Guest Post: Trick Training in Reverse

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A Little Bit of Background...
Santanna's Reflection is a double registered; Half Arabian (with Arabian Horse Association) and purebred appaloosa (with the Appaloosa Horse Club). I met him in December of 2006, and he came to live with me on Christmas Eve for a two week trial. I knew the first time I rode him out on a trail (the day after Christmas) that he wasn't going anywhere. 'Tanna's previous owner had decided she wanted to endurance race and thought he would be a good prospect. So all she did was get on him and GO. He wouldn't stand still to be mounted - he wouldn't stand still period! - he wouldn't walk. He was no fun at all to ride. So she threw him out in a 2 acre "pasture" with 7 other horses and left him for 2 years.
He was pretty much low man in the pasture so when I met him, he was 150 lbs underweight, scabby from bites and kicks and so nervous he'd weave out in the pasture. I don't know why I was attracted to him (other than the fact I think he's gorgeous). I was almost 50 when I bought 'Tanna. I've had horses all of my adult life - I trained and showed to my share of championships in the 80s and 90s. I did not want a problem horse.
But I fell in love with him and - in spite of the fact that my husband all but pleaded "Please, no appaloosas!" - I brought him home and I've never once been sorry. It only took him a couple months to settle down and learn to stand quietly being saddled, mounted or just waiting. I've even had people ask me if I'll train their horses because he's so well mannered out on the trail. He has become the trail horse/buddy I've been missing since my stallion died in 2001.
'Tanna is very laid back and easy going (although he does still weave from time to time, which may be a life-time habit. But I know why he does it and he does it less and less all the time - for everything else he gives me, I can live with that.) He is strong, steady, has a very quick intelligence and a sly sense of humor.
I am so blessed I found my Happy Appy!

So here's the story:

I have a 10 year old Arabian - appaloosa cross, Santanna, my Happy Appy. 'Tanna is not the least bit interested in doing tricks. His attitude is "give me the treat or quit messing with me". Since I have my 3 year old purebred Arab who LOVES doing tricks and I sincerely believe that some horses like and are good at some things and others excel in other areas, I haven't pushed him. Santanna is a wonderful trail horse, he LIKES being a good trail horse and that's what I wanted from him, so we are both happy.

Last Saturday night, a couple friends and I participated in a moonlight ride at a local (Dallas, Tx, area) lake. We found ourselves in the position of having to ride the last 5 miles to our camp by ourselves over a trail we'd only ridden once - going out that day - in the dark! While the moon was big, bright and beautiful, it didn't shed much light under the tree canapes. But I had a flashlight and wasn't afraid to use it. The first time I turned it on, all three horses jumped. Santanna did not know what to think about the shadow of his head and ears stretching out in front of him. But once I learned to moved the flashlight out to the left and put the light on the trail a few feet ahead of us, he realized it really helped him see where he was going.
We had a long way to go and I didn't know how good the batteries were - and to be honest it was such a beautiful night. The moon brilliantly lit the sky and silvered the lake and grass along the trail - I didn't turn the light on very much.

We hit a place that was dark for only a few feet so I didn't turn the light on. Santanna moved his head to the right, slowed down and then stopped. I urged him on, asking what was wrong. He turned enough to roll an eye at me, faced forward - and waited. I thought something was in the trail, so I turned on the light. Nothing there, but as soon as he had light, 'Tanna boldly stepped forward. When we hit the next darkish spot, he hesitated and moved his head to the right again. Again, I didn't get it, so he stopped. I turned on the light and away we went. The next time he hesitated and moved his head to the right, I turned on the light and he snorted (horse talk for "good girl"?) and moved out. From that point on, I "got" it. Whenever he needed the light, he'd move his head to the right, my cue to "turn on the light". With no more hesitation, we ghosted through the cricket's singing and the magical scenery and led our friends safely home. What a treat he shared with me! How gorgeous to ride through the moon-silvered landscape!

I thought some of y'all might get a kick out of the fact that, while Santanna may not be interested in DOING tricks, he had no problems with teaching me one!

"Want to change the world? Start by smiling at and being pleasant to people you don't have to." ~ C. Wayne Owens

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