Catching your horse. Since Phil comes in to eat he comes to me and I halter, lead, and release him a minimum of twice daily. When I catch Phil I have actually taught him to catch me. The last thing I want to do is walk to the end of a 5 acre pasture to catch a horse. Through ground work for respect I have taught Phil to catch me.
Pre-ride checks. I have had 27 days to establish my relationship with Phil. The time spent on the ground will reflect how well we work together under saddle. I tacked Phil up using my roping saddle. I want as much leather under me as possible with the young horses. I did use the snaffle bridle instead of the training headstall with the distracting tassels (chose not to fight that battle). I did some ground work to see where Phil’s mental attitude was before I even attempted to mount. I was prepared to scratch my plan if Phil’s focus wasn’t on me and go back to ground work. Phil passed all “pre ride” checks. One thing I’ve noticed about horse owners is that they catch their horse, groom, tack and ride off without asking their horses “how do you feel today?’ Many “accidents” can be prevented if humans would just take the time to do a little ground work before mounting. If you have established ground work for respect with your horse, like I have with Phil, this may only be a pass to the left and right and maybe a back up from the ground. If Phil was distracted, spooky, or silly, etc. I would postpone my ride and chose to do something else constructive. Unfortunately, humans are so schedule/agenda conscious if they have made the trip to the barn, then by golly they are going to ride.
Mounting: I always use a mounting block no matter how tall the horse. Mounting blocks are the polite way to mount your horse. Now with that said you should be able to easily mount from the ground in case you are in a situation where you cannot stand on a block or tree stump. Phil stood politely as I mounted. I returned the politeness by not jabbing my toe into his side, by swinging my leg over his back gracefully and gently sitting my weight in the saddle. It is very rude to grab the saddle to pull yourself up, haul yourself onto your horse, kick him instead of lifting your leg, and plopping all of your weight into the saddle. We expect our horses to be physically fit enough to carry us, so we owe it to them to be physically able to gently mount and dismount. I purposely fiddled with the stirrups and reins. Phil stood still. Please, do not ever mount a horse that is moving. This is very unsafe. With that said, our OTTBs have to be taught to stand still for mounting. On the track the jockeys are hoisted onto a moving horse’s back; this is what our OTTBs know.
Flexion. I started by picking up one rein and asked for a soft flex. Phil, like all young horses, took this cue to move his feet. This is ok. He can turn in circles. To make the lesson correct I disengaged his hindquarters and asked him to step over until he makes an effort to give to me. As soon as Phil gives me a hint of his nose, I immediately dropped the reins. I mean I dropped them out of my hands to reward. Phil stopped turning. I continued to ask, Phil stopped turning and starting flexing without moving his feet. When he was doing this consistently I asked him to walk and flex. To reward him quicker as soon as he softened I let him change direction. An observer would accuse Phil of being drunk because we were swerving all over the arena. I was even able to pick up his foot through the feel of the rein and place it several times; this is an advanced move.
Circles. Circles, circles, circles. Since Phil is unbalanced and tends to dip his shoulder into a bend I have to really keep him between my legs. This means at all times I am supporting or directing with legs and/or hands. I make sure I am only supporting with my legs and hands and not nagging. I like to ride along the rail and turn into the rail and then turn back into the middle of the arena. Essentially I am doing figure eights along the rail. I make sure I plan, look where I am going, slightly shift my weight and support with legs/reins. I did have to modify my requests for Phil to accommodate his body build and conditioning. He cannot get under his hocks like my Quarter Horses and roll back, so I execute a little larger circle along the rail.
Test Ride: Once Phil was warmed up and fairly soft I tried out all gears. I was really surprised at how easy it was to post his trot. I didn’t have to work very hard since his trot provided the momentum. I would rate (1 being the worst and 10 the best) his canter a 10 and his hand gallop a 10+. He made an effort to turn on forehand, turn on haunches, and side pass. He even reached for the bit several times and was rewarded by a complete release.
Impulsion. Phil’s previous owner wrote Elizabeth several times about Phil’s lack of impulsion. I was even told that Phil was stubborn because he didn’t have impulsion. I want to take the time to discuss this since it is so easy to label a horse as uncooperative or stubborn. If you can’t get impulsion from your horse it is because your horse is emotionally out of control because he does not respect you. Remember, when I first met Phil I felt he was unstable. This is one of the most frustrating problems humans have with their horses. Plain and simple; Impulsion comes from respect. Respect is something you get on the ground or you don’t. You achieve impulsion by balancing your horse’s mental and physical needs. Many people will stick a band aid on a sucking chest wound and use crops, whips, or spurs to bully their horses. (NOTE: I use training spurs on some of my young prospects so I can communicate a “promise” clearly. One tap from the spur equals 100 exhausting leg kicks which only teach your horse to ignore you. I have developed a very independent leg and seat so the spur will only make contact if the ask and tell have been completely ignored). This will create dangerous habits such as rearing, bolting, ducking, bucking, as your horse will start to out think you to get away from the pressure and find a way to rid you off his back. The first time he tosses you or scares you enough to dismount you have just given him the release he was searching for and he will find his release quicker and quicker each time. Our horses are recreation for us, can we be recreation for them? As I mentioned in an earlier entry I am bored riding in circles in the arena. I try to entertain myself by trying out new things such as instead of riding along the rail going forward, I back my horse around the ring or I look at my surroundings and ask “Can I ride through, under, over, or around it”? Use your imagination.
Please feel free to ask questions!