From Duress to Success
Calypso was one of twins, born to a standardbred mare in New Zealand. Her accidental sire was a Clydesdale and so Calypso was a beautiful, strong filly with a gentle temperament.
Sharon was holidaying in New Zealand at the time. She had recently lost Carnie, the aged gelding she’d learnt to ride on and was looking to replace him with a 10 year old gelding. Although a young mare was not what she was looking for, Sharon felt a strong connection to Calypso and the thoroughbred mare. When her friend offered Calypso to her as a gift she just couldn’t say no.
At 14 months old, Calypso was shipped back to Australia and Sharon began her education. Years with her previous horse had given Sharon confidence, “Carnie was like an old school master,” Sharon says. “He taught me a lot and together we embarked on an education that involved a variety of clinics and workshops, mostly centred on the Parelli method of horsemanship.”
‘She had an unwillingness to respond that really bothered me.’ – Sharon
Despite good beginnings, as time passed it became clear that Calypso and Sharon had developed a rather strained relationship. “I enjoyed our trail rides together but Calypso could be difficult at times. She would really dig her heels in and be quite obstinate. She had an unwillingness to respond that really bothered me. I didn’t feel Calypso was interested in me, in fact I felt barely tolerated,” Sharon says.
Calypso didn’t respond well to pressure and things came to a point when Sharon pressed her to do Liberty work in the round yard. “She suddenly flattened her ears and hunted me out of that yard,” Sharon recalls.
“I just didn’t try that again,” Sharon says, “it got to the stage that I began to anticipate things could go badly. Even on trail rides, which I had always enjoyed, Calypso could be challenging. She seemed to be doing everything under duress; there was just no joy in it for her. I knew I had to find another way. I had to find a solution to the problem.”
Sharon took Calypso to several trainers but the more pressure was applied to Calypso, the more frustrated she became. “During a lesson with one trainer she was being instructed to back up,” Sharon recalls. “Rather than comply with his directions and step back, she sat down. I see now she didn’t like the way she was being asked.”
Things continued to go downhill until Sharon heard about Pete and Just Equus
‘She wasn’t getting clear signals and she wasn’t being given time to process them.’- Pete
“When Sharon brought Calypso to me, I could see straight away that this was a horse with try,” Pete says. “But she was being pushed too hard, too fast with too many expectations. She is a sweet mare, and very willing, she did just not understand what was required of her. She wasn’t getting clear signals and she wasn’t being given time to process them.”
“Where Sharon saw a horse that was unwilling, I saw a relationship that needed repair. Sharon just needed to learn how to ask Calypso in way she could understand. Giving the horse time to assess what has been asked of it is an important part of the process.”
‘Ask with feel and timing’ – Pete
“Light movements, using the body and your seat to communicate with your horse and rewarding every try gets results,” Pete says. “Good communication during groundwork and riding all reinforce a trusting bond between horse and rider because a horse looks for and desires direction. Ask with feel and timing; once you understand how to communicate, everything you do builds a strong and respectful relationship with your horse.”
For Sharon, the improvement in her relationship with Calypso has been a revelation. “Pete has a completely patient and gentle approach to horses and they respond to him accordingly. I realise now that everything I did with Calypso was too big, too loud, too rude. I was demanding things of her without giving her time to assess. I thought to get her respect I needed to get an immediate response and I was so wrong. Once I relaxed and slowed things down I began to see a marked improvement in Calypso.”
‘I was demanding things of her without giving her time to assess.’ – Sharon
“Pete has helped me understand that Calypso being a large, heavy horse needs time to shift her balance, arrange her feet, evaluate and process what I have asked of her. I have learnt that when I ask with feel and timing, when I set it up in advance, she backs up willingly.”
“I realise now that every little thing I do affects Calypso. I was putting heaps of pressure on her and expecting to get nice, soft willing work. It was like, ‘beatings will continue until moral improves!’ Sharon says ruefully. “Thank goodness I see that now; there is still so much to learn.”
“Giving her this time to respond has stopped the arguments,” Sharon says with a laugh. “We did have a lot of arguments but now with a better understanding of her needs I think I have earned her respect.”
“I am getting close to having the relationship I always wanted with Calypso. I only have to ask and she gives so willingly. I am thrilled when she tips her nose towards the halter, or picks up her foot as I bend towards it. It’s at the stage now where we understand each other and anticipate what the other wants. Most importantly, I realise now that Calypso has always been nice!”
Journalist: Janette Jenyns
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