So we finally get around to riding our colt for the first time and Kidlette tells me she wants to get on him for the first ride.
This plan is totally OK with me because I’m always happy to pass off the first ride on a colt, even one as quiet and sweet as Leland.
In our usual unorganized fashion we forgot to pick up a saddle from the barn as we headed to the rescue. I wasn’t too worried, it was just the first ride, which usually takes a total of five minutes or so and I figured we could borrow a saddle from Julie the rescue operator.
I was very pleased with my little guy. He’s out on over 800 acres of good grass with his new best friend herd mates and he was fine with me walking up, putting on his halter and leading him away. He whinnied to his friends when they finally left us and headed back to the herd, but he never dragged his feet.
I brought him in to the barn and tied him to a tie rail. Kidlette took over and groomed him and scratched on him, pretty much getting to know him, since I’m the only one who has handled him to date.
Julie was out showing a horse and Kidlette had pretty much run out of things to do with him.
I like to get the little ones ridden and back out before I lose their interest and they start to get anxious, so we needed to get a move on.
“You know, he’ll probably be fine if you just hop up bareback,” I said.
“That’s what I was thinking,” Kidlette said.
“Go ahead if you’re comfortable,” I told her.
My daughter has ridiculous legs. 36 inch length, size 2. Think praying mantis.
So to test him out she just swung her leg up and propped her boot up on his back. Yes, it was pretty funny looking.
“I think he’s OK,” she said.
Leland looked around and cocked his hip.
So Kidlette just slithered up on him. He didn’t blink.
When she asked him to go left it took him a second, but he went. We both got pretty excited when he rocked back, crossed his front legs over soft and correct and walked off, following the hand which guided his nose, and then did the same when Kidlette flipped the lead rope over his head and asked him to go right.
Very, very cool. Keep in mind, this is my experimental colt. He has been handled, probably not more than 25 times in his entire life.
He is light, responsive, inquisitive and calm.
I keep waiting for this approach to quit working, but so far I wouldn’t change a thing.
Julie is going crazy, she wants to love and pet on him and stuff him with carrots.
But she is keeping everybody away from him and not giving him any treats, which I appreciate.
Of course Kidlette is a nose kisser beyond compare so it’s not like she didn’t do her share while she had her chance.
The thing is, he has not been handled enough to have learned any negative behaviors. I have gotten after him twice and both times were a quick snap of the rope to clear him out of my space. I haven’t ever inadvertently taught him to crowd or lean or tune me out because each time I handle him I’ve got a clear plan and I get out of Dodge before I can muddy things up. I also think the long gaps between contact have helped us both. I’m not threatening, but he’s respectful, maybe just because he’s never quite sure what I’m up to.
It’s a very interesting process.
He decided to turn a pretty gold this year after being about white since he was born. I think I’m going to like this boy. Even if I do have to call him Leland.
And then...we hear from crankymare, who writes about dealing with the sour rotten result of too much of the wrong handling and what it takes to turn one around.
I just finished reading a post on Mugwump chronicles:
I found it so interesting, I thought I'd post my thoughts here.
When I started this blog, Lic was a very desensitized horse... she ignored my leg, and eventually found that bucking, biting, and acting like a complete shit would get me off.
This was my own fault... I looked for a trainer, and couldn't find one I liked. So I did groundwork, Clinton Anderson style.
I did goofy things like walking her like a dog, and hopping up to ride back home. (Bareback, no helmet, and in a halter, on my shit of a horse. Smart, huh?)
Finally, I was able to ride on the trails, but dammit, I wanted to be able to do arena work too!
She was a total nightmare in the arena... balking, bucking, biting, I just could not get her to go.
I finally found the perfect trainer... my trainer knows when to push, when to reassure, and when the horse just needs to get laced with a whip.
When I first started with horses, I thought it was mean to hit a horse.
Now I realize that it's mean NOT to hit a horse, if they need it.
I saw my trainer back the mare up, flex her laterally, put a (short, english) spur in her side to get her to move, yell with the "pissed-off mom voice," and make her do endless circles... I also saw her lavishly praise even the tiniest improvements.
She's a keeper. Now, finally, Lic is at that place Mugs mentioned... sensitive enough to respond to light cues, but desensitized enough that she won't wig out if I make a mistake.
Case in point: The other day, I was working Lic in a large round-pen sized area in the lot next door. She had given me a good day- a flawless walk/jog warmup, and I actually got about 3 laps at the canter, each way... there was some bucking involved, but nothing outrageous.
She is also starting to understand that bucking=getting popped in the mouth with the bit. So, as a reward, I allowed her to canter up a little path in the 2 acre lot.
At first, she got excited and threw a bucking fit when I wouldn't let her all-out run. So, after another 5 minutes of cantering circles, we tried again... and she was fine, almost hitting that rocking-chair cadence.
This is a huge stride for he, she has a lot of balance issues at the canter, and I take these improvements as a sign that all of our hard work is paying off.
So, we go up one side of the property, and double back to go the other way. We were cantering again, and all of a sudden we're OMGI'MGONNA DIE! running, with her head in the air.
I breathe, and sit back, and slowly pull back on the reins. (It was really hard for me to learn to relax when my horse is wigging out!) We stop, turn and face the threat.... a boston terrier. *Sigh*
Okay, so we go up, Lic puts her head down and snuffles at the thing, and I turn her, and we continue cantering the way we were going before. We round a corner (I live in a hilly area) and we suddenly see a car pulling away from the school that is adjacent to the yard.
This time, I didn't sit the spook so pretty. As we were already cantering, Lic very nimbly changed her direction... from forwards to SIDEWAYS. Nice. Well, I lost my seat, meaning my ass was about 1 foot to the left of the saddle... but my feet were still in the stirrups, and my hands were still on the reins. I ended up literally sitting on the mare's side, hanging on her mouth with the reins. (I know, I should have let go, but it was a bad moment).The point of all this is that Lic would have had a legitimate reason to launch me... instead, she stopped after about 4 strides, allowing me to unceremoniously drop to the ground.
Of course, the lady in the car witnessed the whole fiasco.... she felt bad, but I assured her it was no big deal and I was fine. I got back on, rode for 10 more minutes, cantered the damn straightaway one more time without incident, and called it a day.
The point of this story? My mare, who can be very laid back one moment and spooking like a bat out of hell the next, responded to my screwed up stop cue, without responding to the whole "rider hanging off of her side" thing.
I'd rather she had either not spooked, or I had ridden it better, but with practice, I know that better riding on my part will translate to more confidence, and less spooking, on her part. And compared to six months ago, when asking her to canter in an arena would have been a complete disaster? Her improvement so far is amazing, and I expect more amazing things to come.