This ride represented the end of 2 weeks of rides on Tig, and our first "big" trailering out ride.
After loading up gear I had 30 minutes to load Tig. PLENTY of time.
And…she hopped in on the first try. YES!!!!!!!!
Tig was AMAZING. Early on the ride I managed to actually snap a few "ear pics".
1. passed by people walking their bikes (Tig was an angel)
2. Highway traffic that did not slow down while we were on the shoulder (Tig was a veteran)
3. Several asphalt crossing at intersections. (Tig stood there patiently)
4. Crazy dog pack yapping at us with their (mostly drunk?) owner crashing through the bushes yelling at them. (Tig stared in amusement).
5. Go down a steep bit of section that I was certain I was going to die on, and making plans to bail and just lead down, with Aurora looking on in amusement as Tig tucked her butt and scooted down like a pro. In general Tig is so well balanced going down the trail, I have to continually remind myself that's she's young not to let her trot down hill. She reminds me of my partner's ride and tie horse who can canter so balanced downhill that if I closed my eyes I'm not sure I would know I was going down hill.
6. Take off a crinkly jacket and tie it around my waist.
Aurora asked me whether I sometimes forget I was riding Tig and treat her like Farley.
The answer is absolutely. I don't ride a lot of young horses, so my body, seat, and hands are accustomed to doing a set of things to either ask for something, or to correct something.
I don't ride Tig like a baby….I ride her like a horse.
The result is that most of the time she behaves like a horse.
Sometimes when I ask her to stop jigging, or lower her head, or move to the other side of the trail, she DOESN'T respond like a horse - and so I take a moment to be extra patient and explain it, and then we move on.
I think as a result, she responds by mostly behaving like a horse.
This sort of "ask-explain-move on" sort of philosophy is different from the philosophy I was taught and used when I was riding youngsters many years ago. Back then I had a good seat and could read a horse fairly well, but I lacked the "refined" riding communication skills that two years of intensive dressage training, and thousands of miles on a broke horse.
Back then I what could have been described as a "explain-drill-next step" approach. The horse and I did the same things over and over until they did it near perfect and then we stopped and moved on to the next thing. Each "obstacle" was trained, practiced, and drilled. Crossing water, mounting, staying in gait until I absolutely cued something else. Crossing poles, side passing, opening gaits.
Nowadays I do very little drill or repetition. We move down the trail, I ask and she either responds or not. If she doesn't I explain what I want, she then does it correctly and we move on. No repeating until it's perfect, or to prove a point. If we ride for long enough, the opportunity for the same lesson will come up again and again I'll ask, and again she'll have the option to respond, or I'll re-explain it.
It's a no drama, no fuss with an emphasis on relaxation and confidence and giving her the opportunity to be an adult at every opportunity.
Aurora pointed out that one reason I might have changed my approach is because the type of horse I was riding fundamentally changed. Back then I was riding stock type geldings. Now I ride Arab mares.
I think by de-emphasizing "drill" I also de-emphasize making something a "thing". Which, in my experience with smart, opinionated horses, is easy to do. For example, I could easily make crossing water "a thing".
Tig had several opportunities to cross a tiny bit of water crossing the trail. Headed out from the trailer there were 2 crossings.
At the first crossing I had to use my dressage whip and leg more than I would have liked to urge her across. It took longer than I would have liked. When she finally crossed, it was more "bolt-y" than I would have liked. But she did it.
We moved on down the trail. That was her reward for finally doing what I asked. We got to move on. The stress between us immediately diminished and she could focus doing the next thing I asked right.
Let's imagine if I had turned her around and asked her to go back and across and do it "better".
In this situation how have I rewarded my horse finally giving into pressure and doing what I asked? Is rewarding the horse by making it repeat the stressful situation over and over more or less likely to result in the horse doing what I want the next time?
Sometimes you can fix an issue by making it a non issue.
I had never thought of myself as an "arab person", but I might very well be one. What a strange thought.
I'm not claiming to know what will work for every horse, or every arab, or every riding situation. No one "absolute" approach works for everything. But after working with a dog whose training very much depends on minimizing stress in order to maximize learning, and working with my horses (and others) over the years - I've leaned more and more towards a mostly low-key approach and had a lot of success.
The highlight of the trip was, of course, cantering Tig under saddle for her very first time.
She loves the trail as much as she HATES the arena, and because I feel more comfortable going at speed on the trail, Funder and Aurora encouraged me to introduce Tig to the canter on the trail.
Aurora had in mind a certain hill - good footing and long enough we could get up to a canter but the probability of things getting out of hand were low because it was steep.
Sounded good to me!
I'm not a brave rider, but I can usually tell when a horse is ready to give and have a knack for choosing the right moment for success. On the second half of the loop, headed back the trailer I felt like Tig was ready to canter. So, a little ahead of plan, before we got to the big hill, I asked Aurora to move out in front of me on sections of trail where it was slightly uphill with good visibility (most of the trail we rode on was single or double track) and no rocks.
This was the moment Aurora's mount Scrappy had been chosen for - a sensible Rushcreek who would set a sensible speed and not get on hanky if some excitement behind him ensued!!!!
Scrappy moved out at a rocking horse canter.
I sat the trot, kissed, and bumped Tig with my heels.
I fully expected some small bucks as she coordinated her feet and balance for this new gait, and so when she lurched and gave a slight buck I sat calmly as she worked it out and encourage her with my voice and seat.
And boom! I had one of the loveliest canters I've ever had the pleasure of sitting. Uphill, balanced, and gorgeous.
When she dropped to a trot, I gently encouraged her to canter again.
Another few uncoordinated steps and a little buck and there is was again! Cantering!!!!!
We moved down the trail in the fashion - walking, followed by trot and canter transitions (down and up) where the trail allowed it.
I could tell Tig was having fun - she was totally getting this and she was having FUN. Sit, kiss, bump with my heels and she would transition nicely up to the canter, and then on cue back to the trot. Since the trail naturally lends itself to certain gaits depending on footing and turns, I didn't have to drill a cue - I just matched my body language to what was most efficient and practical for that portion of trail.
Now, with smart horses (and dogs) I've learned there are certain stages of learning I can expect.
At first they are giving me a good try. And as long as I'm fair and patient, they take a lot of joy figuring out what I want. Any apparent "naughtiness" is not intentional - they are just trying to figure it out.
Then, when they get it, I get this sense of pride and joy radiating out from them. They just seem so PROUD of themselves.
And then…..they usually push the limits. They gave it to me nicely a couple of times but now something in their brain says "that was OK….what about THIS?"
Tig's "THIS" was a full on rodeo bronc buck.
I was sort of expecting this.
Canter is FUN. Cantering is an awful lot like bucking. Bucking seems to be a horse's version of even more fun.
So, when out of nowhere my feet were suddenly jammed forward at her shoulder, I saw/sensed hind feet whizzing about at the level of my ears, and she went down for a giant BUCK during a lovely couple of canter strides - I was ready. I had been maintaining light contact with her mouth, focusing on a deep seat with heels down. So when she bucked, I was able to growl, pulled her back into a trot, and then re-cued the "more obedient" canter. I was quite proud of myself. :). I knew naughtiness would come at some point, and I felt like I had responded in exactly the right way.
Near the end of the ride we came to the giant hill that we were originally going to ask for a canter. I decided this would be our "fitness test" hill.
I pointed her at it and said "let's go!"
She was game. She gave it her best shot. She cantered. She did a couple gallop strides. She trotted. And finally….she walked.
At the end of the 3 months, I'd love to see her be able to trot up that thing nonstop.
Near the end of the ride about a mile from the trailer Tig decided she was done. She started looking around for grass to nibble (didn't I tell you she is a GREAT endurance prospect) and she started doing what I've learned is her "MO" for being done. Stopping. Balking.
The first time she did this to me was in the arena and she nearly gave me a heart attack, thinking she was tying up.
But nope. I quickly figured out that a mentally or physically done Tig is a Tig that stands quietly being balky.
In some ways a temper tantrum would be easier to deal with. A quietly standing non-moving horse can be quite the conundrum!
I could tell that Tig was close to being done and fortunately we were very close to the trailer and it was perfect timing - I want her to know that I won't ask too much of her - she doesn't have to protect her self by refusing to come with me. She saw the trailer and picked up a little jog.
When it was time to load her up for the ride home, Tig decided she couldn't possibly be asked to one.more.thing. and stood at the entrance of the trailer, refusing to step in (if "refusing" can be defined as standing there quietly and calmly but not moving forward…..). Aurora helped encourage her from the back and she stepped in. I got the feeling it was less about getting in the trailer (she knows how to load and isn't nervous about the trailer) and more about her not trusting that I wasn't going to "ask too much". She wanted me to know that she was reaching the end of what she had to give me at that time.
I've learned a lot about this horse in 2 weeks, and - like I think happens whenever you listen to what an animal is telling you - I learned some things about myself in the process.
But those are topics for the next post!