Extreme Mustang Makeover Part II
Story told by: Krista Koenig www.fromstarttofoundation.com
I still had to work out the bugs in Comet as far as riding, he only wanted to trot or canter in one direction and would get high headed and rubber necked when he got frustrated. Which I knew would NOT allow me to push him or cheat under saddle with him for certain. I patiently worked on the rail in the round pen, only walking in his bad direction until he relaxed and freed up, even then I only asked for a few strides at the trot each time until he decided that it wasn’t so bad and quit trying to turn and go his good direction. He was not very strong behind and had a huge canter, so, could only hold it balanced for a few strides at a time and even then required some pedaling…..The tricks really are going to be his strong point! Comet quickly learned to straddle the poles and proved better at backing them than walking forward, he LOVED his bean bag, stood quietly on the pedestal as I mounted, dismounted, walked underneath him, etc. Meanwhile, Dave is still patiently working to gain Polaris’s trust, he was leading, wearing a saddle and doing the groundwork, he was just still very shut down and tight. Dave had sat on him a few times, but we were worried he would blow up if asked for more than that!
Month 3 found Comet walk trot and canter in the arena, easily sitting when asked, starting to have a rope thrown off of him and loved going next door to follow the sled and let me learn to rope! Polaris still was not making much progress, but a lot of horses don’t come around in less time anyway, it is amazing that these horses go as far as they do so quickly. Dave worked hard at in-hand making the decision to lead Polaris through the weekend and on the Rural and Urban trail courses required of us in Norco. Meanwhile Comet and I thoroughly enjoyed our last month together, reveling in our tricks and amazingly calm and confident under saddle, someone was REALLY going to love this horse! He felt so safe and willing to respond that I was actually looking forward to riding through the town of Norco on a busy Saturday afternoon on a very green Wild Mustang!
Competition weekend came quickly and off to Norco we went!
Comet loved the environment, was well prepared for the obstacles, willingly and quietly did what was asked. Friday morning we had to lead through a course in-hand and show the horse negotiating poles, bridges and a trailer loading, then we mount up outside the arena and literally “hit the hills” behind Norco. There are several obstacles on the trail course with a judge at each. We had a long steep hill and a break as the first one, negotiating a rock pile, crossing a bridge, trotting along a bridle path and stopping. Comet and I tried to live it up and remember every moment, as this was 3 months in the making and he would be sold at the end of the weekend! Dave and Polaris led through like champs! Maybe Dave should have packed some hiking boots, but it paid off since he was the most popular trainer on Facebook that day for being willing to lead the course and at least gain the experience with Polaris.
Saturday morning and we were required to do the arena trail obstacles first, a bridge, serpentines through cones, loping circles, drop to trot lead change, then off through the town of Norco! One of the most exciting obstacles was a tractor with an umbrella just inside the yard, well, the metal road grate was not factored in, so, when the truck hit it as we were passing the judged obstacle and Comet only jumped, we all had a good chuckle that that should have been extra credit! We rode past Llamas, through the creek, stopped at the bar for a Sarsaparilla, and crossed at traffic lights. He was relaxed, happy and man did I feel safely mounted. Dave and Polaris walked it again, acing all of the trials, Dave even took his boots off to cross the river and proceeded the loop barefoot until he came back to them! Polaris seemed to be beginning to understand that we were on an adventure and that all the work we have been doing with him was to help him. Once again, they were the most followed pair on Facebook……..everyone seemed impressed that Dave was still using it as a training weekend and showing what he had done with his horse, even though he was not ready to be ridden yet, that it showed dedication and professionalism!
Unfortunately, we had not done our homework as far as the scoring goes, so being unfamiliar with ACTHA rules, none of us scored high enough to get into the finals. Most all of the low scores were due to our lack of attention to detail, such as tack checks and procedure, more than how the horses did. Being a professional trainer, we check our tack often and didn’t necessarily know what to do being scored personally. Once again a big learning experience and so we would definitely brush up for next year! A client of mine had a friend who had been looking for a horse and watched Comets’ progress, she just knew he would be perfect for her friend. So, Amy Shennum of Simi Valley came out on Saturday to meet Comet the Sitting Wonder Horse! It was quickly apparent that she could easily fall in love and would be a good match, so we crossed our fingers that she would be high bidder at Sundays auction.
Sunday came and time for the auction, Dave trotted around with Polaris like a handler at a Kuering(how they rate Friesians), since the horse had a stunning trot and would be his strong point at the sale. He was purchased by a mom and son that were experienced with horses and he would be a first training project for the boy. After the sale was over for them, Dave and Polaris’s new family headed over to the round pen and he was ready for his first ride. All the leading and the weekend paid off, something clicked for Polaris and now he was ready to be started willingly under saddle. Dave rode him walk trot and canter easily that day! The decision was made that we would put 30 more days of saddle training on him before he went home with them and we all felt like this was a successful makeover for Dave and Polaris. Amy managed to purchase Comet, the price went up a little as people had seen how calmly, quietly and willingly he had performed the weekend and they would have liked him too! Since these horses are only green broke by this time, Amy and I decided that she would do 90days more training on him and let me show him at the Reno Wild Horse & Burro Expo. Hopefully we would get to showcase the bean bag trick at least once! Another successful Makeover Mustang!
In case you are wondering, Polaris is living in Norco with his family, a trusted riding partner and well versed in the streets of Norco. Comet went to Reno that August and won Reserve Green Champion, as well as being invited to showcase a demonstration in the evening show……..We backed poles, walked down them, side passed them and of course sat and posed happily on his bean bag for much to everyone’s delight! He went home to Simi valley from there and we get regular reports of his camping trips, training progress and even a calm ride through Griffith Park where even the seasoned horses were nervous!
2011 and once more we headed to Ridgecrest to pick up our mystery horses! My father turned 81 this year the day we went to pick them up. As his middle name is Orion, I thought it fitting to call this years horse Orion. It was a beautiful morning when we arrived and much to our delight were introduced to a gorgeous black gelding and a striking grey gelding. The ride home went smooth and the horses settled in fairly quick, but this year it seemed that I had gotten the difficult one! Chico as we were now calling Dave’s grey, liked scratches and seemed to feel like we weren’t too much of a threat and began to interact with us the first 2 days. Orion on the other hand was very flighty, sensitive and wanted no part of being touched. I have done a lot of work with Spanish breeds over the years and I was impressed with how Spanish he not only acted, but looked as well. He looked like a small black Lusitano and moved just like one too! He would threaten to bite if you got too close on his left side and cringed every where else, every little change was noticed and reacted to, showing me just how sensitive he really was!
Chico quickly turned out to be the “cool kid in school” and quietly, confidently accepted each new thing with curiosity. He did however find it amusing to occasionally rip out of your hand and just eat grass and explore once free, definitely a sense of humor! Meanwhile, we all started to wonder if Orion was going to come around in time. We still had Maria here from the first year, scratching our heads why she won’t interact and Polaris took the whole 90days and a weekend at the show before he was ready! I was determined however to reach him and make a connection. Again, about 2 weeks in, they were down in the barn and leading from point A to B, Chico was progressing in his groundwork and ready to start wearing things and introduce the saddle. Orion was letting me lead him and halter him, but was very untrusting and tight, ready to blow at anything. It was obviously going to take time to gain his trust!
The last week of the first month and most of the 2nd month was very wet and we were limited as to the amount of groundwork or riding we could do. It set Dave and Chico back a little as they were ready to move forward, but it did give me a chance to work with Orion all day in the barn alley as we cleaned stalls and moved horses around. I incorporate a lot of stretching and bodywork in my training program, so even when it is wet and raining, I have plenty to do with each horse. Each time I walked by “O” as we now called him, I pet him and spent a little time working with him and taking him with me down the barn near the next stall and horse I was working with. This really paid off, especially taking the hour every night it took to put a blanket on him. We started putting it on him as he could wear it for an extended period of time and it would be less traumatic than a saddle, he realized quickly that it kept his muscles warm and helped him loosen up sooner . Before too long, he was enjoying the bodywork and grooming, but still had rules about what we touched him with or put on him.
2nd half of month 2, it finally dried out and we were back in business. Chico was wearing the saddle and doing the groundwork nicely, but there was still a small issue because if his willingness. Because he was the cool kid, everything seemed to go in stride, but when he did blow, it was quick to happen and he would throw lightning fast kicks at the offending object. Not good if you are on board and get tossed off……. Also, he had a bit of a mule personality, as long as it was fun and he liked it, no problem, but he refused to be pushed into anything. Not really a problem since we take our time, but it did limit how far he would go on any given day and what would happen under pressure? Orion was coming along nicely except that he would only wear a certain pad or surcingle, he seemed to accept each individual thing introduced, but did not generalize. So, once he got used to one pad, the new one would then be a problem. I started saddling him with a very small child’s saddle as he was fast at running out from under it and I wanted to teach him to calmly accept it being put on his back and this would take a lot of repetitions and time. His ground driving was amazing and he took to it like a duck to water, was steering easily, changing direction and calmly moving through his gaits. For all the nervousness and snorting he really wasn’t into running around either and though he postured a lot, really wasn’t as hot as he pretended to be. Everyone was beginning to think that he wouldn’t make it under saddle to Norco, but at that point I am still willing to pack my hiking boots and walk it if I have to!
Month 3 and we are just starting to think about getting on and riding these boys. Chico was showing that he was ready as long as we didn’t push, but Dave continued to pay attention to detail and work out more bugs before riding him. The smoother the first couple rides go, the easier the horse is to train for the rest of his lifetime! The creek runs behind our house and we had several wonderful days of taking the boys down to the water and wallow in the mud. This is where Chico showed his first mule moment……. He would go in on his own, but decided not if Dave was asking him. This finally gave them a good place to work on the concept of, “yes, you really do need to do what I ask”. O just enjoyed himself and ate grass between playing in the water, the first signs of him starting to relax and accept his new life. I spent a lot of the time leaning on his back and enjoying our time together. This had become personal, more than the competition, I was on a mission to make friends with this horse regardless of Showtime!
So, 2 weeks before Makeover, we finally got all the signs from both of the boys that they are ready to be ridden. Chico, in typical cool kid style, took it all in stride. He seemed pleased with himself to know what to do and how to back up and turn. He also had a knack for carrying a rider at the canter like the brokest of horses. Most colts take months learning to be comfortable under saddle at the canter, but Chico just jumped into it with perfect cadence and never looked back. In just a few rides Dave was throwing a rope off of him, dragging barrels, loping easily around the arena and cruising down the trail. O was a little different, he was accepting a rider, but was sensitive to every cue or movement made on his back, so, I had to connect the dots for him immediately. If he did not understand something he would stop and say, “explain now” before being able to move on. So, I was able to ride him, but still not thinking he would be safe to ride in the Makeover. Still, he had never bucked, blown up, or bolted yet. That is one of our most important goals for ANY colt we start!
Show weekend races upon us with only 14 rides on both horses! We decided to have a good weekend, enjoy ourselves and do the best we can, safely. We also chose to show in our Loping Hackamores as the horses were not ready for a bit yet. Friday morning once again we have the In-hand portion in the arena, Orion was wonderful and knew what to do , earning us 5th place. I couldn’t help but think that he’d better considering how much groundwork got us to that point! I mounted up on the far side of the arena and up the first hill we went. Remember that I had been planning on walking him, but we developed a system of communicating when he was calm enough to be ridden and perform and when he wasn’t. He gave me all the right signals and wow he felt good headed out for the trails, pumped, but ready to go and calm enough to control. He breezed through the obstacles and tackled each thing with confidence in me! Chico had a little trouble in the arena as he wasn’t sure about the indoor environment and needed some time to think about it, but once Dave mounted up and headed out on the trail Chico shone! The judge at the Rock obstacle even commented that they did the most difficult possible combination of rocks!
Saturday Morning and we each took our turn on the riding course in the arena. A bridge, serpentines, poles, loping a circle in each direction then off to town! O had amazed me to this point that he was game to do this so I was going along with it and figured I could always dismount and finish on foot rather than put him( and me) through too much stress. Sure enough at the first obstacle in town, he had a melt down. The banners, concrete driveway and people on foot were a little too much. Thankfully, we had to get off and offer our horse water for the judge. At this point, I told the judge the O was too nervous and it was safer that we proceeded on foot….she agreed. For several blocks I walked him, petted him and worked on calming him down. After 15 minutes and a few blocks, he seemed to pull it together and invite me back in the saddle! So, I mounted up and off we went through all of the rest of the obstacles. Oddly, he only seemed to fall apart when no one was around which gave us a chance to reconnect and look our best each time we were judged. Before too long I realized that I needed to make sure that this horse came home with me! We definitely had something special, Comet and Rose would have done this for anyone who was kind, Orion was doing this only because he trusted me! Chico and Dave once again had a blast out on the Urban course and tackled each obstacle confidently and willingly. Their scores outside the covered arena were tough to beat, however the indoor scores count in a big way!
It scared me a little how close O and I came to making the finals, we came in 13th overall for the weekend and that was only a few points out! I don’t think he could have handled the night atmosphere and crowd without blowing his mind, so, it was definitely for the best. Hey, I had been planning on leading him, right? Dave and Chico made 16th overall and we couldn’t have been more proud of the boys considering that Friday and Saturdays competition were their 15th and 16th rides EVER! Now, I just had to hope that I would be able to afford the bidding on Orion during Sundays sale………
Chico sold to a wonderful couple and went home to be finished with an Extreme trainer that we just adore, Gary Wedermeyer, so we knew he would be another successful Makeover. I managed to get Orion for $700, and while I have plenty of other horses this one was going to be very special for me and would hopefully work out as an ambassador for the mustang breed and our training program. The weekend had brought us very close and gave us a whole new level of confidence! Not to mention that he was unbelievably light, sensitive and powerful under saddle with incredible movement to boot!
This article was supposed to be in the August issue, but I was not able to submit it in time. I had wormed Orion and he had a reaction to the wormer, during the night while colicing, he had put his leg through the fence and got it caught, lacerating it to the bone! We got him through the colic and tried to save the leg, but unfortunately it was too badly damaged. So, after a week of trying save him, the decision was made to put him down. It was never going to heal properly and I am sure he was in a great deal of pain. In beginning this article I wanted to share how being an Extreme Mustang Makeover Trainer had changed my life and little did I know just how much! Not only did each year have it’s own special highlights and growth, the 6 months I got with that little black horse changed how I ride and read horses, he taught me so many things and had become extremely bonded in the months after the Makeover. I will never get over losing him, but see the gift he had given me in the things he showed me, this has changed my life, how I ride and communicate with all horses………… So, as all things come back around, just after the loss of Orion this Month, Maria MusTango from the first year had been slowly making VERY small progress this last 2 years. Suddenly, she has had a breakthrough and has started to participate in a training program. I am sure it will be some time before we ride her, but at least we finally have somewhere to go with her and she is helping me through the healing process of losing Orion. I am sure you also noticed that Dave Kneller has stayed a part of the story, what initially was just a couple of trainers helping each other out, has turned into a wonderful couple of years now working together and having a very close relationship.
It will be several months before we pick up next years horses and find ourselves wondering what the horses will be like and how will this time play out? Each time we have done this, we have grown personally, learned much and it has had a lasting effect on every part of our lives. I strongly recommend that if you have the experience, facilities and are looking for a personal growth experience that will ultimately help promote an amazing breed of horse, that you sign up for Norco Extreme Mustang Makeover 2012!!!