Sunday, February 28, 2010

Welcome to: Whiz!

This is a bit of an update, but I also wanted to talk a little about the effects of riding horses too young. Take note, this is just my humble opinion, based upon my current knowledge; for further facts and opinion, read my sister blog The Perfect Horse.

The basic point I wanted to make was that the young horse, though it may appear to have the musculature and skeletal body to carry a rider, does not. By riding a horse too young, you teach the horse to carry tension, in lieu of relaxation, in their body. Because the young horse does not have the strength or sufficiently-developed muscles to carry a rider, they end up tensing their bodies, the Longissimus muscle especially, so as to support the weight of the rider. They might travel in a (seemingly) 'good frame', however their hinds do not step under as necessary to efficiently (and 'safely' carry a rider), and their backs are hollow ie, not rounded. Thus, we establish poor habits in the horse: the young horse learns to carry itself with a tense back and with tension throughout its body. Furthermore, I strongly believe that babies should be allowed to be babies, just as human children should be allowed to be children. They shouldn't be working at a young age because they do not yet possess the mental and emotional fitness to effectively deal with all that work encompasses. Young horses just are not yet sufficiently mature to be dealing with all that working under-saddle includes and greatly benefit from the positives (including social skills and maturity) that age and being in a herd allows. This is not to say that young horses cannot benefit from groundwork; I believe they certainly can, despite short attention spans and a lack of mental maturity. Young horses experience growth in maturity (etc) when in a balanced herd situation (including the guidance and discipline of older mares and geldings), so if a person works with a young horse in such a similar way, the young horse can experience great growth, as induced by its handler. In such a way, one can actually work from a couple of angles - allow the herd to teach the young horse and teach the young horse the same 'lessons' themselves whenever they work with said young horse on the ground. However I just feel that under-saddle work is a little different: more challenging, asking too much of the young horse both physically as well as mentally/emotionally. By creating the habit of tension, particularly in the back, we also predispose the horse to not only scarring/injury to the back itself, but also to the legs and in particular, the hocks (which is where we often see the necessity of injections) because everything is connected.

This comes about as I have seen a number of local Warmbloods started as two-year-olds (just barely 2), an age I personally feel is much too young. Now whether or not starting a young horse at such a young age (even lightly, walk/trot/canter, leg yields) leads to reduced longevity in a horse's career...well I guess I am not completely sure. However I suspect it to be the case (that is, reduced career longevity) and I just do not believe it is in the best interests of the horse, regardless. What is the purpose in starting a horse so young? Particularly when it carries with it such a potential high risk to the horse?

Anyway, this is part of the reason I went with the filly I did. She is not yet 3 (she turns 3 July 22), but has not been started under-saddle yet. In fact, she actually has not had much handling at all besides the basics. She's instead been given the time she needs to just play and socialise - to be a baby!! Sidenote: I am not adverse to working with youngsters on the ground as much as possible, I just feel there should be a balance, and that work at such a young age should not encompass under-saddle work.

Whiz is a dark brown 2007 Hanoverian-bred Canadian Warmblood filly by Wallenstein (Winchester/Ferdinand/Pik Koenig), a Hanoverian stallion, out of Kiera (Wodan/Ferdinand), a Hanoverian x Thoroughbred mare. Wallenstein competed some h/j himself, including under youth and amateurs, and is said to pass on an excellent mind. Whiz is very well bred both jumper and dressage (though obviously a little more jumper).

She looked a little gawky in her 2yo (summer) photos, so I prepared myself for her to look gawky still. Though of course I was hoping she would meet my expectations, I wasn't sure. When I first laid eyes on her, I did find her to be small in stature (she is approx. 15hh at just over 2 1/2), but her presence certainly made up for her small size!! This filly has got huge presence! She probably will not mature to be a gigantorium (over 17hh), but I honestly do not need nor want her to be that tall - she should mature to something over 16hh, which will suit me juust fine! And she definitely met my expectations, to boot!! In fact, she far surpassed them. She's got a gorgeous old-fashioned head that predicts her size later, a high-tying neck, a nicely-laid shoulder, a strong back, a strong hind end, clean legs, and a proportionate, balanced body. She is a little hip-high yet, but she will even out. Her owners anticipate she will go through another growth spurt before we pick her up, so she should be even nicer by this fall! She moves very well - plenty of suspension and drive from behind and uphill movement that I think will only improve further as she evens out.

Being raised with other youngsters her age (as opposed to older horses), I also expected her to possibly be a little disrespectful. My personal opinion is that peers don't (or shouldn't) raise peers, that youngsters learn manners best in herds of older members. I recently read a book titled Secrets of the Savanna, in which the authors Mark & Delia Owens describe how many of the older herd matriarch elephants were killed off for their tusks. This left only young elephants, including large groups of young ('teenage') male elephants, with no older guidance. One large group in particular, stormed through a sanctuary and killed a huge number of (very endangered) white rhino's - something that would normally be unheard of because the young elephants would normally experience discipline, boundaries, and guidance. The results of studies such as the Owens' are what further cement my hypothesis that it takes a village to raise a child, which can be (in my opinion) extrapolated to horses: it takes a village (a well-rounded, developed village that includes older members) to raise a colt or filly and develop said youngster into a well-mannered and well-developed adult.

Anyway, Whiz was indeed, in my opinion, very disrespectful. Her first response to many requests when we drove her away at liberty was to turn her hind in to us (and we had to be cautious numerous times that we weren't kicked), and she scraped my arm several times with her teeth! She also would not allow me on her right side at first; at first she tried pushing me, with her nose, over to her left, then when that didn't work she would bite at me (because I was gently pushing her face away with my fingertips), then she tried backing (so I simply shadowed her quietly) and rearing (when backing did not work). I simply remained quiet and patient and eventually she accepted my being on her right. I played the porcupine game on her left side where she was comfortable with me (albeit annoyed I was asking her to do something and to be submissive), but she was too dominant on her right side - I felt to ask more of her (pushing it beyond just standing next to her) would be asking too much at that point. So instead I saved asking for more than her simply accepting me on her right side, for our second session (Saturday morning).

Saturday morning I also asked her to lead politely on my left (she actually tried to take a good chunk out of me while we were simply walking quietly, at one point!) in addition to playing the porcupine on her right. She was actually much better and was so responsive and sensitive!! In addition to playing the porcupine, we simply practised some basics such as leading politely. Whenever she tried to walk past me or shoulder me, I gently applied pressure to her shoulder with my elbow (she was quick to move off of that!) and 'put' her back in next to me but a step behind, and we halted and backed, as well as changed pace in our walk, often. By the end of the second session, I actually had a pretty respectful horse!! Where at first she was trying to make me move my feet and dominate me, by finish she was acting polite and submissive, allowing me to lead. As a youngster, she was understandably still easily distracted and had trouble standing still for any length of time, but she did exceptionally well. She was responsive and sensitive to the point where I would touch her chest with feather-light pressure and she would back instantly. She also adapts and accepts changes easily. For example, the first day she spent in a stall (her first time ever) this week, apparently she was a bit of a whirling dervish in her stall. She wreaked a lot of havoc and was quite upset to be stalled away from home (that dominant, rebellious side kicking in, throwing a tantrum to get her way), but adjusted by 24 hours and was calm and quiet stalled afterwards.

She is definitely a (Parelli) Left-Brain Extrovert - very dominant (though of course willing to listen and respect if it is earned nicely from her) and loves to move her feet! She seems like quite the sweetheart underneath as well. I will have to be a bit careful with her at first to earn her respect without pushing her, because I get the distinct feeling that she'll push back if accidentally pushed. It's not too difficult though; I will just have to go slow and quiet at first. She is extremely smart though, so I know she will continue to pick up what I teach her easily/quickly! I like too though her independent mind; she will be willing to follow however she will command your respect and will think for herself as well. First thing though that we will be doing is to put her (very carefully, I think by introducing her slowly) in a herd, where she can (gently) learn some boundaries and manners in a developed herd.

In short, I am in love, haha. She is bold, confident, has a mind of her own, and is also curious (all of which will suit us well on a jumping course) and is very responsive and sensitive (so she will be very much so to aids under-saddle). I am incredibly excited to work with her when we bring her home, and to further my partnership/relationship with her!!! I think she will be a blast to work with, that I will learn much from her, and that she will be a superb athlete.

On another note, I will be home for a week (March 1-9) prior to returning to work for 3 weeks, so I'll have a little time with the horses (namely Link)!! I will also likely be showing Silver to at least one person who is possibly interested in leasing him. I will be home much of the time over April and May, as I have two horses booked over April (an Arabian mare for some remedial work and a 4yo Morgan gelding to be started) and one to stay over May as well (the Arabian mare). I had planned on booking more horses, but I think I will keep it at two over each of the two months so that I have more time to progress Link and Cody. I am hoping I can progress Link enough (maybe even Cody enough) to show him this year at Training Level (Cody, if I do, just at some local WP shows or such); I can likely work PT and show as well (hopefully!). As I keep saying, this year is shaping up to be a busy one, especially because it involves some bigger purchases (Whiz, potentially property, etc). Last note to make is that Koolaid has been officially leased out for the next three months. He spent 15 days out on trial (since I was not home to allow the new rider to try him out a number of times) with a youth rider who eventually wishes to jump him (he probably needs about a month of conditioning first before he's ready to really jump too much), but they have decided to also lease him for the next three months. Good for me, good for him, and good for his young rider! I am excited to see him showing and accomplishing some good things, especially under a young amateur rider. Last last note is that Link apparently continues to do well under his rider as well, including handling (emotionally) and balancing at the canter a lot better as of late. :)

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