You have to get past the chartreuse green. That takes savvy (not just miles, but those too), wet saddle blankets, courage and perserverance. I know these things, have encouraged many others along this path and started at least my fair share of young horses on their journey. Now, it’s my turn.
Over the years, I have always made sure I have at least one broke horse on the grounds. My “go to”, whether it be a for sale horse, or one that I was calling mine for awhile, there was always something to pony from, throw a leg over for a relaxing ride when I didn’t want to have to be on the top of my game every single second I was on board. Yesterday was a day when I could have used one of those good ole True Blues.
Instead, I have . . . babies. One is six, but he is still a baby in his brain, and experience level. Royal and I have had a very strange relationship. As my car parking horse, our priority was to get people parked in a timely manner and on the way to their hayrack rides. It was not the time to work out “issues.” Many a moment passed that I let Royal get away with this shenanigan or that one, refusal to do “whatever” or the occasional fit he would throw just to entertain himself when he was bored. I thought, son, there might come a day when we revisit these attitudes of yours and start filling in the blanks for you. The horse cannot be blamed for the holes in his foundation and education.
Now, I own him. He has a new job. It’s called “putting your feet where Terri asked you to, and no other places.” Might be a harder gig for him, at first, than that other. The rules have changed. I understand it’s my responsibility to not be a jerk about that. Still, they have changed.
My other young horse, Riata, the three year old, has her doubts about our situation. She voted with her feet to leave me, twice, yesterday, at a headlong gallop away from me in a bullet straight line. That is my report card for where we are at, in our relationship. Again, there is no blaming the horse here. They are honest creatures and they tell you what they are thinking.
We talk an awful lot about horse whispering, but it’s pretty much never the horses’ whispering that we are referring to . . . Yesterday, I was thinking hard about what kinds of tones of voices my horses have to use to get through to me . . . Can I hear them before they have to escalate the message? Sometimes yes, sometimes no.
Last week, when I started with Riata, I took a lot of time to relax her body. Her mind is very turned off to me. Hurts, as this was a horse that used to come to my call and follow me around the pen. Now, she barely wants to look at me. Did I do anything grossly wrong? Not to my way of thinking, but I am not the one that gets to cast the vote for her, as much as I would like to.
Before I saddled her, I played ground games. I pointed at a join in the fence and asked her to put her nose on it. This is very different than asking a horse to put it’s nose on something it’s afraid of, I don’t like that methodology at all. This particular game is done from the end of the rope and requires the person to fine tune their signals to the horse, and for the horse to engage and really pay attention. Pressure, release. Hot, cold. Ri would put her nose BY whatever I asked her to, she would not touch a darned thing. Royal, when we played the game, instantly stuck his nose to the object and would look at me brightly “what’s next? This is boring!” Different horses. One as bright as the other but not wanting much to play with me.
By the end of last Saturday, Ri was as warm to me as she had been in a long time. She saddled without bucking or undue tension. Did beautiful “falling leaf” (hip over, shoulder through, as I call it) patterns, and I put her up on what I thought was a very, very good note.
It was the magickal kind of day horse people own horses to have, full of soft eyes, willing feet, and strides gained.
Yesterday, I was not in the same mental condition as I was, last week. Some of the worldly stresses were hanging heavy on my shoulders and I Just. Wanted. To. Ride.
Saddling Royal, I wanted to put the snaffle bit back in his mouth. I know it bugs his wolf teeth, but I also know I have ridden him many hours in it and got along. What I did NOT want to do was deal with the issue of him not wanting to give to the pressure of the halter . . . A very important piece of having a broke horse. He doesn’t want to give to bit pressure either, by the way, so it’s appropriate we roll back and start where it begins . . . Fine.
Buddy sour. Not really broke enough that when the chips are down and it’s his will versus mine, that I have a lot of confidence he won’t just blow through the roof and demand his way. That challenge hung in the balance for us several times yesterday, just circumventing the 5 acre pasture while the mares cried for him at the barn. I could hear Ray Hunt, admonishing a student to stay just this side of trouble and worked hard to not let my fear make me become aggressive to my horse, and dive us headlong over the other side of that fine line. Occasionally, I was stern, I won’t let fear cause me to allow misbehavior either. It’s a tight rope, sometimes and feels about as comfortable.
Thank goodness the nature of the horse is to follow a leader. Royal argues, but when those chips did come down, he accepted my leadership without any real pyrotechniques and it all worked out.
Oh yeah . . . we worked last week on his unwillingness to stand quietly to be mounted. I didn’t think we’d made any real progress there, though he did stand for me, just didn’t feel that “ahhh” that I sometimes get from a horse that receives the lesson. Well, we might have argued about a dozen different things yesterday,but darned if he didn’t stand like a rock and wait to be asked before moving off. . . baby steps, but steps indeed!
Got annoyed with him bracing against the noseband of the halter when I asked for reverse. He backs up with a broken poll and a soft jaw, off the bit, this should be no different. I know better than to engage in a pulling match with 100o lbs of resentful horse. In the barn I go and I return with the dressage whip. We back circles from the ground. A light tap, here and there, when he’d spin out his hip and refuse to take straight steps, or when he’d raise that pretty head and brace those feet . . . and soon it was liquid steps wherever I asked. Hmm, note to self, that good firm, kind leadership you want to teach people? Still applies.
I had already unsaddled but I wanted this from his back as well. To the mounting block we go and I jump on his bare back. Let’s just say he is no more a snot bareback than he is saddled. And, four fluid steps backwards, and I called it a day.
Looked at Riata. I had worked through her jumping in the air and blowing away from me across the pasture (damn, I am missing having a round pen! Gotta work with what you have though), had ponied her off of Royal, and while he was a butthead, she was steady eddy through that whole thing. The lot was deeply muddy but it was time to ride. My friend, Colleen, mentioned the other day she’d rode a colt in kind of poor footing, because it was time to ride and that’s what she does. She had a though that it being a little slick might make him be a little more careful about the stunts he pulled. I liked that idea.
Riata has become kind of explosive in her objections and I took some care about getting on. I picked up and dropped the stirrups, slapped them against her sides while asking her to move (they will stand still for it, and then katy bar the door if things change while they are in motion, that’s an important piece, you guys.) Anyway, she passed all my little tests with flying colors. Get on, Terri.
I still don’t like this part, getting up on a horse I am not sure what the ride will be. Guess I probably never will. I got up and down, I think she mostly wanted me to quit screwing around and get settled. So, I did. Sat there quite awhile, and Ri waited patiently for me to ask her to do something.
We toddled around the lot by the barn. I am riding her in a rope halter as well. It’s not as rough as it is with Royal but she doesn’t come off the pressure perfectly either. I start all my colts in halters and I don’t put a bit in their mouths until they understand this. How my two got so far down the path without me realizing we had to go back to this, I do not know. It’s another VERY important piece. They either give to pressure or they don’t. There is no such thing as “sometimes.” What “sometimes” means is that they are always doing what they want to do, it just happens to coincide with what you want to do, on occasion and when it does not, you will part ways.
It was not a glowy, feel good kind of day. It was the kind of day you have to get through when you have young horses that only know what they know. It’s not their job to head for the library and study their lessons. It’s mine. Whether or not I put the gaps in their education does not matter in the least. What matters is that I fill them, so that they can each rise to the tremendous potential that each of them possess, and maybe, so do I.