A good ride on a difficult horse.
It actually happened a week ago. I decided to take Siesta for a short ride in the arena, just to stretch her legs. I had given the situation some thought and decided to take a completely different approach to things.
First off, I mounted her in the arena (with the gate closed). This way she couldn’t bolt for the barn. Secondly, as soon as my butt was planted firmly in the saddle, I dropped my reins and lightly squeezed with my calves. Naturally, she bolted. Instead of grabbing at the reins and attempting to stop her, I just let her go.
Don’t get me wrong, it was scary. We were literally doing laps around the arena at a dead gallop and there were a couple instances where I was certain we would crash into the fence. At one point I realized I was holding my breath.
I forced myself to relax and breathe deeply. Then a remarkable thing happened. Siesta began to tire and her pace slowed. Her ears flicked back and forth confusedly. What was this crazy human all about? And why on earth wasn’t I trying to stop her?
Eventually she slowed to a brisk walk. Then came to a halt in the center of the ring. I praised her and patted her neck. Then picked up the reins. And off we went again! I dropped the reins. She slowed. Then stopped. I picked up the reins again. She moved off. I dropped them. She halted.
I realize this is very backwards. In fact it pretty much goes against pretty much everything we as horsemen (horsewomen) have been taught. We are taught to communicate via pressure and release, with the “release” being the reward for good behavior. In a way it might seem like I was rewarding her for taking off with me.
I don’t know how to explain my reasoning being all this. But one thing is certain. This mare HATES pressure. Pressure on the reins, pressure on her sides, pressure in any way, shape or form. And she responds as most horses do, by resisting. And she would (will) just about fight me to to the death to escape it.
At any rate, my approach actually (gasp) worked! She soon allowed me to pick up the reins at the buckle and direct her. Every time she would get too fast, I would drop the reins and leave her alone. Her ears twitched, asking questions. She was confused. She wanted direction!
And then it happened. I picked up the reins and she walked nicely. We rode a serpentine on a loose rein. Then, she reached down of her own accord, and took the bit!
I can honestly say it was probably one of my proudest moments as a horse owner. I literally almost cried. We walked several circles quietly, collected, before I asked her to stop. She halted squarely and let loose a big sigh. I threw my arms around her neck.
I’m not saying I’m a trainer or a horse whispered by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve failed more times than I’ve succeeded. Hell, I’m basically a self taught trail rider rider (I haven’t had lessons in over 10 years). I’ve never competed. I don’t have anything to really show for my two plus decades in the saddle.
This is pretty special.