I waited for two months and I still have no media from this clinic. So here you go, the final installment of a clinic from all the way back in April. Fortunately, I had the whole thing written and waiting in the drafts folder.
Yes, we're still alive and doing the dressaging thing.
Random pic of mi papi looking amazing
All of the clinic’s riders were looking a bit rough on that third
We stared at each other with
exhausted eyes, wondering how we were going to manage another six hours in the
Theo was looking pretty tired
himself and I left him in his stall so he could focus on getting as much hay in
his face as possible.
Being under saddle
so much meant he didn’t have as much time to eat and he wasn’t getting as much
hay as he usually does.
Our lecture was around different maneuvers that mounted police use to work
It was a fairly short
lecture, very interesting to hear exactly how mounted police get things done
with their horses.
We were told that
we’d be practicing an extraction maneuver and I didn’t even have the energy to
be worried about the tight formation.
I’m starting to see this mad man’s plan.
Tired riders don’t tend to make for nervous horses.
Theo was very good when he came out for his morning session, learning to
walk under an arch that had smoke diffusing through it to look like a
wall. He was not at all a fan of trying to walk through a wall, but by
this point it wasn’t the craziest thing I’d asked for and he was slightly more
There was more fire since the
group really didn't do well with fire. So much fire. One very cool
moment was when our little chicken of a Gypsy mare suddenly got brave and
trotted straight through the obstacles and fire, feathers flying. It was
like she'd suddenly discovered that forward was an option. We took our
lunch break and went back for our last round of torture.
Theo was not at all interested in going back in that ring. He suddenly
flew sideways dramatically at the squad car that didn't even have the dog or
sirens going. I put on a spur to stop him and that PITA popped up and
bucked. I'd already been told to spin him if he tried to pop up with me
again, so I spun him until we were both dizzy. I headed toward the car,
he flew back and started to buck hard. I spun him again. I walked
toward the car and he sighed and shook his head. Looked like he was going
back to work. We might have found an answer to that remaining bully
By the end of our third day, the dial was turned all the way up. Five
obstacles, fire around all five of them, smoke bomb going off on the last
obstacle, siren going on the moving squad car. It was sensory
overload. Smell the smoke, see the fire, feel the pool noodles and teeter
totter, taste the gasoline in the air, hear the sirens. Theo had figured
out that his job was to go over those obstacles and if he did, I would pet him
and slip him a cookie. So he sucked himself up and followed the horse in
front of him. It wasn't pretty, he was hard up against my hands at a
couple of points when he tried to rush out of this little slice of hell, but he
did it on our first attempt. I was in tears. Thank goodness for the
sunglasses, no one could see.
Our finale was to do an extraction simulation. Our job was to go in as
four pairs, boot to boot and nose to tail. We were supposed to go up to
the squad car (with lights and sirens on), sweep the drunks off of it by
getting as close as possible while yelling "Get off the car,
stupid!", turn around, and form a V around the car while escorting it
out. The scenario is an emergency vehicle trying to get through a crowd
and getting an assist from mounted officers.
I think Theo missed his calling in life. Our 'drunks' were the
instructor and his assistants. Theo had zero issue with getting right up
on that car and shoving them aside. After a few practice reps, he had the
idea that his job was to get people off HIS car and he rather enjoyed it.
He did not enjoy being in a very tight formation with the other horses, but by
that point, he was too shellshocked to do more than pin his ears. For our
last pass, we escorted that car across the arena at a slow trot with the dog
barking in the back seat and sirens blaring. It was pretty dang cool.
We got a certificate for completing 30 hours of mounted police
training. By my math, over half of that was in the saddle over three
days. He probably spooked and spun/bolted with me a hundred times over
those three days. Every part of my body hurt. I have weird bruises
on my hands that I can't identify. I missed the sunscreen on one ear lobe
and it was lobster red. My legs and back have signed a pact to keep me
from getting out of any chair.
Did it work? Not the way everyone thinks when they see these kinds of
clinics. He's not suddenly braver. He's not bombproof. He's
the same horse he was three days ago. What changed is my level of
confidence and his response to my pressure. We kept facing things and
making it clear that saying yes was the right response. By the end, I
could feel him fighting me less, trusting that it was going to be okay because
I said it would be. I felt him suck back from something, but then push
forward when I closed my calves. He will still spook and startle, but
we've practiced it so many times that I'm confident I can manage it within two
steps and we can move on with our lives. It's not something I have to
fear and try to prevent. I got this horse through smoke and fire and
teeter-totters, we can manage the outside of a show ring.
We have a lot left to do. I need to be able to keep him on task while
also having him in that 'up' frame of mind. I need a couple hundred more
reps so he stops considering fighting me. I need to be ready to stop that
bully behavior dead every time it's offered. I need to acknowledge that
behavior for what it is. I told him to do something and he threw a
fit. That wasn't about fear. He pushed drunks off that car with the
siren blaring, he wasn't scared of it. He just didn't feel like working
anymore and figured he'd try to scare me out of it. He failed.
This instructor does clinics all over the country. If you want to
experience just what you and your horse can handle, sign up. Do not expect
him to cater to your special pony's needs or your concerns. You will be
thrown into the fire. Literally. The more your horse hates it, the
more he'll do it. He's not at all rough and has the patience of a saint,
but he also does not mess around. He didn't even warn us when he started
the first fire. He did scale things back when it was too much for the
horses, he doesn't want them to fail. But he doesn't back off due to
spooking and snorting and bolts. That makes him laugh and do it
again. He would yell 'loser!' every time a horse did something they
didn't want to do. There were many jokes about his favorite thing on a
horse being mustard and mayo. He's gruff and not concerned with being
politically correct. I had to utterly ignore the entire lesson on using
the reins since it started with 'whoever came up with that outside rein
nonsense was an idiot'. But his goal is to get a horse to march toward a
rioting crowd, not to get a perfect circle in the sandbox.
Will I do it again? I don't know. I'm exhausted, physically and
mentally. I will be doing serious business desensitization at the barn to
keep up with this work. I don't know if I could go back to the clinic now
that I know what I'm in for. Do I recommend it? Not to the faint of
heart or anyone genuinely afraid of their horse or riding. If you've
already ridden your horse's spooks and know you can manage it (you don't have
to like it), then yes. Do it once. Plan on the clinic running longer than
expected (1.5 to 2 hours longer) and being in the saddle for the majority of
the time. Plan on being exhausted. Plan on learning to laugh when
the mad man with the gasoline can says 'and now we make it fun!'. Do not
expect him to cater to your horse's insecurities. He will spot them, target
them, and beat on them relentlessly. Expect off color jokes and
statements like 'damn, I hate horses, you couldn't give me one'. 'People
think I love horses since I train 'em. They've never seen what I do to
'em.' Again, not cruel or rough, just finds their spooking
hilarious. He thinks petting horses is stupid and told me my problem was
that I talk to my horse too much. So don't go in expecting a lot of
supportive commentary. He'll make comments about you petting your horse
too much, but he won't try to stop you or make it into an issue.
Go into it with the expectation that you will come out the other side a
different rider and you won't be disappointed. I've been desensitized
more than my horse. I know I can stop my horse in his loose ring snaffle
within two steps even when a fire suddenly springs up in front of him. I
know he can manage being in a crowd.
have a tool to manage his temper tantrums. I don't need to use kid gloves
with my horse. I know he can handle more and so can I.