20. The BIG Ginger Horse

Blog 20 – “The BIG Ginger Horse”

My Mum thinks I should write a book and there should be a film about Mac, she’s probably right and will mostly likely demand royalties if and when it happens!

Mac's gallop, look carefully and you can see my sister Katie and my Mum Sue to the right of Mac's left ear!
Once he was mine I could manage Mac in the way that I wanted.  I transitioned him to barefoot and could go at a pace that suited me and Mac.  

He was a proper baby, he liked other horses but he really liked people and was super-soppy.  He was incredibly sensitive to ride and handle and came in to my life as the point where I was prepared to take on board the difference between “sugar coating” and training in a truly clicker-compatible way.  No punishment, no escalation of pressure, with foundations really well in place and build-on-able.  Mac was a horse would could not cope with any kind of pressure, the reasons for which would become obvious later.

Mac and I enjoy a hack in the countryside near Ashen E.C.
Rising 5 he was 18.2hh, with 10.5 inches of bone and the ugly duckling was becoming a magnificent swan.  He’d literally stop traffic when we’d hack out, not because he was playing up but because people wanted to stop to look at him and ask about him.  He became a something of a celebrity locally with people coming out of their houses and gardens to make a fuss of him and he lapped it up.  This continued when he became a Show Hunter, even amongst all of the other big handsome heavyweights he was always the crowd’s favourite, he had a very special presence that few horses have.

He was very kind and gentle, slow to learn but growing in confidence thanks to the clicker games.  But on three occasions he had what I can only describe as a “funny turn”.  Once when we were out hacking with a large group of horses and riders in an unfamiliar environment and twice during the warm-up in competition when he was crowded with a lot of other horses.  All of a sudden his body heated up and his coat became covered with sweat, he shook all over and performed a version of Capriole, rearing up and leaping into the air.  These seemed to come from nowhere, but happened in highly stressful situations and he would calm down again quickly afterwards so while I wondered at them they never really bothered me.  These moments were to make more sense at the end.

By now I was more interested in doing the things that my horses enjoyed and had a talent for than trying to mould them into something that I wanted them to be.  Although successful in dressage with Guy I was becoming more and more disillusioned by what I witnessed in competition.  I had never really enjoyed or understood showing, I had taken young horses out at local level for the experience but had found the whole thing boring beyond belief.  But my sister, Katie was convinced Mac would make a fabulous Show Hunter at and her encouragement I took him to a show producer for her opinion.  Her view was that he was an out-and-out Heavy Weight Show Hunter, but an “old fashioned” stamp, a bit plain looking, “He is what he is” I was told but he should do well and that if I wanted the best for him and for him to win at top level then I should leave him with her to produce and compete.  This was not what I had in mind for Mac at all, I accepted that I was not a “name” or a “face” within the showing world but was determined to learn more about it and do my best for and, most importantly with Mac. 

Mac “grew” under saddle and learned to use himself well but he would shrink in-hand so, with the clicker I taught him how to hold himself for the conformation inspection and trot-up, equally, if not more important than the riding section in showing.  Knowing that he was going to be ridden by judges of different sexes, heights and weights and with differing aids and preferences for a way of going I taught him how to understand “concepts” and he never made a mistake with lead-legs or in transitions, had a wonderful gallop and excellent brakes! 

First time out and at local level he was placed first and although he stood still while the rest of the field was pulled in I sensed he was anxious (Interestingly, he was never bothered about leaving and returning to the line-up but always gave a wicker of relief when the ride judge returned him to me.) so having taught him “Standing on the mat” as one of his Foundation Lessons I took a small drinks coaster with me in my pocket and would chuck it on the showground so that he could place one front foot on that tiny mat and feel safe and grounded wherever he was.

Next time, "A Star is Born" published 13th April.

For those searching online for more “instructional” resources than offered in these blogs please make use of my video downloads www.ashenec.co.uk

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