Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Ricky Quinn Jr. Horsemanship Clinic, Oct. 24-26, 2008

(by Nancy Lee, Web Wranglerette)

Well, the horsemanship clinic was held October 24-26, but I couldn't attend Friday, the first day, weekdays being reserved for computer-jockeying.

Saturday and Sunday, though, found me north of Mesa somewhere off the Beeline Highway and somewhere near a development called "Gold Ranch". It gets hilly out there, with rocky little hills sprouting saguaros here and there. The weather had cooled down to around 90 degrees and the robin's-egg-blue sky was clear and lovely. Mike Thomas and I got to the clinic early on Saturday.

He snugged his gold Sante Fe close up to the porch of the clinic hosts' barn, making it a short walk to the muffins and coffee. We said "hi" to the other early birds, including Ricky Quinn, the clinic’s instructor. Ricky gives the impression of being taller than he is. He's statuesque, though he probably wouldn't care for that word. His gentle voice contrasts markedly with dark, intense features and an upright, confident bearing. His partner, Sarah Sandusky, adds more contrast to the picture, being small, blonde, sweet, and tough as cordwood.

Mike and I hauled his all-purpose $5.99 Target stools out of the Santa Fe and took positions close to the fence. Ricky started the day with a saddling demo, showing us how to rub a horse on both sides with the saddle pad to make sure that the pad wouldn't startle him. He demonstrated the easiest way to hold and hoist a heavy saddle, landing it softly on the horse's back. Saturday and Sunday's lessons included turning on the haunches, leg yields, riding side by side, methods of tying mecates, and a lot of other things. The thing that made the biggest impression on me, though, was a short trailer-loading session with one horse, so I want to share that right off the bat.

The horse had been ridden in the clinic that morning, so it could be ridden, but the owner said that it had taken hours to get the horse into her trailer. She pulled her stock trailer into the arena so that Ricky could teach it to load with everyone watching. Shortly after he took the horse by the lead rope, Ricky declared that the horse didn't have a trailer problem - that it just wasn't really halter-broke - so he proceeded to work with it on the ground in back of the trailer. His tools? A bare horse, a rope halter and lead, and a horse "flag" - a bright piece of cloth attached to a thin 3 or 4-foot length of fiberglass or steel tubing.

The horse was pretty resistant to the idea of walking in circles around Ricky and making other basic moves. I don't know whether he was upset with being moved around or just unfamiliar with the process, but either way, he was high-headed, anxious and reactive rather than soft, relaxed and compliant. The horse and Ricky were moving pretty vigorously for awhile, Ricky working with him to head in a given direction, the horse saying "not really", and Ricky saying "get along there!" by waving the flag at his hind end or forehand or wherever it was needed. If the horse tried to put up his head and take off for the hinterlands, Ricky snapped him back down with the rope halter.

Now, this was a vigorous meeting of minds, but it only lasted, I swear, for 15 minutes or so. After Ricky had the horse convinced to walk and trot a circle, and move his hind and forehand on request, which only took about 15 minutes, then he led the horse up to the open end of the stock trailer and the horse put his front feet in. My jaw just about dropped to the ground. What??!!?

A little more work and the horse was going in the trailer frontwards and out of the trailer backwards with no argument. Then Ricky stated that the horse needed a little more work with leading and brought him alongside the fence. He wanted the horse to walk when he walked - on a loose lead - and stop when he stopped, both directions. They worked on that for 5 minutes or so. The horse didn't get it to start with but he learned real fast, and soon he was walking with Ricky and stopping with Ricky.

Then they went back to the stock trailer and Ricky walked the horse back in. He walked forward and backward with him in the trailer, stepped him out half-way backwards and let him stand with front feet in and hind end out, then brought him in, stepped him all the way out. They repeated this several times so we could clearly see that the horse didn't have a problem with the trailer.

A lot of other things happened at that clinic that I'd like to write about, but for me, this was the biggie. All those books about solving problems like trailer loading? I can pitch them. Because it's not fundamentally about a trailer or a creek or a gate, really, and it's not fundamentally about "training" a horse to perform specific actions in specific situations (though desensitizing it against specific scary things, and teaching it to do specific things in specific situations is fine)...

But fundamentally, it's about the confidence that the horse develops in the human he's working with, that the human is a fair, reasonable and trust-worthy leader. Ricky demonstrated that so succinctly that it was hard to miss the point.

There’s lots more I could write about this clinic and the experience, but I need to get this posted so people can see the slideshow that Mike and I collaborated on. (Fun!!!) More later?