Sunday, December 19, 2010

Introductions: Days One, Two, and Three

Just in these first few days I've had a chance to review and practice so many simple, seemingly self-evident things I already "knew." Even more, I'm getting first-hand experience in just why these simple things are so very important.

This work is exciting, riveting, all-consuming to me, despite the fact that to a non-horsey observer, it probably looks boring and repetitious. Not to mention cold--we work either outside or in an unheated barn and indoor arena. The temperatures the first three days of my apprenticeship have been unusually cold for this time of year--nighttime lows in the teens or below, daytime highs not even reaching the twenties.

The first day began with watering down the arena to keep the dust down. This has to be done even in the winter. Dragging cold, heavy hoses around is not fun, but it's obviously the job of an intern. So are is making photocopies of riding releases, mucking a stall here or there, and hanging around with prospective adopters while the trainer is busy with a class.

I did get a chance to play with a couple of horses: walking them across tarps or through a maze of old tires, letting them jump small obstacles, having them play "go touch it" with objects in the arena. I also practiced having them back up, yield their hindquarters, and other basic safety moves. I discovered that when one is under Jay's watchful eye, it's a lot harder than it looks.

Lessons from Day One: Keep your feet planted as much as you can, be consistent with your spatial relationship with the horse. Don't move around randomly. Horses have a much more highly developed spatial sense than we do, and every micromovement counts. Not an easy lesson to learn. (Will any of them be, I wonder?)

Day Two was bitterly cold--it didn't get above 15 degrees all day. We didn't work the horses much at all--didn't want to risk getting them sweaty, then chilled. We did, however, work with the farrier (guess it doesn't matter so much if he gets sweaty).

One of my jobs was to help Jay get a one-ton Belgian gelding ready to have his hooves trimmed. First, we worked on getting him to back up and yield his hindquarters. After we got him limbered up and moving, I had to try to hold the horse while Jay wrestled with his enormous feet to be sure he would lift them without a fight. But after the work and the trim, I led the big guy back out to the field with two fingers on the lead rope.

Lesson from Day Two: Do not get into a shoving match with a horse. The horse will win. Especially if he weighs a ton.

Day Three was mostly about catching horses in the field, leading them to the barn (Herd Health Day: shots and deworming for almost all of them), and taking them back out. Wonderful fun! (I am serious.) It was very interesting to watch the herd dynamics at work even when all the horses were in the barn.

A major  lesson from Day Three was that to catch a horse, it's easier to draw him to you than to try to sneak up on him because you cannot sneak up on a horse. And in a herd of, say, three horses, you have to be aware of all three at once in order to catch any of them. Also, if the horse decides to move away from you, your job is to make him move with vigor--to make it way easier for him to stand still and let you walk up to him.

The big Belgian who gave me so little trouble on Day Two had different ideas on Day Three. When we got back out nearly to his pasture, there were a bunch of rowdy horses in the next-door paddock, and the Belgian started watching. Somehow my head got between him and something very interesting, and I got clobbered.

A Belgian's head alone must weigh a couple hundred pounds. Ouch. I was more scared than hurt, though. Jay showed me how to use the business end of the lead rope with enough energy to make the horse back up in a hurry and focus on me again. Those big fellows can move pretty fast in reverse gear, and when they're doing that, they're not nearly so scary.

I'm going to look back on those first three days very fondly, I'm thinking. It was an easy introduction to the next three months. Day Four was a different story entirely! More on that when I recover from it.


  1. OK, I'm sensing that there was no helmet on your head when the gelding clobbered you. Right? And are you going to change that, despite now knowing what to do?

  2. I am trying to remember to wear the helmet at all times. I've even gotten one big enough to fit over my balaclava. Yes, you're correct--on that day there was no helmet on my noggin....