By Steve Stevens
RayeAnn brought her horse to us about a year ago and told us it was his last chance. Now we have heard this before from multiple other people about their horses. No pressure right?
But I knew RayeAnn was sincere about this and at the same time I could see her concerns about her horse, “Cisco.” She had put a lot of time and money into him already. He was stout and pretty, but you could see the white in his eyes and his distress just being turned loose in our round pen. He came with baggage, many different bad experiences, didn’t care much for being saddled, had random explosions and bolts. RayeAnn had been trying to ride him after the last trainer, but after a recent ride where, (if I remember correctly) while trying to change directions he spooked and bolted. RayeAnn is an excellent rider so she survived but she had had enough.
We listened to RayeAnn describe the past experiences she knew that Cisco had and asked lots of questions.
Then started at square one.
No matter if we get a colt, a horse that bucks, or a kid’s horse that doesn’t like to stand still, we start back at the beginning and try to put a solid foundation on them.
Cisco was tight and very nervous of everything during the ground work sessions.
I will go to my grave with this thought- if a horse is nervous or can’t deal with ground work they will not be easy to deal with riding. I slowly and consistently worked with Cisco doing basic lunging and desensitizing. He would make changes, but they weren’t big and it didn’t take much for him to revert.
I was and am always honest with the client when the horse is struggling and I told RayeAnn about his difficulties on the ground. Now, I know because we have done this so many times with other clients…when a client brings you a horse with riding issues they in general don’t want you to tell them about the issues you are having on the ground with the horse. But RayeAnn took it in stride and just told me to do what I needed to do.
I got to the point after a few weeks where I felt like Cisco was ready to start being saddled again. For a horse that had some rides under him, he was completely frightened about being saddled. This also transferred to him just carrying the saddle during ground work. It didn’t take much for him to blow up or grab his butt. I spent the next few weeks getting him as comfortable as I could with being saddled. I must have taken that saddle on and off a thousand times.
We had many sessions where I would saddle him and he would stand quiet, and I would just reward him by yanking the saddle off and putting him up for the day.
The biggest issue Cisco had was when he changed eyes. Meaning that things would go from him having vision of something in the left eye and when he saw the same thing out of the right eye it truly scared him. So we made it part of his training to always start with multiple changing eye directions. Once he started getting better with this, I started riding.
He was living in a stress zone at all times when you were on his back.
This became a delicate process. He wasn’t one of those horses you could lope the issue away by getting him tired. The harder you worked him the more panicked he would become, so I had to be subtle and easy. What I did was really search to reward him for any time he tried by relaxing, taking a deep breath, licking his lips. I would just shower him with affection when he would relax, once again sometimes just getting off of him, taking the saddle off and calling it a day.
Slowly but surely he started relaxing more and more and allowed me to ask more of him. It took nearly three months but I could finally saddle him easily and ride him off with little resistance. Cisco was a frightened horse that needed a lot of reassurance and confidence that he wasn’t going to be put in a situation he couldn’t deal with.
The second part of the story
RayeAnn had decided to have faith in me in my process even though it was taking more time and money then I am sure she would have preferred.
With many horses that come to us for training, we are trying to rehabilitate the horse and that certainly can be a process.
RayeAnn gave me that opportunity with Cisco.
But here is the amazing part of the story. I got Cisco where RayeAnn could go on with him, but if she just turned him out for months and pulled him out one day expecting him to be great, it would be a recipe for disaster. Especially with Cisco. But that is not what she did.
She dedicated herself to this horse. She has worked with him nearly every day since he left us, starting slowly with a game plan we gave her and building out. Cisco, even as far as we got him, wouldn’t be an easy deal. He would and could be frustrating, but RayeAnn’s sure will and determination would overcome to build a relationship with him.
A few weeks ago, we were doing a group obstacle lesson and RayeAnn and Cisco came out and joined us. Out of ten horses, Cisco was the most relaxed of the group. He looked liked a 20-year-old broke kid’s horse. I always like to say our job as trainers is to show the owner their horse’s potential and it is up to the owner to take the horse to the next level.
Well, RayeAnn did that with her boy Cisco and then some. I know she still has a ways to go, but RayeAnn is one of the true heroes of the horse industry, not giving up on a horse that with many others would have gone to the killers. She invested money, time and her heart.
I am truly inspired by her, and she is one of the reasons that I continue this dream of helping people with their horses.
Thank you RayeAnn.