This blog will chronicle the life and training of Heavymetal Thunder (aka Saxon), a 2009 chestnut Standardbred gelding who didn't have the makings of a racehorse and so will be retrained as a show and pleasure horse. Stay tuned, as we're sure to have lots of great adventures together!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Please Don't Wake Me Up

I'm just two days into owning Saxon and he simply amazes me.  I knew he was good looking, I knew he was a nice mover.  The surprise?  That he's one of the most level-headed, brave, and willing horses I've ever had the pleasure of working with.  In only two days, I've done more with him than I expected to accomplish in two weeks.  He's very young, trained but never raced, had only been on a horse trailer twice in his life, and only lived at two or three places in his young life.  He certainly never had any experience like being plucked from the only life he'd ever known and driven 700 miles away to live in a new place with a stranger.  Yet he settled into his new surroundings immediately and has put an incredible amount of trust in me already.  I feel like this can't be real and I'll wake up from my dream soon to find that he isn't there.  Please don't wake me up - I'm having a REALLY good dream!

I figured the first day he was here, I would tend to him, groom him a little, but take it easy and let him settle in as he would surely be wary of his new surroundings.  (Right?)  He was so quiet on the cross-ties after breakfast when groomed him and checked his temperature and vitals that I thought I'd get him used to the mounting block.  I dropped it around him with a clunk, hopped up and down on it making monkey noises and waving my arms, stood on it leaning across his back letting my arms brush all over his sides.  I got an eventual ear flick for the monkey noises.  That's it.  An ear flick.  He didn't even glance at me carrying on or roll an eye at the falling mounting block, just stood patiently in the cross-ties.  Well, since we're here... I got my little synthetic western saddle out to try on him.  I let him sniff it, he ascertained that it wasn't made of carrot, and I flopped it onto his back.  I flapped the fenders and stirrups around on him, but he wasn't the slightest bit bothered.  Normally, I would NEVER get on such a green horse when nobody else was home, but he was just being so good that I thought maybe I'd just mount and dismount once.

With helmet and bridle in place, I eased onto him.  He seemed to want to walk, so we carefully walked down my 30 foot barn aisle, turned around, and walked down to the other end. He really wasn't bothered about having a rider.  He poked his nose into the hanging halters, investigated the tack trunks, looked into the tack room and peered out the barn door but was more than happy to listen to my requests to go, stop, turn, and back.  Yes, back.  It happened by accident, but he had pushed himself up against the divider that separates my stall area from the storage area in the barn trying to have a better look around, and we had to back up in order to get turned around. Asking a green horse to back can be a little scary - you never know if they'll decide to rear in response to the increasing rein pressure, and even if they don't, they usually brace against your hand and you have to basically muscle them backwards.  I gingerly applied the aids, and he dropped his head, gave at the poll, and backed like a seasoned show horse.  Wow.  At one point, he poked his nose into my stacked plastic blanket totes, causing the top one to shift and clunk down onto the other one.  He flinched, but didn't move his feet.  This horse is something else!  Most young horses would lose their minds at falling plastic boxes on just their second solo ride.  His reward was a big hug, a handful of peppermints, and going out to the paddock to play.   

In the evening, I decided to take Saxon on a walking tour of the front yard and barn area before putting him in his stall for the night.  I thought maybe I'd tackle a ground pole, hand graze him a little, and that would be enough for one night.  I led him towards the 6' long red and white painted pole, and he just walked over it.  He didn't look at it, didn't snort or sniff at it, didn't try to go around it, just casually walked over it like he does this all the time.  I did it again to make sure it wasn't a fluke - same thing.  So we headed off beside the house.  All of a sudden, he gave a BIG spook when he saw my 2 foot tall stacked log cross-country jump around the corner.  He spooked so big and crouched so low that I thought he was going down on his knees, and somehow he managed to step on BOTH of my big toes, but avoided the rest of me.  Well, he immediately got up, marched forward, sniffed the jump and tried to taste the top pole.  I led him around it on all sides, expecting some degree of lingering concern, but he had obviously already concluded that it was harmless and nothing to be interested in (except for trying to taste it again).

Alright, how about the pair of wing standards that I use for my trail gate?  He gave one small snort as we approached it, but didn't hesitate about walking between them, or between the orange cones next to them.  He didn't even look at the big black plastic barrel near the front fence.  He calmly walked by it, even when I banged on it so that it made noise.  We walked up the garden retaining wall, over the 10" stack of logs by the barn, under the pine trees that swished onto his rump.  This was his very first time seeing these things, yet he was absolutely unconcerned.  Our grand finale was my trail bridge - a 4 foot long slightly raised plank bridge.  I had it set up near the entrance to the barn.  No horse doesn't at least LOOK at it before crossing it (even Legs drops her head and gives it a good look as she goes over), and most inexperienced horses take a lot of coaxing before they'll cross it.  Nope, he just strode over it without so much as glancing at it.  Twice more with the same result.  This horse is amazing.  And he's not quite 3 years old yet!  More hugs and dinner for Saxon, and I was practically skipping when I went back into the house for the night.

I had hoped to get on Saxon again this morning and perhaps ground drive him around the back field in the evening, but the weather refused to cooperate.  He got his grooming, got his sheath cleaned and I tacked him up to brave the morning drizzle.  He didn't want to stand still for the mounting block, and ended up walking off with me still half on and half off.  I got my other leg over him and we proceeded to walk around the driveway and on into the front yard (my "arena").  He happily walked around the yard and over the ground pole.  We kept the ride short and just worked on walking, stopping, and a little turning.  The only thing I can really fault him with is that he doesn't like to stand still and occasionally just wants to go his own direction (except when he's in his stall or on cross-ties).  Honestly, though, Legs was the same way when I got her.  It took quite a while before she learned to stand still and stop fidgeting.  When a young racehorse is out of their stall, it's time to go to work.  Standing still just isn't part of the protocol.  So I would ask Saxon to halt and count to 5.  If we succeeded, he got to walk; if not, we tried it again.

It was pouring in the evening when I went out to work with him before dinner-time, squelching my plans to ground drive him.  So I figured I would tackle some more ground work in the barn.  I tried sacking him out with a plastic grocery bag.  He wanted to nibble it, but had no objections to it making crinkly noises or touching him anywhere (though he shook his ears quite comically when I crinkled it behind his poll).  I took a water noodle on a rope and let him investigate it.  (Is it food?  Can I taste it?)  He had a hip cocked and just stood there when I swung it around him and flopped it all over him.  So I let it drag alongside us as I led him.  This generated a small response - he arced his body away from it and eyed it as he walked beside it.  We did it several more times on both sides and he ignored it, even when he stepped on it by accident.  I stood him in the barn aisle and let it drag towards him.  He simply wasn't bothered.  On to the water noodle curtain - a row of brightly colored water noodles suspended across the doorway of one of my spare stalls.  It's a pretty scary looking thing that I constructed after running into such an obstacle in the trail class at some of the horse shows I attend.  Most horses balk at pushing their head between the noodles, then scoot through as the noodles brush their sides.  And again, Saxon showed calmness and bravery that you just don't see in a horse of his age.  He just walked right through.   

It's clear that Saxon's early training was conscientious, thorough, and earned his trust and confidence.  The more I work with him, the more he amazes me.  It's hard to call what I've been doing with him "training" when I'm simply asking him to do something and he does it.  It's just too easy to be training!  I guess we'll be doing tempi changes and half passes by next week!  (Ok, maybe not quite...)  But if this IS a dream, please don't wake me up!  It's starting to get really, really good! 

1 comment:

  1. I'm sitting here reading you fairy tail and half expect you to fall down the rabbit hole into a really bad dream of kaleidoscope horrors. But it doesn't happen. All I can say is wow!
    Dry yourself off and go to bed to dream happy dreams of of the excellent adventures to come with Saxon. What a merry Christmas you are having. Dad