Moose River Farm Blog

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Lessons From Tango; Part II

     Good Morning,
     Last week I wrote about Tango, (Lessons from Tango; Part l), a compact paint gelding, transitioning into a beginner lesson horse.  Although Tango is a safe mount for children, 99% of the time, there still exists a single percentage point that catches me, the instructor, off guard when my vigilance becomes lax.  These incidents remind me that I know better and that I must, at all times, respect a horse...for being a horse.
     
     My eyes remained riveted on each of Natalie's hot pink shoulders.  Any second I expected one of them to begin veering left or right, thus precipitating a hard fall to the ground.  My heart pounded while I flew with all my bipedal might down the hill after them.
     Finally, Tango came to an abrupt halt, dropped his head and began cropping the grass at his feet.  From the saddle, Natalie stared back at me.
     "Natalie, hop off right now," I ordered through my heaving breath.
     "What?" 
     "Get off of him right now!" I ordered, fearful that Tango might begin a victory lap around the field after another mouthful of grass.  This time my urgency sunk in.  Once her feet hit the ground I knew Natalie was safe.
    After what seemed an eternity I reached horse and rider at the farthest end of the field.    "I am in total shock."  I exclaimed holding Natalie tight in my arms.  "Are you ok?"  The words sounded so hollow.
    "Why did he do that?" she inquired evenly.
    I answered the question with a couple of derogatory, (nothing too hair raising, mind you), expletives about Tango.  Convinced that Natalie was fine, the three of us headed back to the barn.  On the way we talked about what happened.
     "At first I was really scared but then I just knew what to do.  So I pushed my heels down and sat up straight.  I never felt like I was going to fall off."
     "You are one brave cowgirl," I claimed.  "Nat, I would have been scared galloping down that hill, even with my heels down!"
     A few days later Natalie came back to the barn to ride Tango.  Something had changed.  A new air of confidence was apparent as she prepared him for a workout in the ring.  
     "Can I canter him?" she asked, casually.
     "Well,..I don't...I'm not sure...uh...ok," I responded unable to come up with an excuse not to canter Tango.
     And canter they did!  Round and round the ring.  Tango was under Natalie's complete control.  He did exactly what she asked, over and over again.  I watched with a new found respect for Tango as a teacher...a teacher who doesn't give the answers away.       


video
In this video, Tango and Spirit demonstrate the power and speed that Natalie experienced going down the hill!  Yikes!

Tango's mother Vicky shows the perspective of Natalie's ride...
....all the way down the hill and across the field!
Tango is the perfect gentleman when he is expected to be.
As a teacher, Tango gives nothing away.

     

Monday, October 14, 2013

Lessons from Tango; Part l

     Good Evening,
    Its been more than four weeks since I lasted posted an entry on my blog.  With publication of the book, Finding My Way to Moose River Farm and the start of a brand new school year, my days have only gotten shorter.  I miss writing...a lot.  I miss pouring my visions into thoughtful words, then revising them so that the timing, message and content come together like the catchy lyrics of a song.  Winter is coming and for once I look forward to the cold weather giving me an excuse to stay indoors and assemble pages of words. 
    Recently, I made a revelation about teaching.  Once again it was brought to my attention, loud and clear, by animals with whom I share my life; one horse in particular.    As dear Sandi, our perfect 28 year old school horse veteran transitions into full retirement, it has been necessary to move other horses into the "beginner rider" ranks.  This is a difficult niche to fill.  The perfect beginner horse must be, above all, safe.  Next, he must be able to read jaunty, incomplete messages sent from a rider who is struggling to coordinate her body with a horse's movement.  The beginner horse must not take these inappropriate cues personally.  He must forgive weighty kicks and unintentional yanks on the reins without displaying irritation.  It is a lot to ask of our equine partners, but hard to avoid when well meaning individuals begin the "learning to ride" process.  Some horses, like Sandi, accept the challenge with extreme patience while maintaining a strong sense of dignity.  Others make it perfectly clear that they will not.  And then there are horses like Tango!
    At just under 15 hands, this compact paint gelding is not intimidating for novice riders to climb aboard.  But once in the saddle Tango begins to sharply monitor where the weaknesses in the rider's education lie.  If the reins are not long enough, he refuses to go forward.  If they are too long he will drop his head to the ground for a nibble of grass that grows on the perimeter of the ring.  If the rider's leg is weak, Tango plods along with little enthusiasm.  If the rider's hands give the slightest unintentional tug on the reins, the gelding screeches to a halt.  None of this disobedience is performed with a sour attitude.  In fact, Tango expresses extreme patience while waiting for the rider to ask a question that he clearly understands and can answer correctly.
    Last month a fourth grader named Natalie leased Tango so that she could practice her riding on a more frequent basis.  She enjoyed the challenge of riding the horse in addition to caring for him on the days that she came out to the barn.  With great determination, Natalie rode Tango in the ring, working mostly on keeping him next to the rail and moving forward at the trot.  Her progress was steady but frequently, Tango resorted to his antics if Natalie got tired or lost focus.  Although she had learned to canter on steady Sandi, Natalie had yet to canter the more forward gait that Tango expresses.  
    The extended beautiful fall weather has provided many opportunities to ride on the trail after working out in the ring.  It is a good way for both horse and rider to relax in each other's company after matching wills in the ring.  Usually, this phase of the ride occurs uneventfully.  However, I always walk along on foot just in case...
    "Whoa!" a small voice commanded behind me.
    A sickening thought took hold as I turned my head in Natalie's direction.  She was navigating Tango across the top of the great hill above our sand-pit field.  Spying the green grass below and without Natalie's permission, Tango decided to abandon the trail and head down the hill for a snack.  Of course the sooner he got there the sooner he could eat.  Suddenly, he was in full gallop down the grassy slope that would ultimately lead him to the field.  In horror I watched Natalie's hot pink T-shirt become smaller and smaller with each thundering stride down the steep hill.
to be continued.... 
        
Tango is this novice rider's favorite mount.