And on the 6th day, God created the horse, and this horse knows if you are looking down when you ride.

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Yesterday my two worlds collided. At my English barn, some of my best school horses were stopping at the jumps. And, at my Western barn, I nearly lost the sale of a horse because he was stopping at the gate. Both of these things occurred because of one simple fact, horses know when we look down. I could go into great detail about the phenomena of the sport of jumping and how if we look at a jump the horse is very likely to stop. But, I’ll save that for another day when I feel like writing about English things.

JUMP REFUSAL PHOTO COURTESY OF WWW.ILANKELMAN.ORG
JUMP REFUSAL PHOTO COURTESY OF WWW.ILANKELMAN.ORG

Let me tell you about the Western incident. I’m trying to help my friend, Nick, sell some horses. Nick needs to find good jobs for his young horses while he takes care of some health issues.  We know Nick will be back in the saddle soon, but for now, he’s just not able to spend as much time with his young horses as he’d like to.

Recently, I’ve been focusing on getting Nick’s horse, Gus, ready to be sold. Gus is a 5 year old cutting horse who has some training but is still really green. I like the horse. He’s not quick enough to be a penner/sorter, but he’s quiet and smart. The word got around our neighborhood that I had a good ranch horse prospect for sale and a friend of mine was coming over to try Gus out. This lady is a really good rider and I am in awe of her accomplishments. I was hopeful that it would be a good match and I knew she could finish his training.

I always ride a horse first if I’m showing it to a prospective buyer. I think it’s only fair to the prospective buyer, and to the horse, to give the horse a chance to perform with a familiar rider. However, I don’t believe in “preparing” the horse before the prospective buyer arrives. I want the buyer to see the horse during the entire ride: from being caught in the pasture to cooling down after.

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I saddled Gus and he and I went around doing some pretty basic things. I talked as I rode, explaining his strengths and weaknesses while he behaved very well. I didn’t even think twice about the gate being open as I rode a circle in the middle of my arena.
My daughter, Kelly, would say that is where I made my first mistake. She is a fanatic about keeping gates closed while riders are in the arena. On the other hand, I tend to believe that the horse should be attentive to me and not distracted by the gate. In this case it was probably a good “mistake” that I left the gate open. Gus decided to give us a little run for our money.

My friend got on Gus and started him on the “test” drive. All was going well. Nick arrived with the registration papers and was watching the rider on his horse as they seemed to get along just fine.

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And then, as the horse and rider were loping along near the gate, Gus ran out the open gate! I was a bit surprised, and then even more surprised when he got ugly.

I felt for the rider. As she kicked and “got after him” Gus just became more difficult. Like I said, she is a great rider and I knew she would work it out, but I was sure it was the deal breaker. After a few minutes, she got Gus back in the arena and proceeded toward us to say, “Sorry, this isn’t going to work for me, I am going to pass on buying him.”
Watching the gate catastrophe un-fold, Nick and I had already assumed the sale was off. And, I didn’t blame the potential buyer. As she dismounted, I asked if she would mind if I rode in her saddle for just a minute. I didn’t want Gus to end on a bad note. She was very kind to agree and I said I would just change one thing in the process and try to look up more. I sometimes think of it as voodoo but my horses always go where my eyes tell them to go. In her efforts to get Gus out of the bad attitude he was in, her eyes had gone down to look at him rather than to look up.

I took Gus to the gate and was prepared to battle it out with him. The first time he refused to go forward after I “allowed” him to leave the arena, I looked straight ahead, put my hands forward, and kicked him twice, really hard. He shot forward and went back in to the arena. After that, I made him do all kinds of things related to the gate. I made him back through it and go happily forward. I made him jog collectedly out, circle, and jog collectedly back in. After maybe 10 minutes, I figured he was ready. I loped him on a loose rein while I did nothing to control him and we went past the gate with no problems. He didn’t try to misbehave.
At this point, I figured I had taken up enough of my friend’s time. I walked Gus back to Nick and my friend, assuming she was ready to head home. Much to our surprise, she said she’d take him! Later that day, I received this text:

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I believe Gus and his new owner will make a great team and I can’t wait to see how far this new team goes! I’m really happy that Nick’s horse has found such a good home.
And, although Gus’s bad gate behavior was almost a deal breaker, I’m glad he gave me even more reason to believe in the importance of keeping your eyes up.