BJ THE HORSE WHO WAS EXPELLED FROM GEELONG GRAMMAR
The following is a true story but some names have been changed.
Some years ago I was flown to Geelong to retrain BJ so he could return to his paddock at Geelong Grammar, from which he had been expelled after jumping out of his paddock and over two other fences to the central arena area, not once but twice! Lizzie had owned BJ, a handsome 16hh B grade show jumper, for two weeks but had been riding him for longer at his previous home where Amelia, his former owner and a jumping instructor, had been giving Lizzy lessons. BJ had only moved to his paddock at Geelong Grammar the day before something frightened him so badly that he jumped out of his paddock and was expelled. Amelia had kindly collected BJ and taken him back to his old home until alternative accommodation could be found.
Before moving to Geelong Lizzy had been a pupil at Riverside Equestrian Centre so was used to the respect and trust which most horses at Riverside show towards their riders and people generally. Lizzy convinced her father, Ian, that I would be the only person able to retrain BJ so he could be reinstated at the Geelong Grammar Equestrian Centre. Ian phoned me and I agreed to go down to Geelong to retrain BJ over the following weekend, subject to a fairly long list of conditions including seeing the Geelong Grammar school Equestrian Centre and meeting the person in charge; meeting Amelia and preferably seeing her ride BJ and load him onto a float. I also wanted to take BJ to another equestrian centre for retraining before floating him back to Geelong Grammar the following day. Ian agreed to all these conditions and more.
The day after I spoke to Ian, I received a letter from Lizzy raving about how handsome and talented her new horse BJ was but reading between the lines I felt something was not right in their relationship. This letter had been written two weeks after BJ had been bought and just before he had been moved from his old home to his new paddock at his boarding school.
Lizzy's Letter ended with a PS “I miss Charlie.” Charlie is the cute, fairly strong-willed 14.2hh dun/paint gelding whom Lizzy had partially leased for the 1st term and ridden at Riverside until moving to Geelong at the end of the year. That PS gave me the first clue to the problem. Was it possible that BJ had not been taught to respect and trust people so therefore was not bonding with Lizzy nor feeling safe in his new surroundings?
I flew to Geelong on the following Friday afternoon. Ian, a very successful engineer, picked me up from the airport and on the way to their home he pointed out the oil refinery and casually remarked “Those things are far more dangerous than nuclear power plants. If that ever blows up it would take Melbourne with it.” Imagine my surprise next morning when I discovered that the refinery seemed to loom over the Geelong Grammar's Equestrian Centre although it was actually a few kilometres away.
The staff at the centre were friendly and helpful but no one knew why BJ had jumped out of the paddock. The fences were about 1.5m high and in excellent condition and BJ had jumped them cleanly and on his second attempt, straight after being returned to his paddock, had bounced the first two fences either side of the lane. The reason why BJ had been sold to Lizzy was that it was thought he didn't have the talent to be an A Grade show jumper yet he was talented enough to bounce those fences without a rider.
Amelia was friendly and obviously had an excellent relationship with BJ but something wasn't quite right. BJ was very quiet and polite and jumped happily round the course with Amelia but when she led him up into the float it was as though he was looking after her rather than trusting her to look after him. He had his left shoulder firmly against her hip and seemed to be looking round to make sure that nothing was going to hurt her.
This impression proved to be true as BJ was quite difficult to teach to respect me when I introduced him to the nose chain, and this was even more obvious when I tried to load him onto the float. He kept trying to pull away and this was worrying as he would have no trouble jumping out of the yard if he succeeded in getting away. I was not Amelia and looking after me was not his responsibility so it took much longer than usual to load him but he excelled at other things such as free lunging and responding to body tone.
By Saturday afternoon BJ was walking in and out of the float with his head down and his inside eye on me and later on Lizzy, as she trotted him along on the lead and also took him in and out of the float. The equestrian centre had a couple of larger yards with 2.5metre high fences plus high voltage electric fencing for horses with a tendency to jump out of their paddocks. Ian had booked one of these for BJ and we settled him in with feed and water and I was pleased to see that the 2nd high fenced paddock had a companion horse in it.
I was very tired but relieved that BJ's first day of training had been so successful and that he was not only respecting and trusting me but also Lizzy.
When we went to give BJ his breakfast the next morning he was wide-eyed and agitated. He had obviously hit the electric fence during the night and seemed to have completely lost his new found confidence in us. I tried to free lunge him in the yard but he was too frightened of the fence to relax. It took me two hours to get him back to where we had left off the following evening but eventually, he was leading calmly with his head down and his body relaxed. He was once again lunged in the round yard and went well for Lizzie both on the lead and under saddle.
It was time to load him on the float, which he did calmly, and take him back to Geelong Grammar. BJ travelled well and unloaded in the central arena area and stood calmly while we saddled him and Lizzy mounted. We left the rings on his reins and I attached a lead rope and asked him to lower his head while we walked off towards the main arena. As we rounded the edge of the stables, the refinery came into full view. BJ's head shot up, his body tensed and he started shaking. I pulled Lizzy off and somehow got BJ's head down and took him back out of sight of the refinery. We had discovered what had frightened him enough to make him jump out of his paddock. I don't know whether something had gone wrong I the refinery and he had reacted to others' fear or that he had just found it frightening.
My solution to the problem was to take BJ into the sand round yard where he had a clear view of the refinery and to convince him that there was nothing to be frightened of. I explained to Ian and Lizzy what we needed to do. The three of us had to re-assure BJ that the refinery was not going to hurt him. I stood on his left side with the nose chain over his nose and Ian and Lizzy stood on his right side. Whenever BJ looked at the refinery and started to shake I would gently vibrate the nose chain and say “head down”, as soon as he lowered his head we would all softly stroke his neck and reassure him. Eventually, he gave a big sigh and relaxed.
Lizzy took BJ for a ride on the arena while Ian and I talked to Wendy, the director of the equestrian centre, who agreed to let BJ return to his paddock provided he was calm when he went into it for his dinner. All went well so my weekend was a success and BJ was once again reinstated as a horse pupil at Geelong Grammar much to Lizzy's relief. Not only had BJ learnt to trust and respect me but more importantly he also trusted and respected Lizzy.
BJ settled into his paddock and never jumped out again. He was also calm and well behaved for Lizzy both on the ground and when ridden; even his regular farrier commented on how much easier he was to shoe when Lizzy was holding him.
My success at retraining BJ and making him calm enough to be reinstated at Geelong Grammar School's Equestrian Centre was what convinced me that I needed to write a book on training, riding and understanding horses for general circulation rather than just an instructional manual for Riverside Equestrian Centre. The people I met at the three equestrian centres in Geelong were all outstanding horsewomen but none of them had my understanding of horses nor my ability to retrain horses to be calm, obedient and respectful.
Read my book "Riding the Magic Horse" to discover how I gain the respect and trust of any horse. My technique can be used successfully by any horse trainer, owner or rider.