The vet came last week. Or the week before. I'd have to look to be sure. Anyway, last week I rode Super for the first time in a month. Because I got to the farm so late, I saddled him up in time for the gloaming and by the time I finished groundwork it was full on dark.
I moved the l solar light from the pasture to the round pen and the ride itself wasn't remarkable. All I did was walk and bend and work on barn gravity. If you haven't heard, barn gravity is the gravitational pull of the barn on horses. Actually, it's not very scientific and the term comes from a short story from a book of short stories about horses named Barn Gravity. This was back when I was kid and the short story was so good, that I asked the librarian for the book. That was not as stkupid of a question as you might think because many of the stories in the book were excerpts. But she gave me the look, one reserved by adults for children who ask stupid questions and, after seeing the book was a collection of short stories said "no" there was not a book by that name.
But I think she would have said that about any of the stories because she didn't realize the book was full of excerpts. Nevertheless, this one story really was just a story and that was a disappointing day for a horse crazy kid who could do nothing about it, except read books.
Anyway, the concept of barn gravity describes perfectly what happens when you separate a horse from his place of leisure, food, and friends. Super is no different and he wanted nothing more than to leave the round pen and get back to eating. My point is, the ride was boring. The exciting part was the ground work.
I've taught Super to go the direction I point and to walk on one cluck, trot on two, and canter at a kiss. The canter has been a bit of contention with us. By now I could be able to walk, trot and canter on a loose rein without steering. Alas, Super ducks and dives in the canter, bucks and tosses his head. None of it is a big deal and I've watched much better riders have no trouble with him. But I am not a good rider in the sense that I can muscle my way through things.
And anyway, if he takes the canter badly from a ground cue, it's not suddenly going to be better with me on his back. That would be like getting on an airplane with a hole in the fuselage with the expectation that you can fix after take off.
So, I've been trying to fix it on the ground. But not really. Partly because I was worried about Super's stifle. If he was resistant to canter maybe there was a physical reason? And there was, but not what I thought. It was his teeth.
You know, evidence based horsemanship has a lot of running horses around in a circle. While it uses the horse's flight mode, the fact is, you could train any animal this way, even humans. On a psychological level, it's very effective, not only in getting a horse obedient but teaching him what he can do. Just this Sunday, Super wanted to know what was in a bag I was carrying around. He could have turned around and come investigated. Instead he back up six strides straight as an arrow until his face was level with the bag. He sniffed it, realized it did not contain carrots and was disappointed in to life.
So back to last week. For the first time ever Super cantered off with out a head toss. His head was so low in the canter... I've not seen him relax that way. When the vet did his teeth he said Super's head tossing should quit. Well, we don't ride much in a bit so we don't have much head tossing, but as it turns out it was his teeth. Now this vet had the tools and at least some of the expertise that an equine dentist would have.
And though I could have forced the issue about the canter, I'm glad that I did not. I probably could have bullied Super to being good in the canter. But I'm glad that instead, I worked on it patiently. And left it alone a lot. "Natural Horsemanship" is anything but, and using the methods aren't better unless the trainer is better. Not better in skill, but understands if the horse is failing to learn something then the teacher is teaching it wrong or, as in Super's case, there was an external factor.
I used to love "make the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard," but I think now that there must be caveats in putting such ideas into practical use. Perhaps it should be "Make the right thing easy, the wrong thing hard and don't be a bully."
Saturday's seem to roll around all too fast these days. My plan was to go up to the farm about six, but I couldn't pry myself out of bed until 9:30. I swung by the Seven-Eleven near my apartment--yes we have these here-- and grabbed breakfast lunch and dinner (yogurt, Ramen, Ramen) and most importantly, coffee.
Then I headed up the mountain on my bike. Back in Seoul somebody stole the handle grips off my bike so the barks are smooth cool metal. During the winder, I've been riding with gloves but spring has come on very Korean which is to say, all at once. The air had a slight chill to it, which went from a bit too cold to nice as I peddled and then pushed my bike up the mountain. My tires are getting a bit soggy so I need to put air in them. When is the question. It's why I haven't bought new handle bar grips. I have to go to a bike shop and when I'm not teaching or doing teacherly things, I'm at the farm.
Sweat had started bead off my brow by the time I reached Rex. He barked and waved hello flag. In other words he wagged his tail and bounced about with the vigor of a young German Shepherd. I gave him a pat and set about morning feedings.
Liz was up in Seoul with Gabe. The Sunday prior, he had got a casting call and so we all bundled into my friends car, abandoned farm work, and drove to Seoul for a meeting that took less than a minute. Nevertheless, they loved him.
They asked Gabe, "Do you have a dialogue for us?"
In true Gabe style, he said, "Yes, but it's not any good because I don't know how to act. Do you still want to see it?"
He's seven in Korea, which means he's five in USA until July, when he'll turn six. From the mouths of babes as they say. Anyway, the casting agency liked him so much, they wanted him to get some experience. So they cast him as an extra in a kindergarten and that meant Liz was in Seoul with her son and I had the farm all to myself. Yeah! Not really.
I cleaned four wheelbarrows of manure and listened to an audio book while the horses had their morning hay. They had two flakes of alfalfa each followed by 3/4ths bale of Timothy. We feed as much Timothy as they can eat, which is an unusual diet in Korea. Both Thunder and Thor haven't been with us long enough to stretch out their stomachs. Thunder passed out from eating and Thor had have a rest. Super however was worried he might lose an ounce and kept at it all day.
I was heading up to put some poles in the top apple orchard so we can use it as a pasture when the grass comes on up there. But I was sidelined when the tractor guy showed up to give my friend a driving lesson. The new tractor has been gathering dust since it's delivery a week ago because nobody knows how to drive it. I had reminded Liz to reschedule him, but that was amid other pressing things like having the farrier out for the horse's feet and calling the vet to get their shots.
He was there and sort of wanted to ride and since my friend had forgotten to reschedule him I thought it was the least I could do. So I gave him a choice of Super or Thunder. He chose Thunder because Gabe had told him she was the kindest. Ha. She's miss grumpy pants. But she is nice. She just grumps. Super is better trained but it didn't really matter.
So far, letting people ride has consisted of me and/or Liz leading people around on a horse. And Saturday was no different. He held on with a death grip and Thunder grumped ," Why am I the only one working?"
Since she was saddled, I spent some more time with her working on her ground work. I worked on her disengage. She's getting quite good on the right side and clearly understands but isn't so good on the left. Then I introduced yielding her front end. She's so tall and gangling, her feet get tangled around each other. Otherwise, she's coming along nicely. It was only after grooming her and turning her back at that I headed up to the top orchard with a loaded wheelbarrow.
I hammered in about 15 poles for the electric fence, before I ran out. I'll have to scrounge up some more from around the farm. In the meantime, I did a bit of weed whacking. This coming weekend I need to go up and start clearing rocks and random debris from previous farming projects, hammer in some more poles and try to rake up some of the leaves and clippings. Fingers crossed it rains this week so the grass will start to come on good.
Mariel R. is an ESL teacher, horse trainer, writer, editor, sporadic blogger, and lover of beer. She lives in South Korea with two cats, three horses, a German Shepherd and 17 chickens.
Bear (Gom in Korean) then (above) now (below)
Geumbi (Goldy in English) R.I.P February, 23, 2018