I’ve always been one to gain courage and inspiration by watching what someone else can do with a horse. You do it and live, I bet I can too. That has followed me through my horse training career and post. If someone is struggling with a horse, the first thing I want to do it take it from them, get the calm going on and show the person how easy it is to bring the horse to a better place.
My wish to set an example sometimes does not have the desired effect. The person can’t see or feel when the horse changes so they really have only their interpretation of what they think they see me do that helps their horse get from one place to another. It’s rarely any more accurate for them than it is for me when I watch. Sometimes they just get mad that I can do it at all and sometimes it’s yeah, that works for you but not for me. Shakes head.
Peter has taught me, until you feel the change for yourself you have no idea and cannot possibly understand it. Makes it almost impossible to replicate at home by yourself without that understanding.
A couple of years ago my dear friend Corie was ready to get her last young horse started under saddle. I was working my day job during the week and had a heavy part time schedule at the ranch. There was no place there to bring in an outside horse and less time for me to do a proper job starting one.
I recommended my friend Kip Fladland who is the best trainer in this area. He’d tell you he’s no trainer but for our intents and purposes, you know what I mean when I call him that.
Kip did the job I knew he would and Charlie came home nicely started and ready to go. I’m not telling Corie’s story here, only mine of how I almost did her in yesterday but life got in the way and the horse didn’t see much riding. Time goes on and it gets harder and harder to take the young green one when there are steady eddys at hand. Most of us know how that goes.
Yesterday dawns nasty hot and muggy. Corie and I aren’t feeling spending the day in the indoor arena sweating and messing with horses. We arrive at good excuses, console one another and consult our calendars for a better day.
There was not one. No days left in a summer suddenly swiftly receding into the rearview mirror of 2015. So, suck it up, cowgirl up and here we come.
I don’t go into situations like this often with an agenda but I had one yesterday. As long as the horse didn’t tell me something completely different and I didn’t think he would, Corie would be on him, relaxed and happy end of the day.
That was going to take some doing on both ends.
Here’s us knocking off the mud based concrete on our nags!
I’ll be your Huckleberry
I saddled my two. I would use my green horse, Huckleberry as the student demo. He’s not going to get broke standing next to Royal in a pen. I knew ponying was in our list of things to get done and I smiled to myself as I tacked Royal with the dressage saddle and no worries. We’ve come a very long way. . .
First thing, I want to see the green horses moving loose and free under saddle. We pull the halters and I move all four around the arena. Zip thinks the flag is going to eat him, Royal wants to be a race horse. Huckleberry bucks his way around the arena at first and then only in the corners . . . there’s something up with that but not today’s issue (Peter – September). Charlie, the student the day is actually for long trots and floaty lopes easily when asked. No tension, no bounce no spring. Deep bred for pleasure and every ounce of him shows it.
I see what I need to see from Charlie. Scowl at Huckleberry who locks up and humps in the corners. Royal is asking to be done with the nonsense, facing up and Huckleberry swiftly follows suit. He learned fast from last week.
Once the other two figure out if they give me their attention they don’t have to run, we move on. There is a lot to do and not a ton of time to get it done.
My goal is to hand Corie tools. I barely touch her horse. I do something with Huck, watch and coach her with Charlie. She is horse woman enough to feel the changes as they make them together and the coolness sets in. Internally. It’s hotter n hell in that arena!
We sweat and pant. I don’t give Corie time to get worried. I keep her moving . Tool after tool, watching her horse carefully and mine as well. The deal isn’t good if it’s not right for them.
My Huckleberry horse is a kind fellow. The more I work with him the more I understand how little he really knows. It’s a testament to his good nature that we got away with using him last year. He’s not just green, he’s chartreuse. He sinks his head into me when I go to him, nickers to me when I leave him. I might be the only person that has asked him questions and given him time to figure out answers in his life. I love that I have this opportunity to spend the day with my friend and my horses. More a gift to me than any
I am looking for both of us to be able to keep our horses soft, relaxed and out of trouble. I create little troubles to help Corie see what it looks like and how to bend her horse easy to slow him down without having to shut him down and kill his forward.
We build opportunities for success. We give our horses plenty of chances to find the end of the rope and run into their own pressure. They learn fast when that happens and they release to themselves. No drama. No upset.
They run sweat, we run sweat. I know at one point I heard my heartbeat pounding in my eyeballs and seriously wondered at the wisdom of self. Corie was a trooper. I am pretty sure she would have cheerfully shot me a couple of times.
I have learned a little about how to stay on the right side of trouble with people too. Like Ray Hunt said, you don’t go looking for trouble but you don’t avoid it either and once you find it, take care to stay on the right side.
I keep the progression of how things need to go in mind and click off tally after tally. Before we ride I want to pony. We grab our steadies off the wall and ride them around.
Royal is my heart coming home horse. I am never going to get over the gift he gives when he swoops in to pick me up off the block. I drop reins, fuss with my irons, and when we are ready, off we go. I do a little dressage-y stuff to warm up, the spiraling in and out, leg yielding and then forward. Outside rein, inside leg. He’s fat and out of shape not so bendy but unbelievably solid under me.
We go up to Huck, tied loosely on the rail. I leg yield Royal into position, easing Huckleberry out of the way so I can lean over, get the tail of the rope and shake the knot loose. I back Royal away giving us plenty of room to position my horse to my pony horse and we move off. Huck is coming forward off pressure in a completely different way than a few hours earlier. I sidle over close, rub his head and neck, tell both my horses how much I appreciate them.
I turn them nose to tail and use Royal to help me get Huckleberry’s hip. From braced and hard this morning, he follows the feel lightly. I back us off facing each other. Ungracefully I flip the lead rope from one side to the other. Royal wishes he had someone like Peter who might could do this without catching his ears but he tolerates me.
Corie has a little trouble getting Zip to get in position to pick up Charlie off the wall. I send her out to work on getting Zips’ hip and attention. Royal and I go get Charlie. Hand him over, get my Paint and we are ready.
I wish we had pictures of a lot of this. It was such good work. The horses told us by their toplines, soft eyes and willing attitudes that even though it was not always clear what we wanted them to do that they were in it with us to figure it out.
Neither Huckleberry or Charlie have much idea what to do with their feet. That gets them off balance and unconfident which is where trouble can live. As they each grew willing to trust and let us give them direction, the entire look of them changed. They are beautiful horses but no horse is beautiful when it is awkward and all of them are as they become balanced.
We even took a short trip outside the barn and down the way. It was a LOT cooler outside and we all wondered why I hadn’t thought of that any sooner. Wasn’t time.
We’ve been getting them and ourselves ready to ride the entire day. I show Corie how to work the tail, ask for forward motion with it, and how to give it a “wild one” to see if there’s brace locked up somewhere inside.
We ride them from the ground, holding the lead in our outside hand like a rein, inside hand on the stirrup to use like our leg.
I have exhausted the groundwork we needed to accomplish. The horses are tired, we are tired. The moment to ride is going to come and go without us if I don’t keep after it.
Corie keeps herself safe as I have had her do all day. She makes sure her face is not lined up with the saddle horn as she moves the stirrups near and offside. She brings up a leg, rubs his butt with her foot. I think most of us have accidentally booted our horses when we are mounting and not paying attention. We should not do that but I darned sure want mine okay with it if I do!
She decides to do more work of f the block. Stands in the stirrups, up. Leans over, down. Up, leans over (this is after three grueling hours of groundwork kids). Up, stay. I move Charlie’s hip. He’s working to find his balance but his mind is cool.
On, off. On, stay for a moment, off. On.
And, stay on. They are ready. They ride. Corie logged over 6 miles with her gps. Most of that was footwork but what she logged on Charlie I hope is the beginning of the first thousand miles she put on Zip to get him where he is today.
It was grand.