Sunday, July 20, 2014

What I Learned From: Geordi

Yeah he was 18.2h.  Not joking about that part.
I thought it might be fun to do a little spotlight on some of the interesting horses I've had the pleasure of working with in the past, and the things I learned from those experiences.  First up:  the 18+ hand wonder, Geordi.  Oh...this is a GOOD one.

I met Geordi in the summer of 2005 when I was on summer break from college and needed a project.  He was a 7 year old Selle Francais/TB cross gelding who had the maturity level of an obnoxious 2 year old.  His favorite pastime was exiting the ring when he decided he was done; this included a harrowing leap over the white plastic chain (the outdoor ring rail) and cantering down a 20 foot drop and into the barn, with the working student still aboard (nobody died).  He had no work ethic, and threw epic temper tantrums when he reached the end of his (excessively short) rope.  He was sweet and quiet on the ground, but was a challenge undersaddle.  So I come home from school and emailed my trainer saying I needed something to work with, didn't care about showing, and did she have anything?  Her prayer got answered.

I learned that when Big Horse wanted to leave, Big Horse left.  Sometimes he left before we even got in the ring.  And when leg, crop, and spurs all failed to even make him notice you were on his back as he stood up on his hindlegs, and went backward down the rocky incline, the only thing that managed to convince him was my "WRATH OF GOD" voice.

I growled/screamed at the top of my lungs in the most horrible, angry way I could (hey, I didn't feel like him falling backward on top of me and being crushed was a cool way to go, seeing that we hadn't even gotten in the ring yet).  All four feet instantly touched the ground and he trotted into the ring in "OH HOLY SHIT" mode and gave me his best "YES MA'AM."  He was an angel the rest of the ride.  From then on, every time he put a foot out of line, he got yelled at.  And maybe I was high enough up off the ground for him to actually think it was God yelling at his sorry ass.  Who knows.  It was literally the only discipline he ever acknowledged.  So I yelled a lot that first summer.

I learned that throat lozenges are good.

I learned that 18.2h horses are unnecessary.  Especially horses that tall, that are actually athletic, like Geordi was.  He could spin out from under you and leave you hanging over this cloud of dust like Wile E. Coyote trying to catch the Roadrunner.  This cured my "I Only Want 17+h Warmbloods Phase" that had lasted many, many years.  I learned that if you fall off an 18.2h horse, just lay there and don't panic, because you'll be able to breathe again in another 45 seconds or so.  I learned how much I really love oxygen.  Seriously, that stuff is fantastic, don't take it for granted.  And when you finally regain control of your lung areas, pick yourself up off the ground and walk aaaaaaaaallllllll the way down from the outdoor ring to retrieve your overgrown red 2 year old from the barn, act natural.

I learned that you need to crop your photos "creatively" so that people don't notice how completely ridiculous you look on your giant moose of a horse.

On a serious note, I learned more about consistency.  That horses need boundaries, and that those boundaries need to be enforced.  Once he learned he couldn't walk all over people and get away with shit undersaddle, "Yordan" began to come around.  We had some nice moments...

And we had moments that made me want to drink... Hard.

And we learned that a hunter he was not.

But eventually we got to some decent places in lessons, with great progress on the flat and over fences (we never did get off the farm for shows, but that was fine by everybody.  We chose life).  I learned that some extra ground work can go a long way in enhancing communication and the relationship, and is an effective tool in establishing those rules horses and riders need to operate in.  We ended the first summer with me only having fallen off twice (OWW), and him having developed a work ethic with no more "exiting" issues.  I returned the following summer and rode him another month or so, which was decidedly normal.  He did a lot of maturing that first summer, which the training staff expanded upon later in the year when he was brought back for more training.  He was a lot more fun that second summer, we didn't part ways during our rides, and I was sad to leave when I was hired to ride down in Virginia.

 I'm thankful for my experiences with Geordi.  He was a challenge; immature, opinionated, athletic, an used his size to his advantage.  But he appreciated discipline, and thrived with consistency.  Once we found out what motivated him, his progress was remarkable.  He hacked out down the road, we did flat schools in the open field, jumped around full courses, and we managed not to kill each other.  He tried, he just didn't know how to be good, but he wanted to.  He just needed some direction to get there.  He taught me so much about getting inside the horse's head and solving the problem, not just treating the symptom.  I don't know if he's still alive or what he's doing these days, but I hope he's healthy and happy.

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