When the paint pony came to me I recently had an alignment of trust forever broken. And it dawned on me, while most people think as a horse trainer I’m rough and tough breaking the ‘spirit’ of these animals… what I really do quiet the opposite. In a word I create trust.
A few times this summer I have brought in young, sometimes stallions that have jumped around, and bucked in the round pen. Onlookers (knowledgeable horse trainers and breeders) have looked at me and said your not going to get on are you?? To which I replied, ‘I have a feeling.’ Each of these high spirited horses turned into gentile giants carrying me with such composure and grace. How do you explain that feeling? Unspoken, calm, inner peace – trust. This is the feeling I reflected back to the paint.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rcop8qw8CCo Video of a stallion I started last year with a total of 6 rides! This is his first ride this season.
I could tell you about the paint that arrived tense and white eyed at the best of times. Fear, that given we triggered the right memory would turn to anger. You can’t blame someone for how their life has been. (And by this I’m not having a dig at the past owners, trainers or treatment of the horse.) Rather his interpretation of their frustration for him. The Horse Whisperer quotes ‘the alliance with man would forever be fragile as the fear he struck in their hearts was too deep.’ I couldn’t disagree more. Yes that alliance is fragile with any relationship. Horses unlike us constantly live in the moment making them more resilient. They do have very strong memories however, they will react to your CURRENT actions. I allowed the paint to make mistakes, praised him when he got it right, and set solid boundaries. Because of this that white eyed pony no longer exists. Instead I can tell you about a very trusting relationship I have with a wonderful kind eyed horse.
Thank you for the journey Paint Pony. Best wishes on your new path.
Reflecting this into your personal life…
Like any relationship in your life. How is that person currently reacting to or treating you. Perhaps you were the center of their nasty rumor at work on Friday. But, you kept your composure and on Tuesday you worked through a problem as a team. Would you rather live dwelling on Friday, or stay open to enjoying Tuesday?
These days went smoothy for the most part. I continued on the same path asking for Rains pure focus at all times. She’s become softer and stays quiet and happy in the arena at the walk. We are still working on staying level headed at the halt. We also do steps of trot on the long side of the arena. On days that this results in a high head we bring it back to a focused walk. When it doesn’t result in a high head she is praised and we slow before she has the opportunity. A big difference in these days have been she now walks up when she sees me coming and tries to stay with me when I leave.
Now that was the process… I was focused on Rain and her needs up until this point. After a day of training I had Rain as my last horse to ride. Instead of taking her solo I wanted to meet the needs of another horse who was very eager to get out for a good ride. Because Rain had been so good, and is usually quite good on rides I decided to take her. About half way through the ride she started bending her barrel in one direction still running straight. Not only does this become uncomfortable for horse and rider, but it’s dangerous with the traffic coming. I tried riding the bend with her, which brought her inverted. I tried correcting the bend which brought her into a high headed panic. She’d now worked herself into a high prance. This becomes very dangerous with a horses head high, adrenalin flows through their body clouding their mind. With most horses in this state they become flighty, unpredictable and unmanageable. Rain how ever gets very hot, but still ‘tries’ for you. I stepped off and walked to calm her mind and bring her back. Once she settled, I rode again. Unfortunately at that point she quickly worked herself back up. I allowed her to canter for a stretch. She stretched herself right out, walked her till she calmed, then I hopped off and walked her back to the barn.
I didn’t want to leave it on that note. I knew the biggest mistake I made was in following a different goal from Rains. People get so focused on the clear round in the jumping arena, or the perfect canter, that they forget the steps to get there. That those steps are just as important and make the final goal easier and happier for the horse. In my case I was trying to meet the needs of the other horse when this moment was Rains. In the stable she tried her best to ignore me. Needless to say she didn’t want to stick around when I let her go.
It’s a hard lesson to learn. I know this isn’t the first time I’ve been taught it. Especially in an age of so many expectations and distractions. I’m sure this won’t set us back given her long history… but the point was it certainly won’t set us forward.
Sunday, a day to relax and sleep in. I had lots of excuses to not ride today, including Rain deserves a Sunday too. But I knew this early in the game it had to be done. We rode in the most perfect part of the day. Right before the sun settles for the night. When it glows golden over everything, and the horses especially look beautiful. Everything seems to settle in this light. All the horses heard my foot steps and lined up at the gate hoping to be picked for a ride.
Rain was less hesitant to come in today. Much to my surprise. I gave her space and took my time approaching as she took a second to consider high tailing it. She flinched for a split second but, then kept her focus and respected me. I tied her in the barn and tended to some other horses. I could hear her moving around quickly while everyone was out of sight. Once I returned she settled and stood balanced and quiet. She turned her barrel into me twice. I corrected her the first time then rewarded her with scratches. While she was enjoying the scratches she tried a second time to turn her barrel in. I immediately stopped scratching her and she corrected herself awaiting her reward.
This time in the round pen I didn’t have any tack on her. She quietly parked herself on a 45 degree angle with her bum to the inside and her head dropped eying my reaction. I gave her a light push as I wanted to keep her in this fame of mind. She walked off beautifully long neck, level and relaxed barrel wrapped around me. On cue she softly turned inside head low and moved off into the other direction. She did move into a slight jog at one point but quickly soften and slowed to the sound of my voice. She gave me a few more long bows and I asked her to halt. She stopped square and level headed.
I praised her and bridled her up. I walked away to grab the mounting block. Unlike my other horses she didn’t follow me but, she did stand quietly and respectfully keeping her eye on me. I mounted up and we rode for a good 10 min staying level headed in a good frame of mind. She did try and have her own ideas of our direction. When she tried to move left I simply kept her moving forward by holding, not pulling the right rein. This gave her boundaries she happily accepted. She did try and step out of balance to take me back to the stable at one point. I felt her stiffen and her head rise. But, she allowed me to move her back into a balanced position and quickly dropped her head moving on. I asked for a few stops with my seat the first two she brought up her head. She also gave a few yawns; stress relief. The final halt she slightly brought it up then bowed down. We stayed there for awhile while I praised her and then I jumped off.
Walking back out to the field there were a few moments she pushed her barrel into me and took her time to react to my push. Once in the field all the horses I normally train crowed us. Being a Sunday, it was their day off but, how do you tell that to a horse. Rain tried to move away from the other horses while I took her bridle off. Once they gave us our space I let her go. She stayed for a split second then slowly walked off. To my right a more dominate mare had moved in pushing Rain away. Perhaps tonight she would have stayed with me.
I’m more then impressed with the improvements in this short time. But, I think the real challenge will be near the end when the improvements are slower. I was just expecting little in the start and more later on. The rest of the ten horses I’ve been working lined up behind me awaiting their time. The other 5 colts I’d be halter breaking were also lined up along the fence curiously watching. That’s how they all stayed watching me as I went out of sight.
What do you do with an inverted horse? What do you do with a 12 year old inverted horse that works? And by ‘works’ I mean is considerably talented and reliable in what she is used for. Of course on occasion there are the normal side effects of prancing, and flightiness of a regular inverted horse. This also is in relation to the expertise of the rider in control.
My first introduction of Rain, she was running full tilt around the area with a novice rider. It wasn’t the lack of control that didn’t intrigue me to ride her… It was the stiff inverted movements. She moved like a cat keeping her feet under herself beautifully. However she moved stiffly and abruptly from one turn into the next. Almost pausing in the air each time as her legs moved forwards and her neck and back braced.
All the stories of Rain the magnificent horse became to come out. The amount of go, heart, and interest she put into her rider. I was convinced to ride her. She was a lot different from my first impression. She felt soft and fluent to ride. I felt her become stiff and brace as I asked her to slow. I quickly worked out the best way to slow her was to slow your own pace, slow your heart rate and her feet would slow with you.
I’ve had some amazing rides on Rain as have lots of other people. One of my first cattle ’round’ ups was on her. One of the cows we were driving pulled away and before I could ask her Rain was on it! She galloped flat out across the field to move them back into the heard. As we got close I thought I’d better start pulling her up now… before the thought had transferred into my aids, Rain who had been reading the cows slammed on the breaks (sliding me into the front of the saddle ) and spun around moving them right into the herd and out the gate!! Realizing I was just a passenger in her greater plan to take care of the situation (and do it well!!) I loosened off the reins and praised her allowing her to get the job done.
That’s just one of the stories of an inverted horse. It’s possible to have a number of wonderful rides. And then suddenly had a day where prancing is the only option. This is my challenge with Rain 60 days to see what change you can make in an older inverted horse.
I’ve always felt when a horse suddenly raises it’s head or carries it quiet high there is a feeling a panic in the air. Until this point I have known with my young horses when that moment arises keep calm and try to re-connect with the horse. Draw their focus back to you instead of the issue causing them to raise their head. With an older horse it’s almost a muscle memory. Once the head goes up their spine pinches, sending adrenalin to the brain. Which is ideal in the wild. A high headed horse in the wild is one suspecting danger, adrenalin will give them that extra push to get out of it. Not something that is ideal for a riding horse. There are different degrees that will effect the horses. Some will become high headed and completely lose control and focus. Fortunately, Rain is not one of these extreme cases. She is one however that deserves to feel how she allows us to feel watching her free in the fields or on her back.
I recently asked the question how do you know when a horse is too far gone to come back. A trainer I highly respect answered ‘Never.’ It’s been years since I came across the horse that made me ask that question. However the answer opened me up to think do old habits die hard in older horses. So here it is my 60 day challenge with Rain begins. In just 60 days can this inverted horse become supple and free flowing?
I brought Rain in today. She was slightly reluctant to come in. I was working a few horses so she and another enjoyed a mouthful of grain while I groomed and tacked up the two of them. Rain tends to stand quietly and still. However she will often bend her face and eyes away from you. I encouraged her to bend around me and stay focused while I tacked her up by lightly massaging or ticking her girth area. When you’re leading her, Rain will politely follow when you move forward. If you turn and ask her to move her hips over she’s slow and relaxed needing some extra encouragement to move them over.
I started today with some free lounging in the round pen to take on overall look. I allowed her to pick the pace within reason. I encouraged her respect my space by bending her to the inside and making such she didn’t cock a hip at me. She started off the a short stepping pace, high headed. It surprised me within seconds she relaxed her neck and dropped her head. She consistently questioned my attention moving her shoulder and hips into my space. But, would then softly move back out and relax. She was very in tuned to trying to guess my very movement before they would happen. At one point she guessed wrong, panicked turned her hind quarters in then directly went into an inverted canter bracing herself with each step. I stayed relaxed and consistent asking her again to bend around me. She worked her self out of it flexed down and began shaking off the stress, licking and chewing. Once she seemed consistent in her frame of mind I asked her to slow, and praised her. During the session each time she flexed or relaxed I would use the same praise word. When a horse stretches their neck down endorphins flow to their brain allowing them to feel good. Hopefully if I praise her when she feels this, that word of praise will also eventually be associated and make her feel good.
I then rode her for a good 15-20 min. Keeping a fluent forward motion. Focusing on balance and relaxation. When I asked for a halt I could feel her tense and begin to raise her head. Instead I tightened my seat and allowed her to slow over a longer period. Once she slowed I praised her and jumped off.
Again untacking her I kept her focus. One of my principals with my horses is they always come when they see me, and will wait at the gate until I’ve fully walked away from them when we are done our ride. This is all in their own free will. It tells me if I’ve done my job. If the stay they are content with our lesson and would rather stay with me over the herd. If they run they are either unhappy with the session or prefer the company of their herd mates. Day one… Rain ran for the hills! But, I’m not discouraged. There was parts of stress in our session where she did invert. And the parts she relaxed aren’t fully engrained in her muscle memory so that was also hard on her. Something that’s been ingrained in her for years will take time to change. And it may take a few days for her to accept it’s for the greater good.