t it?) she put the poles up into jumps. This was more my speed, and I was just crushing it—popping my knees up to my little nose when Lillian told the human to stop pushing me so much at the first cavalletti, to let me figure it out myself. Excellent advice Lillian, dare I say it should apply to how she rides me all the time!

Because silly-not-professional-Human had been holding me over the first cavaletti so much though, I misjudged how much I needed to collect myself to pop over it and I tripped over the cavaletti and nearly face-planted.

Oops. If at first you don’t succeed, right?! Photo by J.J. Sillman

It was so embarrassing, I knew I had to do something big, lest these humans and my horse lesson partner remember me as nothing but a tripper of cavaletti, so I popped on up and launched as high as I could over the next jump, and then popped out over the vertical despite the human leaning up my neck like I’m some sort of lawn chair.

Don’t worry, I won’t be touching those rails. Photo by J.J. Sillman

Someday I’ll stop and pop her in the face with my beautiful neck to break that habit (and possibly her nose), but today is not that day.

We came back around and went through the exercise correctly, hopefully further removing my mistake from everyone’s memory, and then we moved on to course work. Course work is fun because there is more room to run at things and more chances to not listen to your human telling you not to run at things.

#nailedit. Photo by J.J. Sillman

When it comes to listening to your human, I find the words of Captain Barbosa from the hit Disney movie quintuplet Pirates of the Caribbean come to me—they’re more guidelines than actual rules. Like you can tell me to wait to this oxer, but I suggest you hold on and prepare yourself for the more likely scenario wherein I launch myself over it like Superman.

Lillian told human to stop holding me so much to the jumps and to let me find a more open distance to them because it helps me jump better. Human gets nervous about jumping because sometimes I get distracted by cool things like other horses or trees swaying or a butterfly and forget to look at the jump, and then it’s like WHOA MOM, JUMP, why didn’t you tell me there was a JUMP? And she’s like I HAVE been telling you about the jump, didn’t you feel me pulling and steering and kicking and it’s like no, selective hearing, I heard nothing but the extremely subtle rustling of leaves on a tree 100 yards away, and that’s what I was paying attention to, but I GUESS I can make this big dramatic effort required to get us over this fence we suddenly find ourselves three feet in front of. The things I put up with, I tell ya.

Oxer shmoxer. Photo by J.J. Sillman

Heeding Lillian’s professional advice, mom stopped squashing out distances into the base of the fence for the most part and I rewarded her efforts with some adorable jumps. It’s the baby horse version of sticking a little gold star on your human’s report card, like wow, slow clap for you, little human. Look at you doing the bare acceptable minimum!

After our jumping lesson Saturday we trailered back for a dressage lesson Sunday. I was feeling pretttttty proud of myself. Lillian had said what a good boy I was the day prior, and today’s lesson didn’t even involve jumps, it just required me to strut around like the beautiful little darling I am. Total cakewalk.

Human warmed me up in our usual manner—a little walking, a little trotting, a little inadvertent side passing to the center of the arena away from the monsters only I can see, pretty standard stuff.

Then Lillian started directing her to take more of a feel on my mouth so as to get me “on the bit.” Human does this a lot, she’ll start putting her leg on me and tickling the inside corner of my mouth, and I know exactly what that means—drop my nose to the ground and trot along like a blood hound following a trail. Amateur Human lets me do this, because she thought since I am relatively young it was good enough for my head to go anywhere that is not the giraffe-on-red-alert position, and I agree. Dropping my head at ALL is very tiresome I have assured her, and she believes me.

And here I thought Lillian was helping me out… Photo by J.J. Sillman

But Lillian starts telling no, it’s not OK for me to drop my head that low, that dropping my head that low to avoid the bit is just as bad as raising my head up.

LILLIAN! I thought we had an agreement! I thought you were going to correct the things this dumb human does that make my life more difficult, not let her in on the secret that I am actually capable of carrying my head properly! Human started shortening her reins and asking me to work “in a frame” and “over my back” and “pushing from behind.” This requires so much physical effort and strength from me, effort I had Human thoroughly convinced I was not yet capable of producing until LILLIAN came along and blew my cover. It’s like who do you think I am, the Incredible Hulk? This is ABUSE I say!

I voice my displeasure by rooting down, bulging left, throwing my shoulders right, sucking back, throwing my head up, and through it all Lillian told my Human to persist. She actually used the word “annoy,” telling Human she needs to almost annoy me with her constant insistence on carrying myself correctly.

We did this at the walk, trot AND canter for a half hour, in the sun, before Lillian finally let me stop. I tried kicking myself in the belly to wake up from the nightmare that was Lillian telling my Human to flat me like this every time, but I did not wake up. This was real life.

I never thought I would say this, but thank the good horsie gods my Human is but an amateur—incapable of remembering more than two things she’s supposed to be working on at once and gullible enough to believe up until this point that going in a frame was beyond my abilities. This is what I get for pushing her to seek professional guidance, and to think I wanted to be under a professional like Lillian’s dictatorial and fully capable rule full time?! What a fool I was.

Photo by J.J. Sillman

Amateur, load me into my personal moving box you so unprofessionally painted a racing stripe on. Haul me away in your ridiculous UHaul get-up, back to my paddock with my fence feeder and my soaked alfalfa cube/two kinds of grain/treats/carrots/apple mix that I will not even flip, because I have not been fully appreciative of my amateur-owned lifestyle.

You are dumb, you are incapable of making me work very hard, and I love you for it. Please don’t every send me to a professional or seek guidance again, because in a month I plan on convincing you that cantering more than once around the ring in this summer heat is abusive and beyond my abilities.

Sincerely yours,  Moji

Chronicle editorial staffer Ann Glavan purchased a 3-year-old Friesian-Thoroughbred cross in 2016 to work with and eventually compete. She’s blogging about the adventures of training her “Froroughbred,” Moji, in the Young Horse Diary. Moji has been to a few local horse shows, a couple of clinics, and his first beginner novice horse trials. Read all the Young Horse Training Diaries.


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