Monday, December 16, 2013

Grumpy and Grouchy

That's what being in the middle of week 3 of finals will do to you.  Ugh, how do they expect us to possibly fit all these little tiny facts into our overstuffed/overstressed/overtired brains?  Not feeling very zen right now.
Poor husband, he'll cheerfully say "Oh don't worry you're going to do so well!" - to a normal human being this is probably a comforting and nice thing to hear.  To freaked out med student it feels somehow both insulting and patronizing. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Tricky Situation

At the therapeutic riding center where I teach and volunteer we receive a good number of horse donation offers each year.  We've had a number of just super horses come to us this way, many of them a little older but not ready to retire, perhaps not able to do the level of riding the owner wishes, or the owner may have too many horses to keep in work.. There are lots of reasons.  Our horses have amazing lives, have free turnout 24/7 on our acreage, cared for by an on-site property manager who treats them all as her own, and are doted on by volunteers and students. 
Our clients range from four - sixty-four year olds (and everywhere in between) all of whom have some type of mental and/or physical disability.  Understandably, our vetting process for new horses is pretty strict, and unfortunately we're only able to accept maybe 1/3 of the offers we receive for trial, and of these maybe only another half make it to being a full member of our herd.   A lot of the reasons we have to say no have to do with health, many people are in search of retirement homes for their loved older horses, and while we Love gentle older horses they simply need to be sound and able to be in light work (and by light, I mean at most 5 days/week, up to 4 hours (2 max consecutive) at mostly walk with a little trot).  It isn't a retirement-type situation. We have to turn away horses that have any propensity to stumbling, who need corrective shoeing or expensive health maintenance.. We also only accept geldings over the age of 10. 
After email or phone communication and a visit to the horses home (we expose them to a few of our toys and props and see their reaction, watch the owner ride, and ultimately ride ourselves if everything looks to be going OK) we ask for a trial period to bring the horse to our center and see if they'll work out.

So, the situation at hand - we've had a horse 'on trial' at the farm and needed to make a decision re stay or go.  I worked with him once a week in Oct/Nov, along with another instructor on other days, and when the equine manager asked if I thought he should stay I had to give my vote of No.  He is physically in OK shape for the work he would need to do here, but mentally I just don't think he has what it's gong to take.  Therapy horses are super special guys and it's just not a job for everyone.  They need to be able to deal with working with different volunteers every night, and have to be a little forgiving of a rider who is learning, and is going to make some loud noises or abrupt motions, and frankly some 'mistakes' too.  We always set up our horses to succeed, they wear halters and have leaders with the most involved riders, and many riders have sidewalkers walking next to them for support, but we count on our horse as integral team members to the students' success too. 

Horse in question is just not there mentally (some concrete examples include two separate occasions on the lunge line where he rushed me and has turned to kick out to the center.. 'laziness'/wanting to get of work I'm ok with but dangerous behaviors like rushing aren't good signs).  In hand he is manageable to an experienced horseperson but many of our volunteers have basic knowledge and while they work excellently will well trained superstar horses, may not be prepared to work with a horse who has 'NO' in him.  So, basically for a variety of reasons including those above, he is not going to be accepted into the program as a therapeutic riding horse. 

The problem - the owner is upset  that we don't want him, and will not agree to take him back.  This hasn't actually happened before, and we're not sure what to do about it.  Unfortunately the contract we have in our lease doesn't have language that can force her to - I'm not sure how all that is written or what the deal is but that's what I'm told.  (I assume that wasn't an anticipated problem..)   I keep thinking about it and I can't help feeling guilty and worried about what's going to happen to this horse.  He's older, doesn't have nice manners, and not very nice conformationally.  It's a difficult situation, and I'm not sure how it's going to play out.  We've been looking for people who might want a 'buddy' pasture horse, but frankly there aren't many of those homes out there especially in the middle of winter.  In any case, our contract is being re-worded. 

Friday, December 6, 2013


Lesson Friday!  This week I was on a new horse, I get out to the barn and trainer is in the back with the farrier and sends me out with a halter to catch Hank, an 11 yo draft-paint (??) that he has in the barn to sell for his owner.  Overall, I do think it's good for me to get to ride lots of different horses and experience different ways of going but Man do I wish I had my own horse. 
Hank was fairly good on the ground but needed lots of reminders to No stay out of my space and Hey stop flipping the cross ties around.  This was my fault for just getting up on a horse I'd never met before, but after mounting and trying to warm up he jigged all over then started bumping around up and down and breaking to canter and trot (not dangerous just excited and fresh).  Trainer was there at this point so he had me dismount and we free lunged him for a little while to let him express himself and Wow I was glad we did so - lots of 'expression' / exuberance/ bucking and kicking!  Up I went again and we began our lesson.
Theo and I have been getting along well together (and I rode Luke in my last lesson, So great to be back on him as well!) - what both of these horses have in common that I love is that they are very sensitive off my seat and leg.  Hank- not so much.  Especially with Luke, I just need to Think about turning and it happens.  Hank was not tuned in this way.  I was using a Lot of inside leg and I felt like an inordinate amount of rein support to stay on the rail, and bending was very difficult for him.  We did lots of circles to try to loosen up..   It was just a little frustrating because it honestly just made me feel like a bad rider to have a horse not listening (or not able to?) do what I've been working hard to achieve with Theo and Luke.  It was good for me to experience working with a horse like this I suppose, and yes by the end of the lesson things he had gotten better.  We worked a lot on driving him forward when he leaned on my hands and staying centered and tall in the saddle and supporting from my core.  (Good lessons to take to my work with Theo)  Finally towards the end of the lesson he started to carry himself a little more and things were going a little better, but he's just not physically as supple or capable right now as I would like/enjoy to ride. 
I have a feeling though I may be riding him in more lessons. Trainer was very kind - he said Hank hadn't had much professional riding experience and he liked seeing him go with me / someone working to make him go correctly.  Don't worry I didn't let it go to my head, but it was just such a nice thing to say and hear.  Maybe there is a nicer horse in there, the end of our lesson definitely showed promise.  We'll see what happens next week. 

In med school news, dreaded finals are underway and I'm dying.  Insert tiny whining violin.