Saturday, February 19, 2011

I Ride a Chestnut Mare

I ride a red mare.  And I enjoy it.  It seems to sum up a lot of things about me. 

For those few odd non-horse people who follow my blog, chestnut mares have a reputation.  They tend to be sensitive, smart, slow to trust, and come with red-headed tensions. 

Before anyone goes getting all “stereotyping/color profiling” on me, after spending chunks of my career at breed farms, where many of the horses were related, and other chunks of my career riding a mix of horses, I have come to the conclusion that a lot of equine behavior is nature, not nurture.  Their DNA hard-wires them certain ways. As a trainer, my job is to educate the horses to be safer, more fun mounts for their humans. Sometimes this means my job is to help them learn to cope with their nature before I can work on their educations. 

To explain, some horses are just born with more fear than other horses.  Horses born with a lot of fear seem to be hard-wired to believe that every moment is a life-and-death moment, and I have to teach them to manage their fear.  With these horses, I spend lots of time working on their confidence, by first teaching them to trust the structure of the rider’s aids, then taking that trust into scary situations. I let the horse figure out that they will survive if they trust the rider’s aids.  Over time, they learn that the rider’s aids mean safety, and they manage their fear by being on the aids.  If this is a young horse, who has never learned that rider’s aren’t always trustworthy, the process is pretty straight forward.  But in the case of a re-train, sometimes it takes longer.

Then there are the chestnut mares.

In the case of most chestnut mares, well, they have a strong need to be right, and they need to learn to manage their tension.   Teaching a horse to manage their tension is tricky business, because it first requires that I manage my temper.  And yea, that hair peaking out under my helmet is, well, chestnut.  You could say I understand the chestnut mare on a very basic level. 

And I happily climb on 1200 lbs of that every day.

There is an up-side to the chestnut mare.  That strong need to be right can work in my favor.  Once the red-headed mare knows her job, she will take over and do it, 100%, with all she has.  If I praise her at just the right time, she’ll dig even deeper and give me more. 

That makes it all worth it.