April 4, 2022

Baby's First Clinic

Yesterday Disco participated in his first ever clinic, and I don't think I'm being overly dramatic when I say it was a turning point.

There was drama, though, lol

My barnmate has been working with this trainer remotely for years now and wanted to bring her in for a clinic, so I agreed to sign Disco up for a groundwork session to help fill it even thought I knew very little about her.

This clinician is the type of older salt-of-the-earth horsewoman that everyone needs in their lives. She's spent her whole life training horses and has raised over 100 foals. She can ride too, and did in the clinic, but at a fundamental level she just speaks horse. She speaks body language, she speaks intentions and she firmly but fairly insists on good behavior.

And she pushed Disco's buttons in a way I needed to see, in a way I should be doing. And he did not appreciate it.

The GIF above was his first of several outbursts over something so small as being asked to move forward or respect the handler, and to be honest, I was shocked. He's been so docile for all of us to handle even as his hormones come in, but after the clinic I can see that that's only because we've not pushed him on the little things, and slowly, almost invisibly, he's trying to start to boss us around. That's not good in something that has testicles.

Still young enough to be led past my barnmate's mare quietly but not for long!

The clinician was nothing but fair to him even when she really got after him. She wanted him to stay out of her space. She wanted him to respect her as the cranky old broodmare and not see her as the play buddy. She wanted him to walk when she said walk (with his eye below her shoulder level), stop when she said stop, and not put his head to the ground, which she called an attempt to exert control over the handler.

And all of this was...hard. So surprisingly hard for an animal four amateurs handle twice a day every day with no issues and nothing but a flat halter and lead. But I needed to see it.

This isn't the post where I'm going to dig deep into what we did and the methods I used, although I will later. This is the post where I talk about his reaction to being asked to submit to something he didn't want to do, and it wasn't even WHAT we were asking, it was that we were trying to boss him around at all. 

He was mad.

Even after he begrudgingly respected the clinician and his body was obeying, his tail clearly conveyed how mad he was

Although I've only seen it once or twice, it struck me that I have seen this before, for his default reaction to be on the anger spectrum, like when Lisa haltered him for the first time.

He did come around. After maybe ten minutes of fireworks, he clearly respected the clinician and was paying attention to her in a way he didn't in the beginning, although his pointed tail swishes conveyed that his mind hadn't fully submitted even if his body was compliant.

At this point she asked if it was okay that we split the session to preserve his baby attention span, so we put him back in his stall while she worked with another horse, then in the second half of the session about 45 minutes later, I did the majority of the handling.

For this session, he was foot perfect for me. Very "yes ma'am" and very clued into my body language. I realized how much he had been getting away with before, even if it was something as subtle as him taking an extra step after I stopped, or him not immediately walking off with me when I start walking. 

He was also foot perfect for me the next day, although he was a little jumpy. That was understandable, we had rocked his world pretty hard and he was no longer the center of it. 

After digesting all of this for a couple of days and a good talk with Lisa last night, I'm so glad I did this clinic. This came at the right time, right when I needed to step up and be a leader and put him in his place enough to keep him from being dangerous as his hormones come in. It gave all of us (because the ENTIRE co-op watched this lesson!) tools to use to handle him safely. And it gave me a frame of reference for what I should and should not accept in terms of behavior from a young stallion.

I think I'm going to look back on this as a turning point in our relationship in all of the best ways.


  1. This reminds me of Speedy in so many ways (also because he's the center of my universe hehe). He's so easy and biddable and wants to be with people, I really feel like steps were massively skipped with him. And it was probably fine because as long as you weren't bossing him around too much, he never did anything exceptionally rude or dangerous. But there is a layer of "no" in him that comes out if you push enough.

    I'm so glad you guys had this opportunity!

  2. Yay for baby horse boot camp :D It's always super interesting to see how they react when they're out of their comfort zone and perceived place in the 'herd'. He sounds confident and smart - two very good qualities!

  3. Based on how your post started I was a little worried that you were headed towards regret over this experience; I'm so glad it was a POSITIVE turning point! And yes, super important in something with testicles. Bravo for both of you.

  4. Sounds like it was perfect timing for this clinic! Interesting to see him so emotional and great that he was able to work through those emotions.

  5. I love when babies get their world rocked! haha oh Disco time to graduate from preschool to kindergarten!

  6. Ponies are so good at showing when their buttons are being pushed! They're such sneaky little buggers about tiptoeing over the "acceptable" line. I cannot wait to hear more about this!

  7. This is so tricky with the quiet/easy ones because their "opinions" don't seem like that big of a deal until all of a sudden, THEY ARE. I have been pushing myself to focus harder on this lately with ZB for that reason. It's important to have the little battles to establish boundaries and then the big battles don't need to happen.

    Disco is such a lovely dude. <3

  8. You're lucky to be at a co-op where outside trainers like this can be brought in. And what good timing for you! And that tail! Expressive and gorgeous and thick.

  9. It sounds like this clinic was perfect timing for the stage that you & Disco are in. Its great to have extra tools in your tool box, especially as Disco is becoming more mature & aware.

  10. This looks like a wonderful learning experience for both of you!

  11. Sounds like a great learning moment!! It's so good to have that sudden slightly rude awakening that what you are currently doing isn't *truly* working for the long term.

  12. What a great clinic. And man he looks MAD :). But that's okay. He can have feelings, he just needs to learn to manage them..

  13. Good for you! We did a lot of groundwork with Roscoe to establish respect from a very young age. Now he is probably better than both geldings.

  14. What a good clinic! It's fun to watch it on video and see exactly how she was telling him that she was in charge - smart boy for figuring it out