Today, Candace introduces Max, a talented Irish Sport Horse with a propensity for drama. She shares her observations from watching Victoria Teuton work on Max’s confidence, calm and patience.
I met Max during my visit with June Burgess at her horse farm, Ballygraffan, in County Down, Northern Ireland. June’s friend and performance horse trainer, Victoria Teuton, had arrived to help Max learn to make calmer choices when faced with obstacles on the cross-country course. I tagged along to watch, learn, fetch forgotten items, and help close the lorry doors. Vicky’s guidance of Max was my opportunity to soak up her patient technique.
Max is a four-and-a-half-year-old Irish Sport Horse, about 16 hands. Per June, he’s a talented jumper, friendly but busy, sensitive, and on high alert. I noticed he was curious, ever ready to be entertained. I also noticed a kindness about him while being groomed. Before long, his “Where are we going? What are we going to do? Who’s out there?” showed in his head and eyes. June believed he needed to get more experience, learn how to relax, and to make more successful choices than to overreact. Max needed a “new voice” to give him fresh options for his behavior choices. Enter Vicky Teuton.
Vicky explained, “Max took several sessions to relax and learn to slow his feet when wearing two long reins. Until now, his response to anything touching his sides had been to tighten his neck and gallop in either direction in the loose pen. His natural response was to overreact. Successes by the end of that first session: Max’s neck lowered and relaxed, he slowed and learned to maintain a healthy space between his own feet and mine.”
Enter me. We had a “fine, soft, day.” In U.S. terms that translates to a drizzly, chilly, muddy, and romantically “moody sky” afternoon. June loaded Max and we headed to Eric Pele Equestrian Cross-Country in Saintfield. Max was a bit “stompy.” June told of drives when he stomped and fidgeted most of the drive. “He couldn’t just stand.” Once at Pele’s, Vicky and June fasten two long reins, and we trekked out to the cross-country course. Max was a bit buzzy, but Vicky was there with the patience and confidence that allowed Max to trust her. His “slow down” response kicked in.
Yes, Max lost focus occasionally and tried to investigate bushes and tender grass, but Vicky urged him forward with a gentle, sing-song voice. Same voice she used to introduce him to the first log. He sniffed and snorted. Vicky allowed the investigation and walked him around the log then to face it. His jump was high and clear. Vicky had Max jump it again. We moved on.
Up a hill, down a dale, Max trying to escape into munching grass when unsure, Vicky cooing, “Don’t crowd me, don’t drag me, Son.” Max’s next challenge was a ditch (water jump) at the bottom of a hill. He was stuck in his apprehension, his choice to feel his need to escape. Vicky never pressured him. Having watched other trainers urge with crops from behind, I expected Vicky to do the same. She offered, “I moved him left and right, encouraging him to investigate thoroughly before he chose to make a decision.” She did not push. I was amazed to realize that Vicky was going to allow this challenge to take all the time Max needed it to take. I saw Vicky take a few deep breaths lowering her heart rate then start the process again. With time (and time), and June and Vicky jumping the ditch to “show” Max how. Max jumped . . . no — soared. Vicky led him around to jump the ditch a couple more times. No sweat. “He gained confidence from just being allowed to make his own choices. Then came a handful of grass, and praise in abundance. Max loved the praise.”
The rest of the course was cake. Max chilled on the drive home. We were delighted to watch him munch his hay and gaze out his window. Anthropomorphizing, Max had fun. I was transformed. My rush approach to horse-time was going to change.
Vicky came to Ballygraffan to work with Max two days later. Max danced the tarantella the first several yards down the lane. I watched him slow to a fox trot, then ease to a walk. He relaxed and seemed to recall his earlier lessons. Vicky directed Max into the cross-country field where she introduced him to several jumps. He approached, sniffed, walked around, and finally, easy-cleared each obstacle.
Max strolled back up the lane when his session was over. No stress. No busy mind. Serene. Vicky’s transformation of Max in the two sessions I saw was a happy, hopeful education for me. She helped him to learn that a calm approach was less stressful. She had given him time to figure stuff out. Vicky advised, “Be consistent with what you teach. Allow the horse to focus on just one task. Don’t ask too much or work too fast. Patience.”
Max Update four weeks later. Max is now choosing chill over high alert more often. He stretches his neck and responds to Vicky’s voice commands. His groundwork is lovely and so are his manners. June and Vicky have a plan to move up to under saddle. Given that Max descends from sharp and talented Irish jumpers (Master Imp, Clover Hill, Furisto, Cavalier Royale, and OBOS Quality), his jump talent and penchant for drama are not a surprise. That said, Vicky is helping him choose to be a more pleasant-tempered citizen . . . with wings.