If you read my previous post about Nash, you’ll know that he’s coming off of more than a year long layoff, and I’m trying to get
back to riding my old master. My first abortive attempt at riding him was cut short by an unusual incident of rearing. Sensitive to all of the health issues we’ve struggled with, I gave him the benefit of the doubt and spoke to my veterinarian. As I stated previously, most of my riding friends would have taken the aggressive approach and walloped him immediately. After eliminating all probable health causes, that turned out to be my vet’s advice as well! Literally … her words (albeit laughing when she said them).
To understand this odd advice from a health professional, you would have to know a few things. First, my vet is a horse trainer from way back. Second, she knows me (her words were “I know you always try to be positive in your approach …”) and my horses very well. Lastly, Nash is an Appaloosa through and through!
For those not familiar with Appaloosas and their reputation, let me explain. Appaloosas are more than just the color of their coats. Although these are generalizations I am about to make, they are built upon over forty years of dealings with the breed, and the opinions of most people I’ve met who have had to work with them. This is a breed you either fall in love with, or vow never to own again!
Appys are smart! I have worked with horses with all levels of intelligence – and they are as varied as humans in that area. But, I
have never met a breed with as many horse geniuses as the Appaloosa (Mustangs come darn close) – and this is not necessarily a good thing! It can work to your advantage – my old Ben got me out of a few scrapes that took brain power on his part. It can also be a constant challenge – Ben was always looking for ways to take advantage of his rider, and pretty much had it nailed in the first five minutes with a new rider!
Appys are opinionated! They are not shy about letting you know how they feel about anything and everything. Many horses (notably Quarter Horses, in my experience) are highly tolerant of all that is done to them. This does not apply to Appys! You will be very clear if they enjoy or hate anything. Nash makes it very clear that he is tired of arena work by stopping several feet from the in-gate, feet planted, giving me a “You must be joking!” expression.
These two qualities combined lead to other descriptions of Appaloosas that are not necessarily fair: lazy, stubborn, difficult, etc. In
general, the experiences that lead to these opinions are a result of not developing the type of approach and working relationship you need to have with an animal who is looking for the WIFM (“what’s in it for me?”) in what you do. I enjoy the challenge of the Appaloosa, but I’m admittedly a bit rusty these days.
Back to Nash …
Rest assured, I have not actually walloped Nash. What I have done is take a two-pronged approach. First, I have started to “sit on” any behavior that is out of line. Upon discussion with my mother, we found a pattern in all of his behaviors that has become increasingly pushy and somewhat difficult. Many of these things, like a little frolic on the lunge line, would mean nothing with another horse – but, taken in sum total, they show a pattern that Nash is pushing his limits. The second approach is to give him more “me” time. Other new behaviors he’s exhibited include more bids for attention. He is typically a somewhat aloof horse, but has lately been working hard to get my attention in the barn. I realized that I spend a lot of time “schmoozing” with Tally and Noble. Since Nash never showed any interest in that, I have been “neglecting” him. Believe me, jealousy is an emotion horses feel!
The result? We are back on track! I’ve had several rides since I’ve changed my approach to Nash. Twice he has made a mild
attempt at repeating his rearing incident – but a firm forward aid derailed both attempts. After several rides at the walk, I have my relaxed, stretching, forward boy back. All of the old controls are there too – tiny shifts in seat or weight lead to immediate changes in bend and direction. What a joy! Still conscious of building up strength in his back, we’ve been sticking to walk – but this weekend we move on to trot work.
I may have overreacted with concern over possible health issue, but I feel good that I took the time to sort out the cause of the problem and design my approach. Although I’ve gotten firm with him, we’ve avoided any fighting or tension … and I have my dance partner back! Stay tuned for more updates on our progress.
Be good to your horses!