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Monday, April 26, 2010

The Husband Horse Who Wasn't

You may recall that my best argument for buying Tanner (sight unseen) via paypal from 2000 miles away was his advertised suitability as a potential husband horse. For the uninitiated, this is a term indicating that a horse is strong enough to carry a man and mannerly enough to be ridden by a beginner. It is not the sort of determination that one can make via email, however, and I was wrong to believe it. 

Tanner and Mat were wrong for each other: Tanner because he was headshy, fearful, reactive and desperately in need of restarting, from scratch, in his under-saddle training; Mat because he didn't want, need, or enjoy a horse and because he had no interest one way or the other in my inconvenient new pet. It worked out: I really wanted a horse for me, and a horse for me is what I ended up with. A big, shivering wreck of a horse. 

Being pregnant, I found that the summer of 2004 was the perfect time for Tanner's ground work. We worked on leading, loading, tying, and trusting, and by September I was ground-driving and lunging my steed with my big belly out between us. D, born in October, caused some delays in the process, but stay-at-home motherhood allowed me to spend plenty of time befriending my backyard gelding. At that point, friendship was a big accomplishment, as mistrust was Tanner's biggest personal hurdle. By the time D was a crawling and I was riding fit, Tanner was passably obedient and could behave himself on the ground and in the arena. He could walk, trot, canter, lead, lunge, load, and tie, and enjoyed being groomed and handled. By the time I moved him to a Bellingham area boarding barn, he was sort of, but not entirely, normal.

Mat and I moved to Bellingham in 2005 for a job opportunity, and apartment life meant curtains for my at-home horsekeeping. We found a lovely and affordable private facility at which to board, and toddler D was young enough for daily extended naps. With the barn owner present in case of an accident, I could leave sleeping D in a shady alcove and spend an hour riding. We passed many a happy afternoon in that quiet backyard, and Tanner's skills grew. I took occasional lessons, and struggled with the wall that Tanner and I were up against: he was better, but he was still resistant. He had lovely gaits, but misused his body and resisted the aids. I had decent skills, but bringing along a retraining project was proving to be a challenge for me. As one trainer said, "he may have improved as much as he can under these circumstances, and he's not an easy ride." It was amazing that he'd come so far, but with my limited time, money, and experience he seemed to have reached the extent of his potential. 

 . . . to be continued . . . 

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