April has not been a pleasant weather month. There were a couple of pleasant days last week, amid the storms. During those two gorgeous days, I was invited to help with some old equine friends at the riding stable I'd worked at for three years. I hadn't been back or seen the horses in four years. It was a happy reunion for me and I wondered if some of them actually remembered me.
My good friend, Lori, called me and said she'd been contacted by the camp manager, who knew we'd worked with those horses in the past. Seems the ranch horses (it's a Girl Scout camp with a year around riding facility) were wired up, and acting up, needing some handling and riding before the Spring programs were starting the following week. Lori had worked at the facility a year longer, but she left about six months after my departure. We both had the intentions of devoting more time to our own horses.
The facility is under a new equine manager who was on maternity leave. The three other staff members seemed to be at a loss as what to do with the horses, and one of the older staff women was on vacation, from what Lori understood. Lori was told the horses had problems from bucking, bolting, resisting leading, rearing...sounded like a wild bunch of untrained horses.During our phone conversation, we both wondered what we might be getting ourselves into, yet we knew most of those horses and couldn't believe they had become that bad. We wanted to find out for ourselves.
Monday evening it was threatening rain again, and had been raining off and on all day. We've been in a terrible rain/storm pattern since the beginning of April. When I pulled into the ranch driveway Lori was out in the field trying to see who would come to her. I got out of my truck and walked over the the gate. My first impression was how fat the horses all looked. Guess they'd been eating well all winter.I grabbed the halter and lead Lori had left outside the gate for me and walked into the field.
The Fat and Sassy bunch were hanging around the hay feeder. I think both of us wanted to see if the any of them remembered us. Trimmer, Kleo, Ginger, Dusty and Dani were in this field. All horses we had worked with in the past. Lori haltered Dani. Ginger walked over to me and I let her study me a moment, to see if I could tell if she remembered. Well, she didn't seem interested after the initial sniff. I was just getting ready to halter her when she turned and walked away. At that moment, Trimmer makes a big run and all the girls, except for Dani, took off with him to the far side of the field. Well, fine. I sure wasn't going to chase them. Lori and I walked Dani out and figured we'd grab one of the horses over in the other field. Just as we were out the gate, here they come galloping back up the field right to us. We figure they must have had a little conversation and said "OH, now we know who they are..." I know, that's far fetched. But fun to think anyway. Ginger stood at the gate so I slipped inside again and put her halter on. We quietly walked back out while the other horses turned away again. Hay being more interesting at that point evidently.
There was suppose to be a list of the horses and their current problems, we didn't want to waste time on the ones who didn't really need too much handling or riding. We looked around the office but didn't find much in the way of a list. We did find some written pages from the staff over the past week. Reading over it we were wondering what was going on with this bunch. Surely, only Spring fever? The horses were always full of themselves in the Spring. Maybe that's what the staff were seeing. Maybe they weren't quite in tune with the horses yet since they were all new to the facility. In all honesty, Lori and I were both going to be very cautious until we figured out what was going on with the horses.
I'd put Ginger in her stall for a few minutes so I could gather her grooming supplies. When I walked into her stall she eyed me quietly but didn't move back or turn around. I took her out into the arena. Fortunately, they have an indoor arena because the rain started pouring on the roof about that time. Ginger's eyes got wide but I just kept walking her around the arena. The wind was blowing too. But Ginger and I had a history. I knew her quirks. She'd been my project horse. I knew if she gets her mind on the person handling her or riding her, she focuses. After about fifteen minutes she calmed down. I don't do lunging. I just don't. I don't see a point to it. I prefer close handling, walking and in hand training. Lori likes to lunge with long line and at liberty. To each her own is my view.
After our initial getting acquainted again, I tied Ginger, let her stand there with the loud noise of the rain pounding on the roof. She moved around a little but nothing that seemed out of the ordinary. I only remember one time when she pulled back and broke a halter. It was during a very windy day too.I watched and she seemed to be soothing herself. The first change I made was her saddle. The saddle Ginger had been assigned was one I hated for her 5 years ago. I tried it on her because I didn't want to seem like someone trying to tell the new manager what she should do. That saddle would have dug into Ginger's shoulders had anyone got on her with it. I pulled out a Wintec I knew I had used in the past. Fit Ginger beautifully. I did suggest on my evaluation that I thought the assigned saddle was too tight and maybe that caused some of Ginger's riding issues.
Ginger was fine with tacking up. No bridling issues. I walked her around with the saddle on. Tightened the girth three different times like I always do. No problems. She did have a problem standing to be mounted. This disappointed me because it had been one of her issues I had finely worked through with her. We spent about 15 minutes on that until she finely stood quietly. I use a mounting block. I'm also fatter and sassier than I was five years ago and felt no need to be pulling on her back. I'm also out of mounting practice. Our initial ride was just as I remembered Ginger could be. Light and responsive. Good stopping and going cues. When I urged her into a trot she did throw her head up,which was one of her habits in the past. I'd checked her bridle before riding and it seemed in a good place. But, after a few more stops and starts into the trot, Ginger's head tossing ceases. Always that initial "I don't wanna..." for Ginger but I can see how that would frighten a young girl never having ridden before. Most of the programs are only geared for beginners anyway and they don't often go beyond a walk and steering.
I rode Ginger for about 30 minutes trying to recreate what I remembered we did with the girls during the riding programs. Ginger showed no resistance and was fine with everything I asked of her. Dani had been a not issue so Lori was working with one of the new horses,one we had never worked with. Maxi supposedly reared up at a gate, bolted, and wouldn't listen to her rider. Lori said Maxi lacked some confidence but showed no signs of reacting anywhere near the wild thing we'd read about even with that loud rain still pounding down on the arena roof. Lori has been riding much longer than I have and is much more attuned to that part of horsemanship. I still consider myself and OK rider, I listen to the horses and use my own sense with them.
We finished up that evening by writing out our evaluations on the horses we'd worked. I was pleased with Ginger. I was completely relieved she wasn't as bad as what I had been carefully anticipating. Then again, when I was with Ginger I had my expectations from when I had worked with her in the past so I think that worked favorably on my part.
We decided we'd meet back on Tuesday evening for Part 2 of our reunion.