"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Poppy (Making Decisions)

This is Poppy. She was born on the farm, the unintended consequence of my adopting a rescue shetland who nobody knew was pregnant. We love her. We all love her, but I love her the most. I love her the way I loved my pony Bonnie when I was nine years old, a love that might only exist between a girl and her horse, or a boy and his dog. 

Poppy is a lot sweeter than Bonnie was, however. Having grown up being more or less continuously mauled by little girls, she is a sweetheart. She follows us around and nibbles on us; she greets me with a shrill whinny as soon as I step out the door in the morning; she lets herself be endlessly patted and kissed; she lets the girls sit on her without complaint. 

But she isn't what you'd call trained. Training a horse, even a pony, is a specialist's job - it just isn't something you can pick up out of a book and do on your own. It's not like training a dog - or rather, it IS like training a dog, but not a family pet dog. It's more like training a service dog (a service dog that weighs 700 pounds). There is so much that a serviceable, rideable or drivable pony needs to know beyond basic obedience. This is a wild estimate, but I'm going to say that your average riding horse needs to know some thirty or forty different signals. Not only that, but they have to be STANDARD signals. That is, I can't train my horse to do X task with some signal known only to the two of us, or she will never be rideable by anyone else. 

We have done what we can with Poppy on our own - most of her "ground work." That means she leads well, she can be haltered and saddled and groomed, she stands nicely for the farrier, she has been trailered a few times, etc. What we haven't done, because we can't, is train her for riding. 
The year before last, we were in Mexico. Last year, we mostly missed summer because we weren't moved in back here until mid July, and there was so much to do what with getting the house ready for the Tamagochis and getting them enrolled in school and whatnot, I just didn't have time or energy to think about training Poppy. 

This summer, Poppy turns five years old. It's high time to get some training on her. When I looked into prices for a real trainer, I knew that Homero probably wasn't going to go for it. There was one listing that was considerably cheaper than the others, because it was a girl just starting out her own training business. I met her, I went and saw her facility, and we agreed to send Poppy there for two months worth of five-day-a-week training, ground work and riding both. 

Then things started to go wrong. The girl sent someone to pick up Poppy, but she herself went on a three week vacation. When I finally managed to get ahold of her almost two weeks in and told her I wasn't paying for boarding, I was paying for training she said not to worry, she had other people doing work with Poppy. "She'll get the right number of rides," she assured me. 

But she didn't. Poppy sat around in a stall, getting ignored. I would have taken Poppy home myself, but I don't have a trailer. Then the girl changed her cell phone number and I had no way of getting ahold of her. I visited the facility, hoping to find her, but she was never around. Then one day she called me and told me she was getting evicted from the facility and would bring Poppy home immediately. When I started to discuss getting some of my fee back, she told me she would come to my house to give the rides and give my daughters lessons. Since I have "pushover" written on my forehead, I agreed to that. 

That was a month ago. 

Remembering my mother's adage "you get what you pay for" I realized I had a few options. I could 

A) pay for a real trainer (not likely - real trainers have high hourly fees and demand all sorts of equipment like a round pen and fancy tack that I cannot and will never be able to afford); I could 

B) decide that I like Poppy the way she is and just let her develop into a kind of semi-rideable pasture pet; or I could 

C) sell her. 

Even thinking about selling Poppy is painful. On the other hand, option B seems wasteful - almost immoral. Poppy is young, healthy, smart, willing, and good tempered. She could do almost anything in the right hands. For someone who wanted to put in the time and effort (and money), she could be a wonderful companion and working animal. My girls are not that person - neither one of them has expressed a serious interest in riding. They are much more into gymnastics, and both have made the beginner's team. At a competitive level, gymnastics sucks up too much time and money to allow for a second time-and-money intensive hobby like riding. 

So, when the farrier (who is deeply embedded in local horse-culture) came last week, I asked him if he knew anyone who might be interested in Poppy. I said I hadn't made up my mind, but if the right person came along - someone who wanted a long-term commitment, preferably someone local - I would sell her. He said he'd keep his eyes open. 

But I haven't given up. I had an idea yesterday. There's a Facebook group I'm a part of, a local farmer's group. It has about three hundred members. I succinctly laid out our situation and said I was looking for a reliable person to ride Poppy two or three times a week for a reasonable fee. I figured there had to be some horse people with teenagers looking to make a few bucks or maybe some horse people who were currently without horses who would jump at the chance. 

I wasn't wrong. Quite a few people wrote to me, and one of them, a woman who was highly endorsed by somebody I know, is coming over in an hour or so to meet Poppy and talk about what she can and can't do and for how much. Perhaps Poppy can be a kind of high-level pasture pet - not a show horse, not a real working horse, but a rideable friend. That would be acceptable to me. 

Also, the farrier told me something that makes me feel relieved. I was under the impression that horses need to get their training while they are young, three or four or five years old, and that after that, they became much more difficult to work with. Where I got that idea, I can't remember, but the farrier told me it isn't true. He's routinely broken horses over ten years old. That means there's not the urgency that I thought there was - I can try a few more things and see how it goes. Here's hoping. 


Laura said...

The most important thing in training a horse (kids, dogs, etc.) is consistency. I trained an 18 month old arab. I did groundwork for a year and a half, he carried a saddle (youth sized) and my son, went on walks and was ponied all over the Cuyamaca Mountains in SoCal. He was a superb horse. I got on him when he was 3 1/2, and he didn't batt an eye. I could recommend some books for you, if you're interested. I had been riding for years, but had never trained a horse before. when I got divorced, I had to sell him - it was like selling my kid. But I was going back to College, and there was no time for him. He went to a great home, and I've never found another like him. My current horse is perfect for me in my current life stage, but I still miss that boy...