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A couple months ago I shared Frosty’s story in In It for the Long Haul – Advice from Your Future Self on Keeping Barrel Horses Sound, Healthy & Happy.
It was then that I mentioned that the “living legend” in our pasture represented something really special. When he was retired early due to ring bone, Craig couldn’t bare to part with him. His family raised Frosty, and sound or not, he was with us to stay.
His presence was an everyday reminder to take care of and appreciate what you have – because good horses don’t last forever.
Well now, only TWO months later Frosty is a shining example of a completely different life lesson (and many others).
In that same post, I mentioned that Craig had been blessed with not only one, but two truly “one in a million” horses. The kind of talented athletes that some professional competitors may never even know in a lifetime.
I mentioned that having Dot Com was like a second chance to get things right, to do better.
But now, that’s all changed! Craig has TWO second chances and Frosty has a new lease on life. Thanks to some dietary changes in November, Frosty has been sound and back to ruling the roost after nearly seven years on the sidelines!
Frosty still has ring bone of course. When we had him reevaluated a year and a half ago, one side was fused and the other nowhere near. But the slight hitch in his giddy up now days is barely perceptible and certainly manageable.
It was some chronic inflammation in his feet (something Vets. did not pickup either) that it turns out had side tracked him the most all these years. Now he’s been transforming before our very eyes – in many more ways than one.
In fact, with each passing day it’s as if he’s getting YOUNGER.
The worlds best dressage riders will tell you that correctly developing a horses body will actually cause a horse to become more beautiful as they age, and the beginning of Frosty’s renewal is no exception.
His feet have more concavity, his hindquarters are filling out and becoming more round – he has a much more balanced look. But his physical turnaround is just the beginning – it’s only the green light that has allowed us to start again with Frosty on completely new terms.
This means filling in some foundational gaps in Frosty’s education left from back when Craig didn’t know what he didn’t know.
I won’t say that Frosty’s past behavior wasn’t annoying (and even potentially dangerous) at times. It wasn’t unusual for him to have a complete disregard for humans in his space and he would blow through steady pressure like a freight train (he IS a TANK)!
Now that we’ve been working with him though, I see his behaviors with a completely different lens.
After only a few short sessions on the ground with gradually increasing steady pressure applied with a steady hand to varying parts of his body, then followed up with driving (rhythmic) pressure with a stick if necessary, Frosty has been learning like a whiz kid.
When I shared the breakthrough with a friend who gets this, she replied “that’s the beauty of a prey animal.” How true!
They learn so quickly because in nature they have to in order to survive. So often it’s the teacher with the problems. Now that Craig has become a much more advanced teacher, his student is excelling beyond his wildest expectations.
As it turns out, it’s not at all Frosty’s nature to be dull and pushy, but it’s due to what he was inadvertently taught (and not taught) in the past. I don’t think horses LIKE resistance, tension and disharmony. Their are motivated to search for peace and comfort. It’s up to us to help them find it.
I have known Frosty all these years to have a gruff, crunchy exterior – a hard, blank stare in his eye and even a prominent furrowed-looking brow over his eye. But the soft, liquid, inquisitive expression he carries now is like a window to his new soul. One that understands, wants to connect, and please.
Another recent chapter of “rope horse rehab part II” has been learning to accept a bit. Knowing what he knew at the time, Craig thought Frosty “didn’t like bits” (ANY bit) because he worked his mouth A LOT and didn’t respond real well – so after some time in a side pull and very short lived time in a snaffle, they went right to a mechanical hackamore.
I can see now that Frosty works his mouth in part because he’s emotional, but mostly because he never really “made friends” with a bit to start with. We have to be careful when we say that horses “don’t like” something, because again – often their interpretation of something is related to how we presented it.
I’ve been putting a snaffle on Frosty and letting him soak in it for a couple hours each day (with no reins in a safe pen where it’s not likely he’ll get it hung up). Before we can use a bit as a communication devise, a horse has to first accept the placement of the bit and learn to carry it as if it’s a part of his own body.
The same goes for carrying a saddle or a rider. What if Frosty had been cinchy or a bucker, Craig couldn’t exactly say “Well I wanted to team rope, but I guess since he doesn’t like saddles, we’ll just have to go another route” – no! While it’s important to be flexible at times, it’s important to realize that in the beginning some horses need more time and expert guidance to learn to first accept our basic tools before we can really use them. It’s a vital foundational step that can’t be skipped.
Every time I slip the bridle on, Frosty also gets a Beet-e-bite treat as he takes the bit – so much for “not liking” it!
Another thing that has become clear as we’ve grown to understand Frosty better is that he hadn’t been “bulldozing” through life because he was confident or dominant (OR just “being a jerk”). It was more like a HUGE lack of education mixed with a little bit of insecurity and fear. If one glosses over this and moves right on to a big career in a timed speed event like team roping, it’s easy to see how he would have picked up a habit of being impulsive.
As you may know, Craig’s other rope horse, Dot Com came to us VERY impulsive with some issues in the box to sort through. These two horses have a lot of personality traits in common, but we’ve been able to make huge strides in unpacking Frosty’s baggage in short order.
I asked Craig what stood out to him the most after I had coached him through a ride on “the Frost Man” recently. He said that he was impressed with how effective it was to simply bend Frosty in small circles or disengage his hindquarters when he got too fast. Craig admitted that it was hard to hold back the temptation to give him a firm “bump” or “check.”
What Craig described is a common band-aid that may yield some temporary results but does nothing for helping a horse learn to manage their own emotions. To do that, we have to use psychology by making impulsive behavior (jigging) hard, and a nice relaxed gait easy.
On top of that, a sensitive, innately unconfident horse is only likely to lose even more trust in your leadership when a firm (frustrated) correction is delivered when they’re already emotional, often making the impulsive movement and erratic behavior even worse. It’s OK to allow an emotional horse to move their feet when they need to – the key is for you to control where they go and how they go there.
At the first sign of flattening out to a walk, Craig relaxed and released. The result was a big blow out, lowered head and numerous blinks, licks and chews – LOTS of processing!
Next, I challenged Craig to ask Frosty for lateral flexion (his first time in a snaffle in over 15 years). At first Frosty pushed on the pressure, raised his head, turned his body around, and carried on, etc. I coached Craig not to pull back, but just hold and wait for him to soften and stand still.
It took a little while, but they found a nice release on each side. After camping out for a few minutes, Craig again and with FEEL ran his hand down the rein and BOOM – perfect, supple, willing lateral flexion – light as AIR on BOTH sides! Craig had a cheezy grin on his face and Frosty took another deep breath and licked and chewed as if to say “FINALLY you GET IT!”
Craig stepped off, loosened the cinch and removed the saddle and bridle right there. To top it all off, Frosty then trotted to Craig at liberty. Again, I could barely believe my eyes. For years this horse was in too much pain to get out of a walk, and if he was ever in a hurry – it certainly wasn’t towards a human.
At the same time, I KNOW all this stuff works when WE work with timing, feel and an understanding of how horses view the world.
Frosty’s recent physical restoration has allowed us the opportunity to fill in his mental (educational) and emotional gaps. When he fully accepts our tools, completely understands and is confident in what we’re asking, and when he can remain cool and calm under any circumstances, then the God given talents he’s displayed in the roping pen can only be heightened – which is exactly what Craig plans to do now that he’s been given a second, second chance.
Five trophy saddles decorate our home from “the good ol’ days” when they won roughly 75 ropings/rodeos together. One thing is for sure – the good days are back and they are here to stay.
My husband is already a USTRC Reserve World Champion header, and Frosty is already a proven winner, but now Craig’s becoming a horseman and Frosty is becoming a true partner. I can’t think of anything better – and it’s always better late than never!
When WE step up and accept responsibility for being the best we can, those that surround us tend to rise to the occasion as well.
It can be easy to get discouraged and frustrated by the “reality” we face sometimes. After all, it IS hard to stay positive when your horse is lame day in and day out, or crashing barrel after barrel.
But if what looked to be a “hopeless case” – a horse crippled for seven years can be made new, then just imagine what is truly possible for all of us and our own horses, no matter what challenges are before us.
Frosty’s comeback is proof that we can never rule out a miracle, and that we ALL have the opportunity to be renewed, IF we shift our perception, and simply choose to accept that miracles are possible.
Frosty is 20 years old this year. He’s not a “pushy jerk” or an “extra mouth to feed” – he’s a gorgeous diamond in a rough bay roan coat, put on Earth to teach and remind my husband and I (and now you), of valuable lessons in horsemanship and life.
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