By Susan Dudasik Salmon, IdahoFacebook - Misfit Farm Mules I usually write about experiences with my mules, but this article concerns something that happened at a recent show with Lexie, my Connemara pony. While the incident happened with a horse, the same things apply to mules and donkeys. When an equine seems to have a “bad” day at a show, folks usually blame the equine. In reality, it’s often the handler/rider that’s having a bad day, not the animal. That’s what happened on this day and you can see in the photos how Lexie’s whole body language changes between the two handlers.
First, some background. We got Lexie in April at the Salmon Select Horse Sale. She’s extremely well trained and, as we are still learning, very in tune with emotions and body language. Carol Anderson, one of my students, has been riding for about a year and a half. I’ve been riding for over 45 years and my favorite event is trail. I love the challenge and precision it requires.
We planned to take Lexie and Vicki, Getta Bradley’s 4-year-old Morgan, to a local fun show basically for experience since we don’t have many schooling opportunities. We were going to show in the in-hand trail class and I planned to ride Lexie in the Introduction to Dressage class.
The three of us were looking forward to the show. The morning started out well, but for me went downhill quickly. I received an upsetting e-mail and just couldn’t shake off my extremely discouraged feelings about it. We got to the show and were told there was a class change and ours was two classes away. I quickly hopped on Lexie and tried riding her in the small warm-up arena but ended up only walking and trotting her once in each direction. There were several novice youth riders who just kept loping very close to us and since it was the first time I had ridden her in a group like that, I didn’t feel comfortable. They were passing very close and each time I could feel Lexie, who is only 13 hands, tense up as the bigger horses loped up on her. So we left the arena annoyed. Then, they called a lunch break. We were there for two hours by now, then they did another class change. So, after waiting three hours for one class, I was even more annoyed. In fact we all discussed loading up and leaving. But they finally called our class so we stayed. I showed Vicki first and we had a great go. Vicki’s very used to me. Carol was next with Lexie. Even though it was only Carol’s third time ever showing, and the second time with Lexie, they did awesome. As you can see in the photo, both were relaxed. Carol was confident and Lexie, checking out the bridge, was happy to follow her leadership. We have photos of the two doing all the obstacles and they were in synch and working together even though Carol was a nervous wreck. I was really proud of the two of them.
Since I was also showing Lexie, I asked for someone else to go between Carol and I so we could get organized. They put us back to back instead. Now, I’d already done the pattern with Vicki, but Lexie and I were rushed into the arena. Carol came out and (even more annoyed at this point) I grabbed Lexie and went right back in.
I really don’t remember approaching the first obstacle, the bridge, I just know when I looked over, Lexie wasn’t on it. Rudely I pushed her with my hip and she went sideways on to it. It went downhill from there. Personally, it was the worst trail class performance I’ve ever done. Lexie wouldn’t trot; she just pulled away from me, wide- eyed. She wouldn’t stand at the mail box and I couldn’t settle her to do the back through “L.” She was tense and on full alert. We did manage to get through the rope gate. It was a disaster. When I came out the gate, someone said, “Too bad Lexie was being such a brat!”
Was she really? Or was I the problem! Lexie tried her best for me; she just didn’t know what I wanted. Vicki on the other hand has been with me for two years and she simply fluffs off my emotional issues. Lexie had never experienced me being that emotionally upset. She didn’t know what to do. As soon as I came out of the arena, I scratched the dressage class. I wasn’t focused and it wasn’t fair to Lexie.
That day I made several mistakes that messed up, not only our performance, but our relationship. I wasn’t mentally or emotionally present. I was upset and not focused on what I was doing. I didn’t plan how I was going to go through the course. Boy, some leader! From Lexie’s point of view, if I didn’t know where I was going, why should she follow? Plus, I gave her no support or direction. Actually I don’t remember interacting with her until I saw she wasn’t on the bridge. Then I was rude and pushed her onto it. I didn’t politely ask her to trot. I just snatched the lead and took off. Her first reaction was to pull back, so I jerked her. This was all “new” to her since I usually have every step of an obstacle mentally plotted out before entering the ring. This time I was totally oblivious to what I was doing. I did everything I drill my students not to do. Thankfully, poor Lexie tried her best to deal with the emotional basketcase at the end of her leadrope.
Equines are very tuned into our emotions and look to us for direction and leadership. If for some reason we don’t come through for them, how can we blame them for a “bad” day? Remember the last time your mule had a really “bad” day? If you really look back and analyze it, perhaps it wasn’t all “his” fault. Just something to think about.