As spring begins to approach in small spurts of sunny weather above 40 degrees, the idea of riding without 50 pounds of clothing on is thrilling. Last Wednesday morning, the sun was strong and for the first time in three months (except when we were in Aiken), I got the mucking, etc. done as fast as possible because I was going to ride a bunch in this amazing weather
After accomplishing chores in record time, I trudged through the disappearing snow, also known as MUD, and catch the first horse of the day.
I decide to start with my favorite newer boy, Five. In the year we have had this horse, I can count the not so great rides on a few fingers. Even when he’s naughty I still have a blast riding him and can always find mostly good points in our ride. So obviously as I brought him into the barn I was thinking about the amazing ride I would have on him in this gorgeous weather.
He was shedding like crazy as I groomed him, so I decided that if the horses think spring is here then it must be true. Good weather from here on out! Once he’s booted and tacked we head out to the arena.
Five marches out to the arena with a little more flair in his step than normal and is looking around, interested in everything around him. I attribute it to the screaming children down the street and think he will have a little extra energy to add to our wonderful ride we are going to have.
Once I mount up, I realize I am sitting on a stick of dynamite that feels like it will blow any second. I always start my horses with five minutes of walk on a long rein so both of us can get situated and into the rhythm. Immediately I decide that reins to the buckle may not suit his mood today.
We head around the arena spooking and bolting a step or two in whatever direction he throws himself, so I immediately start to work on adding volte’s after six strides of forward walk and then gradually increase the steps in between the volte’s to start getting his attention.
All the while, I was thinking, “Geez I just wanted to have a good ride today,” which was definitely my mistake. Typically as trainers, we are usually really good with not expecting too much from any horse on any given day and riding what we get on that day at that second. But when you add that slightly more personal aspect of one of your own horses that you are really excited about, sometimes we don’t realize that we start to expect too much.
After a half an hour of slow, quiet walk work, Five started to relax and pay attention and I have reminded myself of my annoying perfectionist attitude and told myself that this is what I am getting right now, so deal with it and make it a learning experience for both of us.
We started our trot work a little bit tight and nervous, but it quickly gets more and more relaxed and I decide to use our dwindling snow bank as a large cavaletti to draw Five’s attention towards a different type of question. Each time we trot over the snow bank we continue our straight line and then change the bend and change directions. Through the exercise, he quickly began to open up his stride and becomes more interested in what I am asking than all of the other outside stimuli that he was finding so interesting and scary earlier in our ride.
I was positive I had his attention, so I decided to move forward with a little bit of canter work. Now galloping is by far his favorite gait, as he did quite a bit of successful racing. His canter has become quite lovely in the past year, but every once in a while he does confuse canter with gallop. We cantered circles over the small snow bank and his canter stays the same rhythm, he feels incredibly balanced and seemed more focused than he has throughout the whole ride.
Although we started on a pretty horrible, nervous and frantic note — which was slightly aggravating to be honest — the proof of the process of quiet, correct riding that showed up in our canter work was so exciting to me. So much of the time, I hear myself explaining this exact method to my students.
Horses have personalities’ they are living beings and have good days and bad days too. We wouldn’t have chosen this sport if the horse was always perfect because where would the challenge lie? Ninety-nine percent of the awesomeness of this sport is in the relationship between horse and rider and how well every person approaches that relationship.
If the rider doesn’t put their whole self into their work with these wonderful animals, they can’t expect a horse to be able to deal with cheap emotions and aggravation. Horses are emotional beings because of their sensitive nature. Humans have the ability to reason and control our emotions — how can we expect the horse who is counting on our leadership to be able to understand what we want from them?
The most amazing part of my job is that these horses humble you all of the time; even the best, most simple rides of your day sometimes challenge you. It’s overcoming these challenges that forms the best relationships. So remember this the next time you are confronted with a small challenge when riding. Proceed calmly with respect to your equine partner and you will always succeed.