It’s a good thing I like alphas – and have a knack for reaching them. Right now there are three uber alpha fillies at Halcyon Acres starting under saddle. This trio has the ability to make my blood pressure rise or make my day, but mostly, they keep me smiling with their clever approaches, dramatic communications and immense staying power.
A lot the alphas come here after someone has tried to “break” them with major resulting issues that can be a nightmare to resolve. With these three, I’m fortunate to have relatively clean slates. Of course, with that, also shoulder the blame when things go wrong.
Yesterday was one of those days where my fortitude, understanding and inventiveness were tested.
Over the next three days, I’ll spotlight each of these fillies in separate blog posts. This is my first attempt at a blog ‘series,’ so please let me know if it works – or doesn’t.
Clever Clover keeps life interesting, exciting and daring
This four-year-old registered Irish Draught Sport Horse was put into a regular riding schedule about a month ago and loves to work. Clover was a brat the last time she trained (of course, since the primary plan was to capture video to share publicly – she made sure it would be embarrassing). So, knowing what would irk her most, this filly was given about a week to think about her behavior while she watched other horses get saddled up. First she was mad as a hornet and expressed herself with impudence.
Now we’re ready to hit the trails
Once she realized that wasn’t going to work and pleaded sweetly for a couple of days, I tacked her up. We headed straight for the back acreage. She was at a trot in eager anticipation before we hit the trail head. The trip out was a pleasure.
After about ½ a mile, I turned her around to head home. She didn’t want to go home yet and used a temper tantrum to be sure I understood this. We both know how to push each other’s buttons. She has a tendency to go just about too far, stopping right before my boiling point. Clover knew she had reached it. In an athletic harrumph, she jumped way into the air and before starting to descend, let out a buck vigorous enough to ensure I lost my irons and added a twist to shake my balance a bit on the way down (and that takes some doing – I have pretty good glue). Of course, if she really wanted me off, a spin on the landing probably would have done it.
I swore at her and gave her a few growls, but quickly decided not to do more. She made her point. I wasn’t interested in making this a battle-of-wills event that would last another two hours. Plus, we both knew she had figured out a way to loosen me in the saddle. I wasn’t really in the mood to trek home alone. Neither was she. So we agreed to disagree. She proceeded to walk and trot home good as gold at the point of my choosing after I refrained from fully expressing my displeasure with her antics.
Planning ahead, or not
Next time, I’ll let her go a little further. She’ll probably appreciate it enough to be a team player – or maybe not. Still, it’s hard not to laugh at Clover’s clever and physically expressive approach to life. The thing is, she’s quick, athletic and smart enough to draw from a huge arsenal. I don’t think there’s a rider alive that could stick with this one if she decided it was time for them to go. Keeping her intensity channeled, her mind engaged and her attitude toward training positive has been critical with this little spitfire. Fortunately it’s easy to do with eyes toward the future. The qualities that make her such a challenging project now are what will make her a great competitor in the future as a hopeful Grand Prix jumper.
Of course, there’s little that’s predictable about Clover, beyond the fact she’ll almost always surprise you. The same goes for any training plans set before the ride begins. She’s a filly that demands to be heard (and, OK, you’re acknowledged, permission denied, is a necessary answer sometimes, but she’ll throw in an athletically punctuated sigh prior to acquiescing). If you come into training activities with an attitude focused on having her get with the program without a willingness to modify plans based on her mood, you’re in for a very long an tiring day, or a sure loss if you aren’t prepared to match her staying power (which is immense). Conversely, she can be sweet, willing and prepared to deliver beyond your expectations when she’s included in the conversation. That’s a typical alpha, and what makes them so special when offered training opportunities that engage the equine mind toward positive responses that allow them to flourish.
Dominate an alpha and pay
It saddens me to see so many advocating for dominance of the horse or suggesting you must “get the respect” of an alpha. I’ve always found gaining respect through a mutual process to be a lot more effective. In fact, I would relish the opportunity (although wouldn’t dare do that to her) to sick Clover on some of these people who espouse with arrogance the effectiveness of particular formula training programs – particularly those who use one-way respect for their training foundation. I don’t imagine there’s any form of torture tool they could use to dominate this filly that would convince her to respect them. She’d more likely see it as a challenge to prove her physical prowess and mental acuity as she awarded herself points for dumping riders and putting handlers in the hospital. It would be fun to watch the schoolers get schooled. This gal would be the one to do it.
What’s your favorite train the trainer story?
Have you ever witnessed a smart and determined alpha reeducate an inflexible trainer? I laugh as I witness such events. Do you? You should. Please share your stories of lessons learned either directly or vicariously as you’ve watched a true alpha in action. This could be a lot of fun and a great learning experience for all who follow this blog.