We had a busy day today. The barn manager hosted a riding clinic for the beginner Dressage riders and I got to be used as a demo horse. Trooper’s human took him in the clinic, even though he is really an advanced horse, because she’s working on some of her issues, so Trooper didn’t mind. Lucky and Pebbles were also there, as well as some of the horses from barn four. The surprise entry was Shorty! We were stunned when he walked up.
Shorty is a dear horse. He’s a bit short and plump but has a good heart and he’s a bold fellow. He’s a good friend and a great trail companion. His human is what other humans call a “cow boy”, which is a term that confuses me because he looks nothing like a cow, or even a boy cow. This cow boy also has a new herdmate and she’s the reason Shorty arrived decked out in an English saddle to learn about Dressage. Shorty rolled his eyes at me and then looked stoically ahead. I could tell he was embarrassed, but willing to go along with the human on his back.
The human giving the clinic was unknown to me, but it seemed all the humans in our group recognized his name. He was a shorter human and had one of those funny pieces of hair over his lips. Odd custom, I can’t imagine how one would graze with such a thing.
We all started out on the rail, single file, at a walk. After several rounds of him yelling at all of us we started trotting and finally cantered. He really started picking on Shorty’s human and I could catch glimpses of Shorty’s ears pinning.
He finally pulled the class into the middle of the ring and had Trooper and I do demos of some lead changes and transitions. Trooper does the move beautiful downward transitions I’ve ever seen. I was proud of my human for getting on her cues on our lead changes. She really has come a long way. We returned to the center of the ring and the instructor started asking individual riders to go to the rail and work. Things went fairly well for a while. He was fixing riders’ legs and their hands or telling them how to cue their horse.
Then something I feared would happen occurred. Shorty and his human went out to the rail and the instructor immediately started complaining about the rider’s lack of contact. I cringed, as did Lucky standing next to me. Contact with the bit should be so minimal and such an illusion that the horse feels as if a thread were being pulled. If humans only realized how sensitive our mouths are and how much we feel just from a finger twitch. We watched in growing horror as the instructor kept shouting at Shorty’s rider to increase her contact and drive the horse forward.
The contact increase, but the drive was lacking, as Shorty got slower and slower. I felt my human shifting uncomfortably and realize she was not happy about the situation either.
Finally, the instructor called Shorty back in to the center and asked the human to dismount. He then announced that he would show her how to achieve proper contact. I heard Lucky’s human say a few roan-inducing words under her breath and mine tensed up so much I had to root the reins away from her.
The instructor mounted and turned Shorty back to the rail. He was explaining what he was going to do to the group of riders, all the while showing the different hand and leg positions. By now Shorty had dropped his head and his eye had a decidedly stubborn cast. I think people underestimate horses like Shorty a lot of times. They are smaller, but very strong and catty on their feet. And though they are small they cannot be bullied.
Once on the rail the instructor set his legs on Shorty’s sides and pushed him forward. Shorty extended a little, but his head was getting very stiff and he wasn’t really using his rear end. Had I been able to I would have covered my eyes with my hoofs. Every few steps Shorty would slow down and tuck his head. He’d also drop his hips. This resulted in a flurry of kicking from the instructor as he drove his seat into the saddle. He must have kicked too hard at one point, because Shorty lifted into a canter and went down the rail, head tucked, and tail wringing.
The instructor did what most humans do when confronted with a speeding horse; he snatched at the reins and sat back. Shorty stopped like a wall had dropped down in front of him. He sat down so hard I swear his hocks hit the dirt. The instructor went up on his neck with a thud and we could hear the air whoosh out of him. When he was finally able to sit back up he gathered the reins and made as if to pull Shorty away from the rail. He then found himself spinning like a small whirlwind, clinging to Shorty’s neck for dear life. We watched in horror as the poor human clung to the side of the quickly rotating horse, unable to stop the spin or let go for fear of being trampled. Shorty finally stopped spinning and then he proceeded to back several steps very quickly. The human was draped over his neck like a large rumpled horse blanket that has lost its leg bindings. Shorty had the decency to wait until the human was upright and in the saddle again and then he very sedately walked back to the group and stood next to his human’s herdmate.
The instructor, by now an alarming shade of red, dropped off the side of the horse, almost collapsing when his feet hit the ground. When he was able to stand upright he offered a one-sentence explanation for his failure to achieve collection: Reining Horse.
I could feel my human’s legs vibrating against me and knew she was silently braying. Lucky’s human had to slip off and pretend to check the girth she was so amused at the discomfiture of the instructor. The instructor finally recovered what was left of his dignity and sent us all back out to the rail. He offered a few words of advice to Shorty’s rider, but didn’t mention anything about contact again. Wonder why? (nicker)
We returned to the barn tired and sweaty and all of us got a refreshing rinse off. Shorty was fairly morose until his human’s herdmate kissed him on the nose and called him the best horse ever. He perked up considerably after that. We all got carrots and a lot of petting. Trooper’s human asked questions of the other riders about certain maneuvers. She really is a nice human and I’m glad Trooper has finally found someone he can get along with. I think his biggest problem is that he is so well trained, and most humans won’t listen to his advice. But isn’t this the problem with most horses that undertake training a human? More Later.