Photo by Margaret Chant and edited by Jessica Metropulos

Monday, August 23, 2010

Where did Crest Come From, Anyway?

 Since the lesson with Linda, I’ve had quite a few inquiries about where Crest came from, as well what his history was. Linda had implied in her blog that he was a rescue, and we never really did give much background on him during the lesson, so I thought a blog to clarify and share might be the way to go!

So just where did Crest come from , anyway? How did I end up with him? This big, handsome bay horse of mine has a kind of colorful history.  Crest was born May 23rd 2001 on a private farm in Kellogg, MN.  He was named “Crest” because he was born the day that the spring floodwaters on the Mississippi River crested in 2001.  He is by a tri-colored Paint stallion named Cherokee, and out of a red roan mare named Frog.  Both parents carry a majority of Thoroughbred lineage—this is why I refer to him as a Paint x Thoroughbred.

The owner of the farm on which he was bred was not a cruel-hearted person. However, he didn’t handle his horses much, and when they were handled, it was not naturally, to say the least.  Crest lived essentially feral as the second and younger stallion in large herd of horses until he was almost 3 yrs old.  His father was the lead stud, and he continually ran Crest off and wouldn’t allow him to be a part of the herd.  I suspect he was essentially run into the poor condition he was in when I met him, and not being allowed to be a member of the herd probably did considerable damage to the young Crest’s mind.

In October of 2003, a family friend of ours (also the ex-girlfriend of the farm’s owner), bought Crest. She was really the one who “rescued” him, not me.  He was loaded into a trailer (I’m still not sure how exactly they did it) and brought to Pepin, WI. When he arrived, he was a scrawny, wormy, sick-looking 3-year old stallion.   He was gelded, and then turned out into a pasture with two dominant mares who also liked to beat up on him.  The photo at left was taken a month after Crest arrived at our friend's place.

Our friend is a very kind person with lots of knowledge in holistic horse care, and is also interested in Parelli.  She nursed him to a place of better health physically, but Crest had some very intense mental and emotional scars, and she knew that she had gotten way more horse than she could or wanted to handle.  She called me the following summer (2004), and wondered if I’d be interested in giving training Crest a go for her. 

I was almost 14, and just finishing level 2 at the time. Though I had played with several dozen horses, and had started a few youngsters, including my levels mare, Prin, I had never dealt with a horse of Crest’s extremity before. Hindsight being what it is, I probably was not cut out to deal with a horse as fearful or as extreme as he, but at 14, I was cocky and bullet-proof. So I took him on.

I agreed to put 30 days of training on Crest. I remember the first day I played with him. Another “trainer” that I knew was there as well, and I opted to let her give him a shot first. Truth be told, I didn’t know what to make of him. Evidently, neither did she. She tied him to a corral post, slapped a western saddle (back cinch and all) on his back, and turned him loose in a round pen.  What I watched happen next is something I always keep in the back of my mind today, as a reminder of what he’s capable of: Crest bucked, and he bucked HARD. A minute passed, and he didn’t stop. Then two minutes.  And then the saddle came sailing off over his rump.  He had bucked so hard that he had managed to BREAK the back cinch, and loosen the front one enough that it slid back and over.  Once the saddle was off, he ran a couple more laps and then stopped at the gate, head out towards the corral, dripping with sweat and literally shaking.

Not knowing exactly what the right thing to do was, but also knowing that what had just happened was not right, I went over and snapped a lead onto his halter, and said “Okay, I think I’d like to try some things now.”

A long story short, after not thirty, but ninety days, Crest and I had still not made much progress.  I had taught him the 7 games online to a level 1 standard, but he was still very reactive, very spooky, and prone to go into a frothing panic if something worried him. He was terrified of anything touching his back legs, and of course anything on his back.  We had hardly made ANY headway with him carrying a rider. I could sit on him, but he was so claustrophobic that if my legs touched him at all, I was in for quite a ride. Obviously not at all what a person has in mind when they start a riding horse.  

Anyone who knows me knows that to give up on something is just not in my nature.  But after being hurt at least twice a week for the final month, I was beginning to have some realizations.  I realized that Crest was WAY more horse than I had given him credit for. I realized that I did not have the savvy to help him be a partner for myself, let alone someone else. I also realized that he had the potential to be a super horse—I’d never met a horse so sensitive before, nor one with as much versatile athleticism and as natural a mover as Crest.  And finally, I realized I had two options: either I would dedicate myself to learning what he needed, or pack up and go home. 

So I did what any obsessed Parelli student would have done:  I threw aside everything that had already happened, abandoned the “must be trained” timeline, and I bought the horse for myself! Crest came home as mine on July 22nd, 2005.
Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective), our story still hasn’t been the “happily ever after” scenario that we might have hoped for.  Crest has constantly challenged me to grow and evolve every time we reach a new level, especially when it comes to being ridden.  He still has residual baggage about having something on his back, there have been a number of scary “near misses” we’ve had, as well as one really bad accident, and there are still days when I don’t know what to do with him.  This is part of why his online and liberty are so advanced, but his under-saddle savvys are not—his confidence blossoms and play drive emerges when we play on the ground.

But our lesson with Linda has led to a much greater understanding of why he does what he does when he’s ridden, and it has led to a strengthening of bond and understanding that we both had only dreamed of before.  It has allowed me to let Crest be the horse that he is, and help him by shaping his innate character for the positive, and becoming a leader that he can feel confidence in. Now, not only am I riding Crest, but we’re riding and doing things with more confidence than ever before—we’ve even cantered bareback with relaxation on a trail ride now.

I hope this clarifies and gives answers to some of the questions people have had about Crest, and I hope it also sheds some light on why this was such a complex, but necessary lesson for Linda to teach in the way that she did. Crest’s layers run deep, and he carries some heavy baggage, and he and I both needed to be taken to that limit, but not over. Linda delivered perfectly, I know that I’m grateful every day for those 3 intense hours in that arena in Columbus Ohio.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Born to Fly

Hi folks,

More blogs coming soon, I PROMISE. I've started two that I need to finish.  But for now, I wanted to give you a little treat. Or...well..I think it's a treat, I'll let you make the final judgment ;)

Below is a video of me playing with Sunny on the day that I took her home.  She taught me lots while she was here. Some of the big things were being in the moment, as well as an acute sensitivity to personal space, and understanding comfort/discomfort motivation to a new level.  I'm very proud of what the two of us were able to accomplish in our time together, and I hope that her owner finds as much joy in playing with her as I did :)

Please let me know what you think!