Equine Comeback Challenge trainer Erin Zellefrowcontinues to work with her rescue horse Ruby to prepare for the event. In this blog she tells us about her project horse’s unique personality and her training progress.
Tell me about Ruby:
Ruby is an extremist. When she first came to me she was with me physically, but not mentally. She was very herd-bound initially. I’d compare it to weaning a baby from a protective mare. She was frantic and insecure when alone. In the beginning of our training sessions, it would take quite some time to get her attention before we could make progress. Then, the second another horse or the gate caught her eye we’d have start all over again. We’ve been working hard to keep her “on” switch engaged through an entire session. I’ve had Ruby for 32 days now. In the beginning there was often never a good stopping point until, sometimes, four hours into a session. Then we’d reach a “lose patience wall” where she’d grind her teeth, rear, paw, and pace. Ruby has transformed tremendously. She’s undergone a 180-degree change in the past couple of weeks. Her confidence, focus, trust, and willingness have really developed recently. These traits will help build security for herself and her rider.
Has she had any past training or experience? Has this been helpful or a hindrance?
In the case of rescue horses, you rarely know what you’re getting into when you start. Often, their history is unknown. Ruby’s behavior has indicated that it’s unlikely that she’s had any formal training. She had her own terms and conditions and was used to living by them.
What are her strengths?
Now that Ruby and I communicate clearly her strengths are shining through. She’s focused and learns quickly. We’ve worked on on speed changes, transitions, lateral movement, and backing. She gets frustrated when she doesn’t understand new cues because she wants to please her rider. This only lasts a short time before she picks things up—–quickly and with pride. She’s sensitive and in tune with her rider while working that she recognizes subtle changes like breathing too deeply in a downward transition. Her fearless confidence is amazing. She’s curious about new things and wants to check them out. As soon as introductions are established, she will go on, over, and through anything. She’s a very sweet horse, loves to be brushed, and likes undivided attention.
What are some challenges that you’ve had to overcome with her?
We’ve overcome so many challenges. My greatest challenge was, and continues to be, convincing her that I’m more fun to spend time with than other horses or the pasture. This is a daily task that makes the experience more enjoyable for the two of us. I’ve come to love the horse she is today. Initially, I was frustrated and would call a friend to ask for advice. Often I’d say, “Remind me why I do this?” This encouraged me to continue to move forward with Ruby. The results after countless hours and hard work is so rewarding now. No matter the outcome of the final event, Ruby and I have overcome so many challenges together and I’m proud of the transformation and growth Ruby has undergone.
What type of rider would Ruby excel with?
Ruby has a great foundation now and will be ready to go in any direction with a soft rider. She is sensitive, responsive, and willing and will require a rider with these same traits to excel. She’d make a great extreme cowboy race or obstacle course horse. But, she has the work ethic to do much more with time and exposure.