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Not Too Old, Part 3

Published: 1/28/2015
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Editor's Note:

This Not Too Old series was developed from reader feedback of the popular Anatomy of a Wreck feature.
Guest columnist Debbie Hight is a Remuda Reader from Norridgewock, Maine. For the past few years, she and friend, Rob Rowbottom, have worked to rehabilitate a retired, 24-year old standardbred.
Postcard Jack happens to be the winningest horse in Maine track history, but how will he work as a saddle horse?
The series reminds us: Horse or human, you’re not too old to learn.

Read Part I
Read Part II

By Debbie Hight

Whether working with papermakers to improve processes and systems, or with students to find the root of their learning issues, I have learned that collaboration is instrumental to success. 

As a new horse owner, I was warned that horses are not dogs and that they need a leader. I am pretty sure that my Morgan is still laughing at my early attempts at "leadership."
I have been given tools from instructors and trainers. Everyone has a little different approach, a different method. I've learned a lot.
I typically trail ride but dressage is my indoor reality.   My western cowboy friend, Rob, has taken the dressage work to heart as well.
Photo at right: Rob Rowbottom, Postcard Jack, Debbie Hight

But the goal is not the movement. It is in seeking the means to the movement:
  • how to balance the horse
  • how to let her shoulders and movements be free
  • how to know when he understands what we ask. 
As a rookie and without a good understanding of what true movement is, I am sure that my horse has had some unpleasant and confusing sessions. Fortunately, she appreciates my leadership in the hay distribution and I have been forgiven.

I am studying Brannaman along with Rob, though certainly not to the extent that he looks for the mechanics of movement and buried detail. Rob's background as an independent farmer and Master Logger have required a lifetime of continuous learning and the Brannaman approach, along with the work of Tom Dorrance and Ray Hunt, have made absolute sense to him.

We have worked to understand how I can change some of my approach. I'm not sure whether it was a New Year's resolution on the part of my Morgan mare, or the result of some changes; she has become more responsive and happier. Maybe I'm learning to become a better leader.

Rob's two rescue horses are amazing. The crazy paint, Mack, is fun to ride, soft and supple, and a gentle horse in and out of the barn. The appaloosa has made incredible progress along with two riders who are also learning.
Photo at right: Jack, Debbie, and paint Mack

Postcard Jack has presented us with a blank slate as a saddle horse, though with a host of challenges. Since we began, his behavior is significantly better; his groundwork is nice. He is becoming more balanced and softer.
He is learning because he is not being "bothered." Rob can ignore occasional head swinging because Jack is now willing to listen. Rob is giving Jack the confidence to do this new work and the senior gelding loves the praise for a job well done.
I guess it might be like the roar of the crowd when he won so many races, the thrill of getting it right.

It might sound as though this has been smooth sailing.  Not so.  Rob and I talked about the article The Anatomy of a Wreck and then ignored some of the well-written warning signs. 
That was impetus for this series on Postcard Jack.  We have also been grateful for the Wobble Board of Learning article and the Cons of Comfort.There have been pieces of many articles on NickerNews and the RemudaReader that we have found useful.

So, while we hope that Postcard Jack, at age 25, is ready to parade the Hight Memorial Pace this summer at the Skowhegan Fairgrounds (Rob in the saddle, Debbie with the mounting block!), and that we can collaborate with the Standardbred Pleasure Horse Club of Maine to demonstrate the adaptability of the retired race horse.
We look forward to the process, the new work, the continuous learning, the new team. And maybe, just maybe, I'll get used to that Western saddle.

View Reader Comments:

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2/17/2015 Marsha Craig
Love your article and admire all that you've done and learned. It's heartwarming to read your appreciation to continue to learn more and applying it to an older soul. Your story is a great reminder that age is just a number - the heart and willingness to learn is a young as a foul. You mentioned parade........I take my mini in parades and our very first negative reaction was BUBBLES. Lily is fairly bombproof but when the first kid blew bubbles, she freaked. One session in the pasture with an automatic bubble machine served as our training tool and never again have bubbles upset her. Just thought I'd share that negative experience in the event you want to practice prior to parade. Let us know how Postcard Jack liked the parade.

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"Some of my best leading men have been dogs and horses" - Elizabeth Taylor