Teach a wild horse to dance with you outdoors and nature applauds.
I walk down to the catch pens and shelter breeze way. I shout out “whup, whup!” to alert Encore! to come to the catch pen. She gallops eagerly towards the gate, but when she sees I am carrying her halter, she does a U-turn and runs to hide behind her good friend and stable mate Coltrane. Coltrane keeps coming towards me knowing that I will let him out to graze.
When Coltrane arrives I let him out and Encore! seeing that she might be left in the pen gallops past us and up to the top of the catch pen and nibbles some hay. I quickly shut the catch pen gate from the larger paddock then let Coltrane out to graze. Encore! alone in the catch pen usually comes over knowing that she has to put on the halter before she can go out of the pen. Today she takes issue with the order. I give her a couple of opportunities to yield on her own. When I see she is determined to be in charge, I leave her and look for the lunge whip to drive her round and round the pen until she gives up her head strong ways.
In my experience most horses surrender quickly, but Encore! has an independent streak that borders on stubborn. I keep her moving away from me until I say “ho” and she allows me to put on the halter. I’ve never met up with such determination in horse or human. Several times I give the opportunity to stop, but the moment I offer the halter she moves away. I then get after her and move her on forcing her to acknowledge who is in charge. Finally, after numerous run arounds of the catch pen I say “ho” and she allows me to put on the halter. It’s true if I had a bit of carrot she would eagerly allow me to catch her. Today I had a handful of boring timothy hay pellets. In retrospect, who is training who?
Horses are like people. Handle them according to their temperament. Never try to change the temperament.
~ Leo Foster
Today Encore! and I had another break through. Fortunately, for Encore! I had the privilege of some happy coaching from Sandi. We trail ride together at La Purisima Mission. She’s out West staying with Susan. I ride Susan’s steady paint mare while Sandi rides Susan’s young Hessian gelding. Sandi is a supreme horse woman and has trained fifteen horses to Gran Prix Dressage. She has vast experience at the Olympic level and can translate that to anyone willing to listen. I am a virtual sponge in her company watching every move she makes and asking for suggestions on how to train my enthusiastic filly, Encore!
Sandi’s suggestion is the magic exercise of leg yield spiraling circles ad nausea. That’s right. After watching Sandi leg yield circles on Susan’s gelding Deacon I went home and long-lined Encore! on the circle for thirty minutes at walk trot and canter, changing direction every fifteen minutes. Then I rode leg yield spiral circles for thirty minutes, at the rising trot, changing direction after fifteen minutes. Not the least bit tired or bored Encore! relished the hour trail ride that followed.
The joyful breakthrough for us was an expanded sense of security and safety after just one session of leg yield spiral circles. Today, Encore! blazed away at the walk over wild terrain and didn’t give in to fear or frolic. I can only imagine what a solid citizen I’ll have under me after three months of spiral leg yield circles. We’ll do spiral leg yield circles, and nothing else, every day for three months. Sandi says, “She (Encore!) will be so grateful to do something other than leg yield spiral circles that she’ll do anything for me.” Attitude is everything and this attitude adjustment for Encore! is nothing short of miraculous.
This particular exercise might not be right for every, horse but for chilling a hot salsa filly like Encore! it is a God send.
It’s the end of the day and only a little time left to school Encore! before the daylight fades into dark with a tiny slice of moon. I have a determined commitment to work with Encore! six days a week, so I dropped all other responsibilities, put on my riding boots and headed out to enjoy another session with
I tossed some alfalfa and orchard grass to Encore! and Coltrane, intending to groom them both while they munched their dinner. They feed all day long, so it wasn’t a severe disturbance to take Encore! out of the catch pen after a brushing and tie her up for getting dressed for long lining.
It was a sober afternoon. I met up with Shirley, who keeps her two Arabians at our place, and shared my sincere sadness at the passing of her father Tony. He had a special bond with our dog Mozart and a deep affection for the horses and chickens. He was a kind and gentle man that we will all miss. It was easy to appreciate the quiet between Shirley, myself and the horses as we remembered Tony’s delight in being with animals.
Yes, to be with animals, large and small, is a wealth beyond money. Encore! has certainly been a lifeline for me these last two years, and I was glad Shirley had her horses, Daubry and Passion, to silently comfort her.
Encore! So present that nothing can invade my attention and distract me from attending to her, was, again, a lift out of melancholy. I put the surcingle around her barrel, gathered up the flag and the whips and led her down to the flat carved out for me by a generous neighbor.
I have a consistent routine to keep me safe. I do a little “natural horsemanship” with the flag to get her feet moving and her attitude respectful. Then I lunge her to give her time to warm up slowly and practice our voice commands. Next, I longline her to practice transitions, patterns and more voice commands to be sure she and I are on the same page. When this routine is complete, I am safe to climb aboard. She is young and exuberant. I take no chances.
Today, we rode around the property for forty-five minutes exploring places familiar and unfamiliar. She was good, but she had moments of testing. I squeezed her on and firmly growled at her to let her know never ever could she think that bouncing around would be acceptable. She quickly settled down and we had a happy time. I discovered she has the most swinging spine I’ve ever had the pleasure to ride. It virtually swings like a hammock under me when she walks. This is a very good thing and promises excellent potential for “artistic equitation”, a term coined by the expert horseman Ramon Baccera. If I can teach her to be sensible, solid and trustworthy, she can advance to high school.
Tomorrow we’ll head over to our neighbors farm and arena for more schooling. This is only the third day under a dressage saddle. Up to now it has been a western saddle for our ride-abouts. That’s why I just now noticed her amazing back swing. “If it ain’t got that swing it don’t mean a thing”.
Encore! can dance. Let’s tango!
A horse is king of comfort for a sad heart.