Ruff Slew (aka “Parker”) had been making terrific progress in his training with Holly Flint of Flint Equestrian. He was working quietly in his walk-trot-canter sessions in the big covered arena. Parker had begun stepping over poles as part of a long, slow introduction to jumping one day in the future too.
As a three-year-old right off the track, we were expecting to see a less smooth transition for Parker as he entered our racehorse education program. But Parker handled the training barn and Holly’s training sessions with aplomb and calmness.
Then a couple weeks ago, Holly called me with some interesting news. As part of Parker’s training, she had started teaching him how to lunge on a long line. Parker was displaying resistance and irritation during the process. From Holly’s description, Parker was balking, turning his hindquarters to the center, hopping up, and generally behaving in a cranky manner.As a three-year-old, Parker is a classic teenage boy. His body is growing rapidly, his mind is absorbing new information constantly, and he frequently needs to test the boundaries of parent and teacher authority. The good news is that Parker is a genuinely kind, sweet, and emotionally balanced young horse. He shows every sign of one day being a confident and happy partner for a lucky rider.
I went to observe a lunging session with Parker and Holly — so I could see what might be happening. As Holly led him to the arena, I had a pretty good idea what the issue might be. Parker was crowding her space — while he walked near her shoulder, he often stepped ahead. He was excited by the strong wind that day and pranced a little (which he felt gave him the perfect excuse to ignore Holly in those moments).
As Holly began lunging him, Parker did a perfect impersonation of a sulky teenage boy being asked to clean his room. He dawdled, scowled, stopped dead, hopped, and turned his shoulder to Holly. After watching for about ten minutes, I decided to check Parker out with some ground work exercises — to see if his responses were due to physical tightness or really were just a teenage boy reaction.
We removed the lunge gear and I put a rope halter (with a long lead) on Parker. As soon as I began to lead him, Parker very cheerfully bounded up to my ear and crowded me. I asked him once to step back (offering him a soft aid and a “good deal”). When that produced zero response in Parker (who was busy looking over my ear to the paddock next door), I gave a quick, firm aid in which I popped the lead rope back emphatically and with great clarity of intention (i.e., “Get back now”).
Astonished, Parker immediately retreated to a respectful distance — and I walked off again, leading him behind me, without continuing the aid. He had responded promptly and without offense — so it seemed likely that we were indeed simply dealing with a teenage boy situation.
After some ground work exercises, Parker made some very nice changes in demeanor and we ended the session by walking around the big arena and back to the barn. Parker stayed behind and was calm (he seemed to weigh hardly anything on the end of the lead rope, in fact).
Holly and I put our heads together — and decided that Parker had a little hole in his foundation from his long ago halter-breaking days. Many horses (including highly successful show or competition mounts) have this issue as well — they don’t lead, load, or lunge super well. It can be tempting to just ignore or work around this — after all, Parker is riding quietly and doing well in all other area. So why should we slow down his training process to go back and work on leading?
The answer is because Parker will begin to regress in other areas (including under saddle work) if he believes that he can push the boundaries of respectful distance on the ground. Again, the teenage boy analogy is very apt — as most parents know, teenage boys require structure and consistent leadership to be successful and to develop the right kind of confidence as young men one day. Ignoring disrespectful behavior (no matter how small) only leads to more difficulties in other areas.
As a three-year-old, Parker is a classic teenage boy. His body is growing rapidly, his mind is absorbing new information constantly, and he frequently needs to test the boundaries of parent and teacher authority. The good news is that Parker is a genuinely kind, sweet, and emotionally balanced young horse. He shows every sign of one day being a confident and happy partner for a lucky rider.
After many viewings of our DVD on Retraining Racehorses (with Tom Curtin) and its focus on the basics, I have become pretty familiar with the importance of ground manners and proper leading skills for a horse. In addition, LOPE’s library of horsemanship DVDs includes the 7 Clinics DVD series with Buck Brannaman — which includes much information about ground work as well.
Holly began incorporating exercises from both those DVDs into her training sessions with Parker. He is catching on very rapidly and has been a willing student. Even during an especially exciting day in the arena (with wind, flapping saddle pads on the fence, and a new horse arriving to the facility), Parker was able to safely express his anxiety to Holly, listen to her directions, and end the session quietly.
We are so pleased with Parker’s progress! This is an easy issue to overlook — and we appreciate Holly’s willingness to help Parker through the process of relearning some basic principles about appropriate ground manners and respect for handlers (even when they are leading you past something REALLY interesting, lol).
Parker has a terrific, cheerful temperament and would be a wonderful horse for someone experienced with young horses. He is the type of horse that you will be tempted to bring along too quickly, as he often displays a calm, seasoned attitude to tasks (especially riding). Parker is showing signs of being a terrific eventing or sport horse prospect too!
Parker is available for adoption now. His adoption fee is $1200 and includes ten weeks training with Holly at Flint Equestrian (plus he is up to date on all shots, coggins and dental work as of January 2013). Please contact LOPE for more information on Parker.