The Young Horse Training Diary: Moji Meets A Master

Nov 23, 2016 - 11:04 AM
Wherein Moji conquers the trot poles. Photo by Jessica Lynn Creative

Dear Diary,

Last time I told you all about my first horse show, and now I get to tell you about my first clinic!

I’m not really sure what a clinic is, but it must be similar to a show, because my mom/Treat Chief gave me a good scrubby bath and trimmed a jazzy little bald patch in my mane where my bridle goes (I’m told it’s all the rage, and I’m also told please-stop-turning-around-to-see-what’s-going-on-you’re-going-to-make-me-cut-your-ear-off).

I also think it must be like a horse show because Treat Chief and I have been practicing a lot leading up to it, particularly my steering—she says not running over the other children is essential, and I tell her for the 80 millionth time I don’t actually want to run over other horses and humans, I just want to climb in their pockets and bite their fingers and get in their personal space to ask about cookies, and if they like them and what their favorite kinds are and if they have any right now.

The things we horses suffer through to make humans happy.

Treat Chief has also set up a lot of crazy exercises lately—she likes to take the poles and line them up on the ground in the field in a straight line and then make me terrrrrrot and *kiss kiss* canter over them, but it’s confusing, because sometimes I have to really squeeze to fit four steps in, and then she’ll come around and kick me like I’m Pegasus and supposed to fly over the whole thing in three steps!

And THEN she’ll come back around and be pulling on my face telling me even though she is the one that just got me all fired up and ready to run the Kentucky Derby I’m supposed to slow down and shorten my steps to the size of a Shetland pony and somehow fit FIVE steps in?!

Why does it matter what number we get anyway, I hear her counting up there all huffy and puffy and out of breath (meanwhile, I’m the one doing all of the work, and I haven’t even broken a sweat!).

She says adjustability is important for a show jumper. I say fitness is important for a show jumping rider and maybe she should lay off the beer and Oreos, and perhaps exercise more than twice a year to help the team out here. I say this in a nice way though, because constructive criticism is key to developing a confident human, and because she is in charge of my Oreos, and I do not want to lose cookie privileges.

She really can’t make up her mind on these step numbers, but I am very patient with her. Patience is key in training your human. I let her be all hot and cold about doing four steps, then five steps, then THREE STEPS, and I do it all with grace, because I’m that good.

On the day of the clinic, we rode there in the moving white box, and I got to ride it all by myself in the box stall! I’m very brave. Mom told me so in a vaguely pleading tone when I wasn’t sure I wanted to get on without a buddy.

We got there super early—I didn’t go until 3 in the afternoon, but Treat Chief wanted to watch the other riders, so we got there at 10 in the morning. Which was fine, until I realized that she was going to go watch the other riders, and I was supposed to stay on the white-moving-box, with naught but a full hay net, fresh water and shavings, and a cool breeze to keep me company.

Checking things out. I can do this.

We were at a new barn! With new sounds and smells and sights and friends and grass and things. I didn’t want to stay on my box, I wanted to see all the new stuff!

I wanted to walk up to the new things and then SPOOK at the new things, and then walk up to them again and then snort at them and SPOOK at my own snort, I wanted to go on spooktastic adventures, but mom said that would “be distracting to the other participants” and “not polite.”

I was very unhappy about this arrangement, and voiced my displeasure quite loudly. I know I was supported in this displeasure, because several strangers neighed back at me, and I was in the middle of telling them all about how mean my mom was being when she came back to the moving white box and tried to distract me with hay and treats.

The only thing more fun than screaming was chewing on mom’s sneakers.

I am a very good multitasker though, so I just alternated screaming to my friends about how unfair my life was whilst munching on the hay and cookies she was kind of aggressively shoving in my face.

At one point, she shut my head door, presumably to stop me from telling all the other horses about her abuse. It was OK though, because the moving box has surprisingly good acoustics, so I just practiced my neigh scales and vibrato.

Neigh-neigh-neigh-NEIGH-neigh-neigh-neigh, NEIGHHHHHHHHH—oh, and look at that, she opens the door again.

Her face is so red, isn’t it funny how human’s change colors when they’re embarrassed? I can’t imagine what she’s embarrassed about, certainly not my performance.

I’ve heard her singing along to her phone many times while grooming me, and believe me, I am much closer to hitting the top note in “Hello from the other SIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIDE” than she is.

Mom goes and gets a chair and sits down in front of my head in the trailer, and just keeps shoving more and more hay in my mouth, an arrangement I can work with, because attention and food are two of my favorite things.

Finally, FINALLY, the Treat Chief ordains that we may LEAVE the blasted white box.

We go for a hand walk around the property while the humans are eating lunch. I’m a little bit nervous, and I try to hold mom’s hand with my entire body, and she reminds me of the personal space talks we have had, by far one of the most boring things we discuss, and I stop trying to jump into her arms (which wouldn’t even be able to hold me anyway, see “please exercise” comments, above).

We go back to the white box, but this time I get to stand outside of it while she puts my clothes on and gets me all pretty for my clinic debut. Once I am fully dressed and shined, and she has herself looking presentable, we enter the arena and we meet our clinician, Sinead Halpin.

Mom says if I want a reference for how cool she is, I should think of a younger Professor McGonagall, or a taller Yoda, or a Legolas with normal sized ears (my human watches a lot of movies—it’s why she doesn’t have time to exercise, she tells me).

So we enter the ring to meet Jedi master Halpin—I would bow, but the Friesian in my Froughbred self keeps me very, very upright. I’ve jumped whole courses without even looking down to see them! So I just arch my neck and puff out my chest to look as impressive and adult-like as possible.

Don’t I look impressive? My head can go higher, you know. Photo by Jessica Lynn Creative

Mom starts telling her all about me, and I nearly turned around to pull her off my back by her boot toe when she started saying “he’s very green” and “he knows basic walk, trot, canter and jumps small courses.”

That is not even the half of what I know! I can canter sideways away from cows, I learned how to chase Mom’s dog while simultaneously ignoring her calls to stop chasing her dog, I can swallow my standing martingale after she takes off my noseband in the cross ties, and we have not yet even found the limit of how many cookies I can eat in one sitting!

And not to mention my blind jumping skills! I can jump with my nostrils over my ears, and I only sometimes send the poles flying!

I can only assume she is down playing my brilliance so as to let me impress Sinead with my amazing talents when we start the lesson. There are two other riders in my lesson, a very spunky jumper pony and a very pretty mare. They went first trotting over this very scary flower box in a figure eighty pattern, and then it was my turn, but I didn’t WANT to trot over the box, because flowers are ticklish, so I showed off my sideways box dodging skills (another thing mom failed to mention in my skill set resume), but then I realized the alternative was so boring, I had to WALK over them, so I figured I might as well just trot over them.

And THEN, FINALLY, after all my waiting in the white box and mom’s botched introduction and my dutiful flower box trotting, we got to JUMP.

That’s me. Airborne. Photo by Jessica Lynn Creative

Jumping is one of my favorites. I’ve gotten very good at it this past year, so I don’t even need mom’s help anymore finding my way there.

She tried to pull on my face and make me add a step in this line, but I was like mom, I got this, and totally just impressed everyone with my decision to leave one out.

Sinead laughed, presumably at my mom thinking she knew better than I, an experienced jumper of objects for the past four months. We did the exercise again, and this time I added the step in, because sometimes you need to let your human feel like they’re in charge. It gives them confidence!

Then we moved on to this gymnastic exercise, very similar to those lines of poles my mom sets up at home. But this line of poles was new, so being the studious horse that I am, I wanted to go extra slow and take in all the sights the first time through, so I put one step in the bounce, a couple steps in the one stride, and then a few more on the way out.

I didn’t quite see everything I wanted to see the first time through, though, so I was going to go nice and slow again, but when we came back around and were going over the first cross rail, mom very rudely hit my bum with her stick!

Can you believe the nerve? Like yes, fine, I will GO through the exercise on the stride, I won’t check the fences for monsters and fire storms and anacondas, we will SEE who is laughing when we’re both sitting in the belly of whatever beast may be lurking on the other side ready to swallow us. HAVE IT YOUR WAY.

So I was pouting in the middle of the ring watching the other two horses go, because I didn’t like getting hit with the stick, but then it was our turn again and we got to jump a whole pattern of fences and I LOVE JUMPING so I was like, the past is the past mom, Hakunah Matata, LET’S RUN AT THESE FENCES!

Jumps are also much less scary when they’re not all in a line—you have plenty of time to check them out while you’re running at them—so I was super brave and went over all of them.

Check those knees. I got this. Photo by Jessica Lynn Creative

The clinic was over two days, so the next day we came back, and we started with cantering these poles on the ground in certain numbers (we all know how I feel about that), but then we did the gymnastic jumping in a line today, and I remembered that stick, and I didn’t want to ruffle my coat with another smack on the bum, because once again I was looking very shiny and pretty, so I just marched on through like the brave soldier I am.

And then we did another pattern of jumps, a big S turn all around the ring, and mom didn’t mess up her steering, and since it was our final go around at the clinic I gave an extra big leap over the last oxer, because leaping is fun, and because my human left way too much space in between us and the fence so I had to help her out.

Sometimes, it is nice to throw your human a bone when you can tell they’re trying!

Once the clinic was all over, I got my picture taken with Jedi master Halpin, and I checked her pockets for cookies but she didn’t have any.

There were no treats in those pockets. I checked.

If I had one critique of her clinic, it would be her lack of readily available cookies. But I guess not all humans can be my personal Pez machines—some humans are for teaching our personal Pez machines that getting to the base of the jump is OK, that holding their horse’s hand in the air is a good thing, and that straightness is really, really important. (These are all so obvious, particularly the straightness one, and I twist my pretzel body around to look my mom in the eye and tell her that all the time, but I guess it took hearing it from the master to sink in. Le sigh.)

Well, my first clinic is in the books, and I think it’s safe to say I crushed it! Mom agrees, and I get to take the WHOLE winter off to frolic and play in the field while she’s off “working to pay for your manicures and carrots,” or something.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go rip snorting around my field for absolutely no reason.

With much gained maturity,


Chronicle editorial staffer Ann Glavan recently purchased a 3-year-old Friesian-Thoroughbred cross to work with and eventually compete in the jumper ring. Moji has been under saddle for a little over six months, and he’s been to his very first local horse show and now clinic. 


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