Friday, March 4, 2011

Cruiser, the Early Days

Here is an article I wrote about Cruiser quite a few years ago:

I forgot what a challenge he was in the beginning!

Cruiser, the Early Days

I bought my second horse, Cruiser, when he was only a two-year-old. Quite honestly, I was still a rather green horse person. I had only owned my first horse for two years before he died, and bought Cruiser the very next week. It may have seemed rather impulsive, but for $300.00, I figured that I didn’t have anything to lose. I would always be able to turn around and sell him for what I paid for him. He was such a pretty little horse. Cruiser is a light chestnut, half Morgan/ half Arabian.

Cruiser was barely halter-broken when I got him. With the help of some good books, common sense and patience, I was in the saddle by the time he was 3. All that time, I hadn’t been going on any trail rides, and I missed it dreadfully. I was sure that I could get Cruiser on the trail right away. We had gone for walks in the park many times, so it wasn’t unfamiliar to him. He seemed quiet enough in the arena after the first 10 minutes of silliness. Granted, he was a bit on the spooky side, but I just had to get on the trail. The summer had begun, and I didn’t want to miss a day of it. After less than a month of riding at the barn, we hit the trail.

Well, I’m lucky I didn’t literally hit the trail. At least I was smart enough to wear a helmet. If only I was smart enough to realize we weren’t ready for the trail. From the moment we left the driveway, he transformed into a creature I didn’t recognize. His spookiness compounded in the park. He didn’t just jump when something startled him; he spun and ran. I couldn’t get him to stop or turn well. Foolish me. He didn’t do these things well in the arena. Why did I ever think he could do them on trail? He was just so distracted by everything. I would ask him to trot, and he would take off at an incredible speed—never cantering—but hard to control and hard to stop. (Maybe he was really a Standardbred with fake papers.) After a half a dozen attempts of trail riding, I came to my senses. This horse needed more training before he killed me out there.

We went back to the drawing board. I worked him in that incredibly boring indoor arena where there weren’t many distractions. I drilled the basics into him until he would respond without hesitation. It didn’t take that long to get him where I wanted; just a couple of months. By September, I ventured out on the trail again. Sure, we still had problems, but I was better prepared, and he had a clearer idea of what I wanted. I still had some white-knuckle moments, but that will happen with any new trail horse. I rode him on the trail whenever I could until the weather got too bad for it, and then it was time for schooling in the arena again. By spring, he was even better, and our trail rides became a real pleasure.

I moved him to a busier part of the park that summer. Finally, we could ride with people! Everyone said that horses did better if they had companions. I was looking forward to having someone to talk to when I rode. At my first opportunity, I went along with a group of 4 other horses. A big surprise was in store for me. I had a miserable time on the ride trying to keep him from dashing to the head of the group, crowding the other horses and just plain listening to me. Once again, he was way to distracted to pay any attention to me. This time, I understood that it was the unfamiliar situation that transformed him, and rather than try it again anytime soon, I went back to the drawing board once again. I found someone with a quiet, little mare that was happy to follow right behind us. (We found out later that she was going blind, and we think she was using Cruiser as her seeing-eye horse.) After a few months riding with her, I gradually rode with different horses and bigger groups. Finally, it didn’t matter what size the group was, he would listen to me instead of trying to play with the other horses.

You see, when we take a horse away from the safety of their herd and familiar surroundings, something happens to them. New surroundings and different horses are exciting and scary for them. It is like aliens came and exchanged your horse with another one when you weren’t looking. A smart rider will know his or her limitations and the degree of their horses training before they try to push the envelope.

At least I didn’t get hurt, but it was probably just because I was lucky.

1 comment:

achieve1dream said...

I think Chrome is going to be fine alone, which is good because I don't see having company until we move somewhere more horse friendly. I often wonder what he will be like around a bunch of other horses though . . . we shall see. :)

I'm glad you weren't hurt and Cruiser has turned out to be such an amazing horse for you. :)