Outlaw or Next Great One? Part 2

Sometimes it’s best to play along with a horse’s quirks. Sometimes you need to get help.

The American Quarter Horse Journal

This is the second in a two-part series. Need to review Part 1?

Fixing Thing
When Sandy Jones Eddleman and Connie Combs got together at a clinic and started to plan how to help Thingamajig, Connie came right out and told her, “If you want to rodeo, get another horse. This one will take at least a year to fix.”

This time, Sandy took the advice and literally started over at Square 1. They spent the first 90 days putting a basic handle back on “Thing.” He threw temper tantrums of epic proportions because he thought every little correction was a precursor to getting in trouble. Connie assured both horse and rider that there would be no “whippings” coming.

It took three months for Thing to quit having his fits. In the second 90 days, the team put him back on the barrels at a walk, and got him to squaring his feet at the barrel and learning to wait.

“I felt stupid,” Sandy says. “I’d pay my money (at a barrel race) and maybe only take him through the pattern at a walk. Or we’d do a time only, and I’d just go to the alley and back out, or I’d walk the pattern.”

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Sandy and Thing also spent time doing exercises that Connie created through the years of working with her own renegades, such as a very small barrel pattern in a round pen where the horse is forced to slow down and concentrate on his turns and on his rider, as opposed to worrying about speed. They did figure 8s, side-passes, small jumps and occasionally made real runs. After a year, Thing was back to running and winning consistently. Sandy even loaned Thing to Lita Scott-Price for the 1993 NFR, where he ran the fastest time.

Part of Thing’s problem was that he was smart and sensitive, like Joak. You could show the horses something once, and they got it, but if you bullied them – or if they thought you were bullying them – they shut down or reacted with attitude. In fact, Connie says, both horses could go to the left or right barrel first with equal success, which just highlighted their inherent athleticism and intelligence.

Trust Your Horse, Trust Yourself

“Sandy didn’t trust in her own abilities, and I see that in a lot of riders,” Connie says. “They want to compete or train horses, but they don’t trust themselves, and they should – and they should seek qualified assistance.

“Thing would actually go into the arena and rear and strike at people sitting on the fence. He was a dangerous horse, but he had a lot of athletic ability that was blocked by his frustration.”

Sandy had been getting so much advice from so many different people that she’d hit a wall within herself.

“I was so confused at one point, I didn’t even know how to turn a barrel,” Sandy says.

When Sandy chose to listen to one person, a veteran trainer who had “been there, done that,” she moved forward with her horse. She knew his talent was in there; she just needed assistance to get that talent to mesh with hers.

“People are so uptight any more about making mistakes,” Connie says. “They’re worried about their clothes or their rig, and they should be worried about their horse.”

Mistakes are a part of training, and to come up with a game plan, Connie says, you have to be willing to make the mistakes, learn from them and push to the next level.

“It used to be that people would make a mistake in the arena, come out, and we’d all get a good laugh over it and go on about our business,” Connie says. “But these days, everyone acts like it’s embarrassing to do that. But the only way to make a real high-caliber horse is to make mistakes; that’s just a part of the process. And you have to be brave enough to do it and to excel to the next level. You know Michael Jordan always says, ‘You learn by mistakes, and you learn how to correct them and make yourself great.’ ”

In the end, Sandy had to learn how to appreciate her horse’s personality, but more importantly, Sandy had to learn to trust herself, her talent with horses and her own riding ability. It’s a difficult task when every well-meaning person with a horse tries to give advice, but it’s the critical difference between winning or losing.

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Spirited or Dangerous?

    • Get a horse that will teach you what you need to know. Don’t start with a young horse thinking you will “learn together” – green on green makes black and blue.
    • If you’re attached to or bonded with your horse but he’s too much for you to handle, seek help. Connie suggests finding someone who is into training for the long haul, not a newcomer.
    • A smart horse will keep a rider on her toes more than a deadhead, and deadheads are safe, but they don’t win. The bottom line is safety. If your horse is dangerous, that is quite a bit different than a spirited personality. Know the difference.
    • Trust yourself and your horse – but also seek qualified assistance.
    • Don’t listen to multiple opinions. Find one person who can help you and stick with the consistency of one method.
    • Adjust to your horse; don’t try to adjust your horse to you.
    • If it’s not the horse, it’s the rider or the previous training – and you should get help from a qualified trainer. A good place to start looking is this list of AQHA Professional Horsemen.

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