Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Or Not...

Two or three days after coming back from his triumph at Ram Tap, the “real” Grady started showing up. He’d been out on the trail a few times now without a problem so Michelle thought nothing of it when she tacked him up and took him for a hack in Happy Camp. What she hadn’t counted on was the fact that Grady felt comfortable enough to have sent out his change of address cards and put up new drapes – the ranch was now definitely his home and he saw no reason to leave it. Once the other horses in his “herd” and his comfy stall (and food) were out of sight, Grady had a melt down. He spun and ran backwards, sideways, upside down, anyway he could think to run and a few that he probably hadn’t put a lot of thought into. Years of experience taught Michelle that in some cases, it’s best just to sit quietly, stay balanced and ride it out. No amount of aggression was going to get this particular horse to re-engage his brain; he was going to have to do that on his own. On the other hand, there was a significant cliff fast approaching and Grady didn’t seem to notice or care.

Thinking quickly, Michelle jumped off and tried to calm him down from the ground. Grady freaked out even more, running backwards even faster with a terrified look in his eyes. He stands at 17.2hh; running backwards with his head straight up in the air he’s much, much taller. Michelle couldn’t even touch his nose and at 5’ 7”, she’s not used to being vertically challenged. All Michelle could see was the edge of the cliff getting closer and closer. Twenty feet, fifteen – it looked like it was going to be the end of the shortest eventing career ever (not to mention the end of her custom saddle!). Fortunately, his self-preservation instinct kicked in and Grady stopped a mere ten feet from the edge.

After getting him to calm down, Michelle got back on and immediately put him to work bending, moving from side to side, whatever task the terrain would allow. As long as Grady has something to think about, apparently, he didn’t think about how unhappy he was to leave home. The trot home was uneventful but the question remained – had Grady learned the lesson that it was ok to leave home or was there repeat performances in store?

The next time Michelle took him out for a walk up the road gave her the answer she didn’t want to know. A horse who had willingly gone out into the vast nearby park just a week ago now completely freaked out just going a few hundred yards away from home. So, with the help of another trainer, Michelle tried taking him out with some company. With another horse along, he was the perfect gentleman. Nothing on the trail bothered him, he’d just go along as calm and relaxed as a veteran packhorse. But if the other horse left, as soon as Grady figured out he was alone a major shit storm would erupt. For a hunter or a dressage horse this might not be a problem. At shows, he’d always be in the presence of other horses. But for eventing, he’s got to be able to go out on that cross-country course alone. Michelle was beginning to see the problems that his previous riders had.

The problem was that so far, other than the issue of leaving home, he’d proven to be a sweet horse, the kind that really get under your skin so just giving up and moving on to a more likely prospect was harder than it sounded. If his problems stemmed from too many years of racing permanently etching in his head that there was only safety in numbers, then it seemed unlikely there’d be any hope of retraining him at his age. But if his issue was due to the fact that his whole life was a patchwork of being passed around from one barn to another, never having a real home before, then it was reasonable to assume once he figured he had a real home and Michelle was his herd, that he’d settle in just fine. For Michelle, there was something about him, something in his eyes that made her willing to take that chance.

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