I first saw her in my dreams as a small child. She was a small black horse, with a long mane, refined, beautiful and spirited, she was a part of me from the very beginning. I did not actually find her until I was a 29 year-old mother of 3. When I finally saw her for the first time, my heart skipped a beat. She was the very one I had dreamed of but never thought I would actually have. Her name is Splendor.
A registered Morgan filly with wonderful breeding, Splendor is 14.2 hands, very refined and had a forelock that nearly touched the tip of her nose. With my husbands blessing, I made arrangements to buy her. Though she was my first horse, my husband Bob, helped to put me on the right track for her training and mine.
It was 1989 and he had seen a sign on the road announcing that JOHN LYONS was giving a horse training symposium™, he bought me the tickets to attend. What I saw, has been the greatest influence in my communication with horses and has impacted every part of my relationship with my own horse.
Back in 1989 John Lyons™ was just starting to make a name for himself. That day I saw him take a dirty, untrained Arabian chestnut mare and ride her within a matter of a few short hours. She was not stressed, she was learning rapidly and she really seemed to like and trust what John had been patiently showing her. By the second day of the symposium, he was riding her over tarps and past objects that would have normally been fearful for any horse, let alone a green-broke youngster. I made a decision, that I would learn all I could about this man and follow every piece of advice he gave;and that has made all the difference.
I called his office in Parachute, Colorado the next day and arranged for my new filly to be his next demonstration horse, that coming August at the Los Angeles Fairgrounds.
Two weeks before the event, Splendor arrived to my home. She had been shipped from Kuna, Idaho from the Hi Sage Morgan Horse Farm.
She was lovely, very spooky, (afraid of everything), and Johns™ office had given me strict orders not to do any training with her. So for 2 weeks I groomed her, and stood by her side when she grazed. By the day of the symposium, she looked fit to walk into any show. (Heck, all I COULD do was groom her, so I did!)
There were about 200 people at Johns™ event that day, but you could have heard a pin drop as this beautiful little horse entered the arena.
Thats a Arabian, someone said.
No, it's not, its a Paso Fino whispered another.
She's a Morgan said John, and that put an end to the speculation.
John had me take a moment to talk about Splendor to tell about her and to testify that no training had taken place
(as it was to turn out, that explanation would not really be necessary!)
I talked about my "grooming" escapades over the last 2 weeks and the audience nearly went to sleep until John got started. One of the first things that John did was to give a little speech that went something like this:
"What you see here is just an ordinary horse (there were snickers in the back row)... John continued, She may look like a show horse, she may even turn out to be a show horse, but
underneath it all this is just a horse. What I will do with her, I will do with nearly every horse. About 5 out of 10 horses never really offer to buck when a saddle and rider are introduced.
Though they don't really know anything, they don't offer much of a fuss. Now 4 out of 10 will offer quite a little fuss for a short period of time but then they adjust just fine. But 1 out of 10
will really challenge you. They are not about to take to anything quickly and they will take all your knowledge and skill to help them get started right. Fortunately, I have run into very few of those!
John started working with Splendor, she was really putting on a show. Fifteen minutes later John announced to the crowd:
Ladies and gentlemen, you have the privilege of meeting the 1 in 10 she is going to teach both you and me quite a bit!
The audience was totally delighted. This was REALLY getting their monies worth and they loved every challenge that Splendor presented. John was wonderful. His skill, patience and knowledge of just how to help Splendor get to where she needed to be was remarkable. I, however, was heartsick. Was the horse of my dreams to become a "nightmare", should I rename her "Widowmaker" and sell her to the Rodeo? I was just sick.
John told the crowd that Splendor was a very smart and talented horse, but that she was not one that could be rushed in any way. While she bucked like a maniac far longer than the others
when the saddle was placed on (John was not on, he was a safe distance away!) she did finally settle. As John prepared to mount (and he does it in gradual stages), one of the crowd happened to notice John was looking around.
What are you looking for John someone shouted as John was standing in one of the stirrups leaning over Splendor's shoulder.
A soft place to land came John's reply and everyone laughed.
Splendor never did buck once John was in the saddle. She did just fine. He progressed to working on other things.
John taught Splendor some very important things.
1- It is more comfortable to stand beside your owner than to run away from your owner. (While you are next to your owner/rider, you can rest, if you run away, you will have to really work!)
2- She will need to come when you called or will have to work!
3- Someone on your back is not a bad thing.
4- Face the thing that is scaring you. Do NOT run away!
5- If you are startled, spook in place, do NOT run away!
There were many more things that he taught her, but those were things that have stood out, and she has NEVER forgotten them. At the end of first day of the 2 day program, John was tired and he was saying goodbye (until the next day) to his audience.
As he was talking to the crowd, I noticed that Splendor had dozed off and was asleep standing behind John. Her saddle was on and it had been a long day for her. Just as John was dismissing everyone until the next day, Splendor woke up. She felt the weight of the still unfamiliar saddle on her back and reacted with fright. Bucking straight up in the air and running right over the top of John, he grabbed his hat, and, as he lay face down in the dust, he grabbed the mike and said,
Hold on folks, we can't end like this! Where in he worked with Splendor just a few minutes more to get her settled.
The people attending were ecstatic they loved the challenge. I wanted to crawl into a hole. My horse had just trampled the most famous Horse Trainer in the world a man I idolized. Surely he would hate me now but John was wonderful, and only made positive comments about Splendor to me.
The next day, much of the same process was repeated because Splendor was just not ready to walk over tarps and so forth, like the other demo horses had. When it was all over, I was scared to death about how to proceed.
John reassured me. He told me that one of the best horses he had ever had was a little black Morgan, like Splendor, who had given him a terrible time, and then turned out to be one of the best horses he had ever had.
One thing I did not tell the audience, John said was that sometime the 1 in 10, turned out to be the 1 in a million as far as being a great horse. Just remember, she's going to turn out to be one in a million, and the best horse you could ever have. Just get a trainer to help you who is kind, patient and gives her lots of ground work and this mare will turn out beautifully... I took courage with his words.
Training of the 1 in 10 (part 2)
The journey home to Santa Barbara was a thoughtful one. I had heard of a local trainer who was known for her kind way with horses, and she had a very nice reputation in the area. Her
name was Terri Heindl and I decided to give her a call.
After one hour working with a still nervous Splendor, Terri told me There is no meanness in this horse. She is not trying to hurt anyone, but she is so flighty that I think you will have to be careful with just who rides her in the future. I don't see her as the type of horse that just anyone could ride. As long as she lives, you'll have to be careful of this one!
Right then and there, I made a mental note. ANYONE WILL BE ABLE TO RIDE THIS HORSE BY THE TIME I AM THROUGH WITH HER. I never said anything to Terri; it was just a personal decision that I had made my mind up to.
Terri was wonderful. For the first week, all she did was saddle Splendor (who would buck with the saddle on for at least 5-6 minutes before she would settle down...Terri did not ride her at this point!). Then Terri taught her to lunge. It was Terri that really taught me the value of the lunge line. Oft time, while we were waiting for a space to clear in the arena, we would watch other people as they lunged their horses. More often than not, we would witness what appeared to be a "chasing" session. The owners would yell, cluck, and smack the whip on the ground to keep their horses running at a slow gallop around and around and around.
What do you think that horse is learning? Terri would ask me. Well, I replied,
I think the horse is learning that if he doesn't keep up his speed, he is going to get yelled at.
What do you think that running around and around teaches a horse? Terri asked. I did not have to answer, the answer was obvious; running teaches running. A horse's energy should not be needlessly sapped. There are so many lessons that the lunge line would teach, and I am grateful that Terri taught many of them to me.
Terri spent the first week, teaching Splendor to readily walk and whoa on command. She taught her the word walk and followed with one click of the tongue. This taught my horse that either the word WALK or the ONE CLICK of the tongue meant to walk. She then taught Splendor the value and ultimate importance of the word WHOA.
Never use the word whoa to mean slowing down. Whoa means STOP, STAND STILL and it means that EVERY TIME! If you want her to slow down, use the word "Easy" or something like that... Terri said, and I never forgot to follow that advice. Since then, I have seen many careless uses of the word WHOA; oft times when the rider had no intention of stopping, but only wanted to slow down. NO WONDER these horses get confused and do not respond as they should!
Terri ended each day by riding for a few minutes on Splendor, reinforcing the WALK and WHOA that she had practiced. The next week, we added TROT (2 clicks of the tongue) and WHOA, and the following week, CANTER (a kissing sound) and WHOA. Then Terri left and I was on my own.
At the end of 3 solid weeks, while other horses were still "running like madmen" on the lunge line, my little 2½ year old filly had learned to walk, trot, and canter in an orderly and well mannered fashion, on request, and I was very proud of her. She received lots of praise and positive reinforcement. Each session was designed to make her feel like a winner. John Lyons had given that idea to me. He also taught that if we make a big deal of the praise we give, the horse will learn faster. I can testify, through my own experience, that it is really true.
(Over the years I have been teased (just a little), because I make a really
big deal of it when my horse gets a new concept. I have been known
(and I know it sounds silly) to get off the saddle, give the horse a hug, and a treat from my pocket, all the while telling her how WONDERFUL she is.
I know it looks rather funny, but let me tell you, my horse LOVES it! She acts all proud of herself and you can BET she does it right the next time. The next time she does it she gets verbal praise and a nice rub on the neck. The point is, your horse can LIKE learning, if you make it as fun as possible!)
Splendor still liked to buck with the saddle on when the saddle was first placed on her back. I decided to teach her that bucking with a saddle on is NOT ACCEPTABLE under ANY circumstances. (Since this time I have allowed her to buck on the lunge line IF and ONLY IF, she has no saddle on. I DO allow her a short "play time" from time to time before we start schooling on the line. Never do I allow that once the saddle is on!)
When she bucked, I pulled the lungeline sharply and said, "QUIT!", it only took a time or two, and the bucking ceased. John had said, " A horse will tolerate as much as you do" if you ALLOW IT, he will DO it. The minute YOU decide it is NOT allowed, and back it up with a brief correction, so that the horse understands what you want, the horse will decide NOT to do it any longer. Once again, John was right.
I then took 2 months of just reinforcing what we learned on the lunge line, along with following it up with easy rides in a large arena. When I felt a little safer, I went with her on quiet walks a short ways from the arena until BOTH of our confidence levels were up.
The most important thing that I did, was to begin "sacking her out" using a method that John had taught. He had said to start small, (maybe a small wash rag) and then build up. He also said that the horse should not be pushed to the point that they run away (the horse should be in a round pen and should be standing next to you without your having to hold him!) If you see the fear build up to the point that you KNOW the horse is going to run off in the next moment or two, STOP what you are doing and face away, or even WALK away from the horse. This removes the pressure, helps the horse relax and understand that you are NOT trying to hurt him. Give lots of praise as they learn to accept more and more.
Starting off small, I eventually built up to opening and closing umbrellas over her head and clanging pots and pans while I walked in a complete circle around her. By the time I was done, she was pretty darn solid and we were making real progress, we review these things from time to time even today.
Over time, she has become a very wonderful horse. I am pleased that my goal to have ANYONE ride her has come to pass. ANYONE with basic riding skills can ride this horse safely. Make no mistake; this is one "hot" mare. But she is so "conditioned", as John would say, to being a "willing partner" that most people are completely fooled and have no idea of the hot blood that boils in her veins. It is something that I am aware of, so we continue in our training a little every day, but I am so proud that this little mare who was truly the "one in ten", is now just as assuredly, "one in a million" to me. I love her with all my heart and I am honored to have her part of my life.
Happy riding to you all. Don't ever give up on a horse just because they are a little more challenging..¦.what you get back can be worth every moment you put in.
We are very proud to have John Lyons Certified Trainers at InfoHorse.com and Equusite.com.
Your Friend, Ann Pruitt Marketing Director at InfoHorse.com/Equusite.com
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