Last Sunday was a beautiful day here in central Maryland. So I decided after returning from a Trek to the grocery store that I would ride my horse Harley. I got my stuff out. Lassoed my valiant steed ( really I just put the halter on). I brushed him and Airy ,my Arab, since she was hanging around. I gave Harley some treats for not being “girthy” (when a horse gets pissy when you pull the girth tight to secure the saddle. He once bit Kevin in the butt. ) We put Airy out in one field. I headed to the other with Harley walking along very nicely. That is until we got to the round pen. I made the mistake of deciding to mount in the round pen where there is grass. Lush grass which he promptly began eating. With his head down and me not having the strength bc of my bad shoulder to haul his head up and get on at the same time- mounting was going to be tricky! I was very proud that i still yanked myself up into the saddle bc about six weeks ago I found that I had gotten too weak. Well after much working out I was so happy that I was stronger. I pulled his head away from the grass and we were off!
Ah but once on I could tell Harley and I had different agendas! I wanted to ride him and he didn’t want that at all. It didn’t help that Airy was right in the next field eating grass. I have a gauge of how keyed up my horse is by how it feels to be on his back. When he’s keyed up or hell bent on getting his way his back is stiff and he holds his head up. He’s twitchy is how it feels to me. Harley was super twitchy that day. This could be an interesting ride.
We rode around in the round pen for a bit. The gate to the pen was open to the inside so we couldn’t really ride the rail. I decided to take him out of the pen into the field. He felt less twitchy. He wanted out of the pen as he had been attempting to point himself toward the gate while I was warming him up in the pen. So leaving the pen was easy. The problem arose when we got out of the pen. I was planning to go one way and Harley clearly wanted to go another way- back to the barn. This was not a good thing. This created a dance. Woman on horse as he dances sideways -woman trying to correct him by using leg and rein reminders and woman feeling like if we kept going sideways woman might end up on the grass. I decided to pull him in a small circle by using an open but direct rein. I might interject here that in dressage which is how I was trained the rein is used as a reminder- we don’t pull them to turn our horse- we use our seat and legs. So using a rein like this is a correction but sometimes it is needed. Horses don’t like turning in small circles. My past riding instructor always said make the wrong thing hard and the right thing easy. It’s pretty hard to go in one direction when your head is being pulled in another. When you go where I want Harley I’ll make it easy. Turning in small circles usually works but this time I had to add a little thwack with the crop but he decided my direction would work for him.
I hate when rides start out like this. It keys me up and I get frustrated. And I then wonder why he is being this way. But it’s not like he’s never done this before. It had been a while is all. So I got my bossy pants on and decided how I wanted this ride to go. I have found that with him my persistence usually pays off. But sometimes it takes a lot of persistence and patience. If I get mad then things go downhill. Persistence is not anger- it is asking over and over again for something until you get it. I have also learned from training my Arab Roy that once in a while things don’t go the way you are picturing it so it is best to back off and do something you know the horse will do and then end that ride or lesson. I did not was that to happen on Sunday but I was prepared for it. But I set off with persistence.
It took Harley a while to decide he was on board. His back was still twitchy. He wanted to break into a trot. A gait we don’t do much bc he is gaited horse. I decided to take him in a serpentine pattern as the changing of direction engages their brains. I then let him go into his working walk which is a smooth gait faster than a walk. He wanted to go his way again.
So it went like this : Oh I guess we are going in a circle again sir! Am I’m not being clear? “Ack” my negative word to him when he’s being naughty. Ok sorry I’m going to tap you with the crop again. Oh ok now you hear me. Praise praise for doing the right thing. And on we went.
A few serpentines. 20 meter circles. Crazy eights. I kept picturing how I wanted the ride to be. I kept taking deep breaths to rid myself of tension. Somewhere in the midst of this Harley began his moaning. I don’t have another name for it. But when he does that he’s relaxing. He’s in the moment with me. Yay! I was able to give him some leg. When he was keyed up I didn’t put leg on him bc that may have ended up with him breaking stride or going too fast. I spent more time praising him. I asked him to go around the entire field and he mistook that for us going back to the barn. But he didn’t need any real correction. It was more like he was saying “my bad I thought we were done “. Back out into the field once more. Around once and down the centerline for a halt. Pretty solid. Didn’t want to hold the halt but that’s ok. We got through and lets end this on a good note. Out we went towards the barn on a loose rein.
After I ride I often think about what I can do better. ESP on rides like Sunday’s. I like that I had persistence and I put confidence out there. I didn’t like that I got frustrated with Harley right off the bat. I liked that we developed the connection during that ride despite the tough start.
I was reading comments today on another blog post by Maria Wulf about animals mirroring our emotions. I think I will think about this next time I ride. Am I being impatient? Am I distracted? Am I conveying proper confidence? It’s so important to be aware and present when riding. Sometimes I lose myself in thought or in non thought. But being present and calm and clear is so important to the connection we have with our horses.
I know I was centered after my ride bc I decided to clean all my brushes and reorganize the stuff on my shelves in the barn. I must have been on an endorphin high! For me it’s that zen feeling that I get during and after a ride that I crave. It may not have been a perfect ride but it gave me the perfect feeling. So I will take that any day…
Thanks for reading…
PS- I am not an expert level rider! I am maybe low intermediate. Riding is a life long learning experience and I know what works with my horse. Don’t take my solutions as expert advice! Have fun and be safe!
This is an example below of a horse who did not want to go the way I wanted him to go- see my face- see his ears? See my left arm? I have opened it up and am pulling him around.
Here we are in a better frame and somewhat more relaxed. Oops He did it again! I am leaning forward and beginning to open my left rein to pull him – look at is ears…clearly not on board with what I was asking – so I have to be more persistent. Make the wrong thing hard and the right thing easy. He is a bugger sometimes!