Saturday, March 9, 2013

Sharpening, Softening

Juggling turns out to be a very important skill in horsemanship. Might be time, priorities of family, work, other interests for those who have other interests. Might be not dropping gear into eight inches of mud and water.

A light rain mists around us as I bring Royal up to my new to me Ford truck (oh yeah!). The four foot drift of snow and detritus melted away from the front of the hitching rail nearby now replaced by a vat of noxious looking water and ice.

I open both doors on the passenger side (picture my wide grin of delight at a truck with that many doors) and determine that saddling is going to have to take place right here. I drape the halter rope over my arm, asking Royal to shift his hip and make room for where I want to be. He complies nicely.  Stands square. Waits.

Good thing there was no one nearby for photo opping. I said juggling is a useful skill. I did not say I have mastered it, in any of the above ways though I am better than I used to be at all of them.

Job is done, mud in places I would rather there not be, but it is what it is.

Minimal prep and Royal stands to be mounted. I once would have thought our issue was over. I understand now that while my horse is learning to wait, which is improving EVERYTHING for us, the trick is in the getting ready and the not taking for granted. That is a big sentence right there. Might want to read it again.

I survey the yard. Giant towering ruts etch it from the tractors, moving hay, spreading manure,  doing the farm jobs. Does not bode well for footing up top. Ever hopeful, we steer through the muck up the road past the big shed. Royal spooks there regularly. I am not completely sure what demon abides here but it happens. One of these days I will be ready and help him not do that.

He doesn’t fall down and I think maybe we can ride the trails after all. 20 feet later of deep mud that both sucks and slides out from under us, this is a no go. We turn and head for the outdoor arena.

I have indoor arena privileges but it’s been a wearing week at work and I am done with walls.  There are also two brand new baby racehorses in the barn part and it would be the worst if the moms got excited at the sound and smell of a different horse and hurt a baby in the process. Happened to us last year, someone spooked one of the dams, she stepped on her sleeping foal.  It lived but it was all bad from there.  Not happening on my watch.

GPS only works outside and if I am riding in the rain, I damn sure want my miles for it. Distance Derby, ya know. Not on the top of the list I am juggling but it’s in there.

First challenge, Royal grabs his butt as we pass the big caterpillar, tarped down and chattering in the breeze. Fear factor on the right, Royal tucks his nose to the left, not wanting to have to view the awful thing.

Last September Peter was readying the group for working cattle. He positioned himself off the rail about 15 feet, flag in hand. We were to ride into the gap, stop, have our horse look at the flag, steady and ride on. Royal couldn’t stand it at first and Peter noted how fear could be turned into respect if handled properly. We got it done then, not perfect but acceptable in the small change, the slight try which was actually enormous on my horse’s part, and went on.

I do that now when we are confronted with terrifying objects. I have long thought it ridiculous that people make their horse put their nose on the scary thing. Such a waste of time when there might be a job to be done and what I really want is for my horse to be calm and keep it’s focus on me. There is a place in training to send a horse to an object, and put it’s nose there but it is about forward, direction and communication.

Royal gives the big Cat both ears and both eyes. He studies it a bit. The wind obliging picks up and the tarp flaps harder, daring my horse to stand his ground. He is brave now and says, bring it you big sucker. I am over you. That’s my boy. We ride on.

Past the stack of round bales (could be absolutely ANYTHING in there. I look them over warily, Royal doesn’t care.) Past the sheds waiting to find a home somewhere, and to the heavy steel gate.

Here is a challenge all of it’s own. I am NOT getting off my horse again. Opening gates requires patience, finesse and the ability to wait. None of the above have been our strong suits.

Oh yes, and moving hips, quarters, sidepassing to the proper spot, all that we can do with our hooves tied behind our backs. It’s the waiting that gets us every time.

And the rattles of the noisy things.

We position and I smile again at how easily I can think my thoughts down my reins to Royal’s feet and we get where we need to be. It’s isn’t always, this,  but it’s in here. I rattle the gate and he doesn’t want to look at it. So, we know what to do first. Just a tip of the nose, I can see his right eye, he sees the gate. I feel him settle. He is ready for the next step.

This is the first ten minutes of our ride.

I want to tell you about the passenger riding, the trust it required for me to throw deep slack into my reins and ask my horse to become emotionally responsible for himself.  I want to write about picking up a rein, figuring out what angle helped Royal best understand what foot needed to move where, feeling brace melt into form.

We rode circles, not allowing a barn sour drift and then asking for an entirely different one, speeding up the hind while slowing down the front.

Circles where I eye the pattern on the ground and insist we stay on it. No bulging ribs, no pushy dropping shoulder, no flailing hip. Stay on my outside rein, Royal. Encouraging that with inside leg.

There were transitions. Sloooow walk. Reverse. Walk. Softness. Trot-stop from my seat so I am not ambushing your face-reverse. Snappiness. Even got a little slide going on as Royal tucked his butt sweetly under us.

Always asking for the softness. It’s not what you do, it’s how and when and when you stop doing it. Pick up a rein, where is that soft give? Bouncy nose, inside out neck, saw all that. Held my ground and waited. Set it up and let it work.

Back in the days when I sold horses for a living, I thoroughly assessed every single one of them. In that, I looked for a certain solid feeling under me. A broke horse is one that will reliably, consistently respond  to a properly given cue. There are not as many out there as you might think. Royal is not there yet, but I felt that feeling last night and I know we are on our way.

It was heaven on horseback. Rain and all.

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