I took my horse to a jumping clinic over the summer. The clinician was a big name and I was really excited. This would be my first real clinic experience with the young horse I’d been bringing along.
I was also nervous – a little about myself and my own ability, but mostly about my horse. While he’s real focused under saddle, his ground manners could use some work. I worried about what would people would say if they saw him throwing a fit because he had to stand tied next to the trailer, which he was sometimes prone to do. Or if he’d drag me around by the lead rope across the farm grounds. Or paw away in the crossties at the wash rack.
These reservations were real. But they stemmed from bad behavior that is totally fixable.
I like to think of myself as a good horseman. I try to do right by this horse and am kind and understanding of his green moments under saddle. But I admit, I was always the first to dig into my pocket for a peppermint, or five, to spoil him the second the bridle came off. When he pawed away aggressively against the concrete wash stall, I’d make a few feeble attempts to correct his behavior, but then end up just living with it while I went about sweat scraping his body.
This is bad, I know. That clinic experience was the kick in the butt I needed because I was embarrassed.
I grew up riding in the hunter/jumper discipline. I never had a groom, so I was taught to do the heavy lifting myself. Still, there were a lot of horsemanship techniques I didn’t even realize existed until I was an adult and expanded my horsey horizons into other areas. I don’t say this to fault the hunter/jumpers which I love so much, but there are more training tools available for groundwork than I ever realized.
After the clinic, I made it a point to get serious about correcting my horse’s tantrum-like behavior. No, he couldn’t pull me to the hay cart for a bite while walking down the barn aisle anymore. The pawing behavior was no longer tolerated. Nor was I about to be the passenger any longer as he dragged me around while hand grazing.
My horse noticed this change in behavior right away. While I’m sure he didn’t like it, he was quick to pick up on that he couldn’t wear me down any longer. Eventually, we forged a newfound respect for one another.
Now we get compliments at the show grounds for being a good, quiet boy, who stands calmly while waiting for our class. I don’t feel bad when the staff at the barn have to hose him down in the wash rack after turnout. My horse is still my big baby, and I snuggle him and still offer him treats, but at more appropriate times.
While I want a responsive horse under saddle, I think could now argue that ground manners are just as, if not moreso, important.