Thursday, July 7, 2016

Koko and the Beginnings of Balanced Performance

by Mary Gallagher

Everyone in my family got to choose a special gift for their 13th birthday. I think that was my parents’ way of getting out of buying us cars at 16. Anyway, all 6 kids wanted their special thing, and mine was a horse. His name was Koko and we spent a lot of time together. He was 3 when I got him. I had been showing since I was 7 so I wasn’t a total beginner, but I was no trainer, either. I depended on my adult trainers for guidance on how to develop Koko.

There were lots of trails around our stable, so I rode him out after lessons whenever possible. We fox hunted and did horse trials along with dressage and jumping lessons, and horse shows. Koko was a great all around horse.

14-year old Mary Gallagher on Koko.
About 3 years into our life together, the showing part was beginning to develop a glitch. Koko did not want to leave the in gate; he developed a real aversion to it. Within a year we were regularly getting excused from the arena. I tried everything my trainer asked, and even had other trainers ride him at shows to help get him get over this behavior, but nothing seemed to work. Koko was one very arena sour guy.

He was a great horse in every way except this one thing, so out of frustration I gave up on showing him and rode other horses at shows while continuing to hunt and trail ride with Koko. When I asked for another horse of my own for shows, my parents said Koko would need to be sold first.

Total bummer.

Koko was only 7 years old and so easy to ride that a girl who only wanted to event bought him, knowing he didn’t like the show arena. She loved him and they got along great.

Time passed, and as I moved on to my next horses, I never forgot about Koko and always wondered what was it that I did to cause his dislike of the arena. It occured to me recently that it was likely this early experience with Koko that inspired me to hunt for teachers that seemed to know what was going on inside the horse’s skin. I was fortunate to find a number of such horsemen over the course of my career. I am so very grateful for Jimmy Williams, Pat Parelli, Joe Wolter, and others who became my mentors, as well as the many horses who were also my teachers.

So, flash forward forty years, to a weekend or so ago: I am getting ready to head home after spending the week with my students at a show. It’s the final class, and the last horse I watch going into the jumper arena is a big handsome guy, a lot like my Koko. He, too, is having trouble leaving the gate; he, too, gets excused from the arena. I see the frustration, fear, and bewilderment he and his rider are experiencing, except this time, I know what will help this pair.

And I'll tell you about it in my next post.  Stay tuned for my series on Balanced Performance: making every moment  with your horse count, from barn to gate, and beyond!

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