Lessons From Lesson Horses-Chapter 4
Lesson # 1
Lesson # 1 goes along with how I acquired Strudel. Lesson #1 is that you can find high-quality horses and ponies in really weird places! Also, that sometimes you just stumble upon them. If you have the sixth sense as I do, you will just know that you are meant to have that particular one when you come across it.
When I was a working student we used to hack out on the young horses that were just broken. We would always pass by this certain property. Very run down looking, lots of horses and ponies were there. For some reason, there was one pony, Strudel, who was tied to a tree.
As we rode by I asked about her each time, first was told that she wasn't for sale. Then she was really expensive, then the price got more reasonable and finally a couple of weeks later I took my horse trailer and picked up Strudel.
They didn't have much to say about her, she wasn't very well broke to ride, they couldn't remember how long they had her or where she came from. I didn't care. She was super cute, and my sixth sense said I needed her so I got her.
Lesson # 2
Lesson # 2 is that a horse, or pony, that is a natural athlete and has a good work ethic, can really make you look good as a trainer and help make a name for you and your farm.
When Strudel got going well, she won everything she competed in, from local hunter shows to dressage shows. Everyone on the local show circuit recognized her, and knew her name, and quickly knew the name of our farm.
Not that I didn't have to train Strudel, because I did. Since she is a small pony though, all of her training was done by me teaching lessons with her telling my students what to do. I have only sat on her myself once or twice as a joke and my feet practically touched the ground. She had the natural athletic ability and wanted to work, so she learned quickly and easily. She made me look good.
Lesson # 3
Sell the pony when someone offers you a ridiculously high price for it. I'm not much on selling horses. Most of the horses and ponies I acquire stay with me for the rest of their lives. I have a hard time trusting them with other people, and I feel responsible for their safety and well being.
When Strudel was in her prime, she was winning everything she went in. From leadline division to pony hunter at the hunter shows, to doing dressage and eventing. Though she was only 12.2 hands, she was mighty and fierce. She was an athlete and liked her job.
I was offered quite a lot of money for her more than once and declined. Looking back on it, she would have stayed in a show home where she was used to the best of her abilities. Also, I feel like most people who pay a lot for a horse or pony are bound to take good care of it.
I was so proud of Strudel and the name she had made for me and our business, that I didn't want to let her go. I still have Strudel and even now would probably not let her go, but that was not the right choice and I know that now.
Lesson # 4
Show pony to lesson pony doesn't work, at least not all the time. When Strudel was showing she was leased out to the riders that were showing her, they took lessons often and she always was ridden well. Never got away with anything.
The problem with the 12.2 ponies is that those kids who did so well with her outgrew her pretty quickly. She was well trained and athletic. Sensitive to her riders cues, and she was never allowed to get away with any bad habits.
When her riders outgrew her, I didn't have another generation of up and comings to take their place. I had a whole bunch of in between riders, but none that were ready to use her to the best of her ability. So I tried to turn her into a lesson pony.
It didn't work. I shouldn't say that it didn't ever work. It just didn't work for long. Strudel had never ever been allowed to get away with bad behavior, ever! So when I put her in the lesson program with riders who were learning, and they let her get away with typical lesson horse behaviors, she became a typical lesson pony.
Honestly a real punk, she would literally do every trick in the book. With little kids on her, they would get scared of her and barely be able to get her to listen. Sometimes, one of the older girls who outgrew her would jump on to whip her into shape. Funny thing is, she knew better than to play games with them and went around like her perfect little lead swapping show pony self.
Strudel is a persnickety little mare and she was insulted that I had downgraded her to be a lesson pony, or so it seemed that way! I should have made a bigger effort to lease her to someone who would show her or sold her on to someone who would.
Lesson # 5
Once it was determined that Strudel wasn't the best lesson prospect, she spent most of her time turned out in the field with the two miniature donkeys we had.
We had started doing pony rides and birthday parties, and I thought this might be good for Strudel. I mean she used to do leadline at horse shows, it's not that much different!
When we first started using her for pony rides she did well with them. She was fat and out of shape, and it was just easier for her to go with the flow. As she got in better shape though, she remembered what she had learned while being a lesson pony, that sometimes she has options ( you know that is what we hadn't wanted her to learn! )
As she got fitter and fitter with all that walking, she discovered a whole new book of tricks to get her out of participating in pony rides. Most of which involved tiny little bucks and hops, pathetic little things, but enough to terrify a kid on a pony ride.
Lesson # 6
Pony mares are the witchiest witches of all. I love Strudel. Like I said before, I can't even ride her, because she is so small, but I love her. I will admit though that she is a real witch when she wants to be.
She will stomp her feet on the crossties and she has been known to stand with her ears forward-looking super cute and sweet and then take a chunk out of somebody.
She is little and sneaky! Pony mares are the most witchy witches of all! So, beware, no matter how sweet and cute they may look...they cannot be trusted!
Lesson # 7
Age does make a difference. Strudel has been with us for a long time, the last few years she hasn't done much of anything.
This year at summer camp, she was called into action and behaved herself just fine. She even did enough to get past the point of too fat and lazy to do anything bad, and she still behaved.
So I learned from Strudel, that with age, it can settle a horse or pony down and make their temperament more mild-mannered. Though she is arthritic and stiff and clicks when she trots, at least she is working again. At least a little bit of work is better than standing around doing nothing!
Lesson # 8
Strudel is past her prime now. I'm glad that I have kept her all these years. If my sixth sense tells me I need a horse or pony it doesn't lie ( that's lesson number 8 ) Strudel has taught a lot of people, won a lot of ribbons, and brought a lot of recognition to our farm.
Even though she probably didn't go as far as she could on the show circuit because I was too stubborn to let her go. I'm glad that she is still with us.
Lesson # 9
You can learn from a pony even if you are almost 6 feet tall. I couldn't ride Strudel to train her myself. So I actually had to be even better. I had to have the understanding of what needed to be done and then be able to communicate it to someone else. Trust me, if I could have jumped on and done it myself it would have been way easier!!!
Having to be able to communicate training instructions from the ground was an excellent experience for me. It made me a better trainer and instructor since I had to focus and break things down step by step and explain them.
The Moral of Strudel's Story
You might find a special horse or pony in a strange place like tied to a tree. Listen to your sixth sense ( the horse sense ) if you have it. If you don't spend as much time around horses as you can and try to develop it. It is what makes the difference between the really great riders and trainers and the just average ones. The moral of Strudel's story is I probably should have sold her while I could for a bunch of money, but she is special to me, so here she will stay, and there is nothing wrong with that!