Seemingly domestic, a horse is a window into the wild.
Into our 10th day of spiraling leg yield circles Encore! is settling down to business. The light reins, the new bit and my improved balance are certainly helping us work together to establish rhythm and relaxation at the trot.
Starting our work late in the day is how it seems to work out most of the time. This is not a bad thing. The wind is often up for part of the ride which gives me confidence that we can ride any weather and not worry.
As I straighten the long lines, Encore! stands quietly while the wind whips her mane and tail. I glance up at the sky and see a rising moon while the sun prepares to set. Perfect. We’ll extend our after-a-workout-ride into the evening to enjoy the full moon. Years ago a cowboy I ran into while riding a dirt back road, in Ojai, under a full moon said, “the best way to settle a horse is to ride him at night.” Here I am years later looking up at a full moon and thinking, “Let’s ride a little longer tonight and put that suggestion into play. “
A warm up and refresher course on long lines goes a long way on keeping me safe in the saddle. I long-line ten minutes each direction doing transitions between walk, trot, canter and halt. After the warm up, I saddle Encore! and we ride around the property. Next we do the circle work suggested by Sandi on my small flatwork area carved out of the property’s gentle slope. Encore! is forward and willing. Each day I get stronger. I’ve added a few rounds of sitting trot which requires a whole other set of muscles used to balance myself as I ride this young, buoyant thoroughbred.
We finish our exercises. Encore! is still fresh, but controlled, and we strike out across the field of tall grass under the full moon rising. This is our happy place. Encore!’s walk is full of enthusiasm. The squeaking saddle and view of small purple wild flowers are two of the many joys of riding through an untamed landscape. I contemplate opening the gate and heading out across the neighborhood. I caution myself and say, “Next time.” Another month of solid leg yield circles, a stronger body and better balance will insure a safe moonlight ride adventure for both of us.
Encore! graduates. Today is the first day of junior high. Encore! receives a new grown-up snaffle bit and KL reins. We are all a match in black saddle, pad, bridle and reins. Encore! is handsome in her tasty copper-inlaid-snaffle bit and ultra- soft- light-weight reins. Being new, the reins and bit outshine the rest of the tack. Little by little we upgrade our closet.
How does Encore react? Not a bother in the world. She takes to her fashion advancement naturally. I am the one who needs to adjust to the new reins. Up to now, we have worked with long-white-western-style-soft-woven-nylon-cotton-blend reins, which have served us well. I can wiggle these reins, with flaps at the end, to move Encore! forward when she sees or hears something that concerns her, and she hesitates. Now, I carry a whip to reinforce her courage and cooperation. I tap her hind end to keep her engine moving forward should she resist a request. Nothing punishing here, only light rhythmic taps to focus her attention to the job at hand. She is ready for this whip upgrade. I always prep Encore! before doing something new. I put the whip in the two small metal rings on the top of the surcingle. The whip waves up and down while Encore! trots and canters, in long-lines, on the circle. I switch the whip into each ring, so the whip can wave on both sides. Voila! She is safely desensitized and ready to show off her latest accessory.
We always finish our work with a trail ride out or a walk around the property. Encore! is responsive and forward. The reins coil at the buckle and rest on the side of her neck. The old reins were split. These new reins are two pieces joined together into one rein with a buckle. These new reins feel like they are barely there which in turn lighten my hands and make me rely more on my seat and legs. My legs are like arms stretched around Encore! My “arms” are equally ready to hug, release or push depending on the need. My goal is to have my seat and “arms” delicately cue Encore! like a dance partner, or a ceramicist that molds a clay pot with the lightest touch.
Ah. . . to waltz across the countryside with Encore! enjoying the music of the great outdoors is a supremely satisfying idea.
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