Jay merits mention in both our Turning Challenging Horses and

Don’t Get Thrown Starting Horses Under Saddle books because

she was a dual challenge that came to Halcyon Acres for initial

starting (which wasn’t completed) and then back to fix her

subsequent, learned talent for unloading riders at another farm

that tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to take her on.

We were making good headway with this difficult Thoroughbred

filly during her first stay at the farm, having gotten to the

point where she was accepting a rider on her back and handling

some basic leg, seat, and hand commands at the walk indoors,

but were far from finished when the owner made a decision to

stop for reasons that were not related to training efforts. Jay left,

but the owners were given a dire warning concerning future

handling and an advisory to keep others off her back until she

returned for finishing.

She came back all right, but it wasn’t until after another tried

to “start” where we left off and managed, in the process, to reinforce

her penchant for winning — effectively launching and

terrorizing anyone who dared hop on her back. Taking her back

was a tough call. One of the things we had avoided in early

training was giving this filly any reason or opportunity to use

her athleticism to unload a rider. She didn’t during the time she

spent at the farm, but it required very careful and observant

handling. We knew, if she learned how to use her extraordinary

ability and determination to unseat her mount, that even an extremely

able rider would have a tough time sticking with her.

Yet, we also saw the tremendous, albeit latent, talent she possessed

and were convinced if it could be channeled, she would

become an impressive performer. The owner contacted us with

a query on what to do — just about convinced she wasn’t worth

the trouble and ready to log her as a lost cause. With no guarantees,

we persuaded him to try one more time to see if the filly

could be reprogrammed and properly prepared for a racing


When she arrived, we spent some time working with her off

her back in the stall and round pen to try to reestablish some

ground rules. These she accepted pretty readily and easily, having

recalled earlier lessons (a typical trait of Alphas is that they

retain information seemingly forever — good or bad — and it’s

rarely necessary to revisit a successful session).

Once we introduced a rider into the mix, the big problems

began. Reprogramming can go both ways — and in her case,

what she had learned during her absence was extremely detrimental

to the forward progress initially established under saddle.

We decided to start in the stall to limit her movement and

reduce the likelihood of her getting up enough room or speed

to launch her passenger. Yet, she was now accustomed to a routine

that included a triumphant lesson with a swift dump in the

dirt for anyone who straddled her back. She was quickly aggravated

with the new approach that made it tougher to unseat the

rider and immediately began to integrate new tricks. It took her

less than two days, after exhausting her developed arsenal unsuccessfully

and throwing a whole lot of new ideas at the problem,

to learn to rear and flip over backwards. With this development,

it was too dangerous to continue in the stall, and we

moved to the round pen.

Often, with Alphas, it’s best to work with them one-on-one.

We found this an effective early strategy with this filly, so decided

to forgo a handler at her head for the move to outdoor riding.

For about a week, we bellied over her first, watching her eye

closely and dismounting prior to the blow, and then, as she accepted

a rider across her back quietly and willingly, put a leg

over her other side and sat up. During the first few days (these

lessons were anywhere from one to two hours in length), simply

standing and accepting a rider was a sufficient note to end

on. As the week progressed (although the time involved for the

lessons remained lengthy), we added walking and stopping on

cue to the mix. The mere addition of movement added some

athletic explosions to the sessions and, ultimately, we decided

it would be best to try to proceed with a lead pony as a companion

before she learned again that her gyrations and gymnastics

could dislodge her passenger. She had been exposed to

our lead pony, Porky, during her prior stay (albeit without a rider)

and appeared to enjoy the activity, and so it seemed a smart

and safe idea to put to the challenge.

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