Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Ready, Willing and Able

Well, hello Autumn!  Yes, my favorite season has arrived, and I have been spending as much time as possible outside, soaking up the great weather that we've been having here in Kansas.  I have some wonderful training horses to work with right now, so the sunny skies have been matching up nicely with my sunny disposition in the saddle. One of them, a mare named Candy, was featured in an earlier blog posting, "New Week, New Horse," and I'd like to give you all an update on how she is doing.

Is it possible that some horses are just born to be ridden?  This fantastic little mare sure seems to be.  Candy has been nothing but good for the past two months that she has been with me.  When she got here, pretty much the only thing she knew how to do was tie; she had lived her young life in a pastured herd, with some recent experience being tied up to be fed.  When a trainer hears an owner tell them, "she knows nothing," we are usually more than a little concerned about what we are getting ourselves into.  But the owner is a close friend whom I trust in her instincts on horses, and I also trained this mare's two older full brothers, so I took her on.  I am glad I did.

My number one priority with Candy, as with any horse, has been to try to eliminate, as much as possible, any negative impressions or incidences the mare might have about being ridden and worked.  From Day One, everything my husband and I have done with her has been handled with great care so as to always foster Candy's confidence in herself and us.  Obviously, we had to start with the basics, and we made sure that the mare always understood before moving on to the next step.  The philosophy is that on any given day that you are working with a young horse, you can work on all the things you worked on the day before, plus one extra thing.  That's it.  When horses are young, they can't process several new things at once, and your chances of being successful begin to go down when you pile on a bunch of new challenges at once.  (And when I say successful, I mean, not just getting them to do whatever it is, but doing it with the least amount of negative emotional residue. If the horse walks away from a workout feeling frightened, stressed or confused, you have not been successful.)  Sometimes, the things you worked on the day before are enough, and you can't add a new thing, and that is OK.  When it comes to young horses, my belief is that it is better to err on the side of caution, take your time and build slowly.  I know there are people out there that pride themselves on how quickly they can "get a horse broke," but I prefer to ride the one that had careful, patient schooling in which the lessons were allowed to really sink and and be understood.

So Candy went from being led and free-lunged to lunged on a line in a round pen, to being lunged in an open area, then lunged saddled, then mounted and standing, then mounted and led, and finally to being mounted and ridden independently.  When I first sat on her, she wasn't in much of a rush to go anywhere; she wanted to just sit and adjust to the weight of me on her back. When I eventually got her moving forward, she was hesitant and a bit stodgy, so I worried that we would have a lazy one on our hands.  On the contrary, after allowing her time to build up the muscles in her back at the walk, she and I have been trotting around without any problems.  She has been calm and quiet and, dare I say, satisfied with herself every step of the way.  She is already showing sensitivity to my leg, and thankfully, a decided indifference to things going on around her.  I am extremely pleased!  I am riding her in a bitless side-pull bridle, so we will be introducing her to a snaffle bit sometime soon, as well as riding her outside the ring, and with other horses.

As for comparing her to her two older brothers, Atley and Broque (pronounced 'Brock'), she clearly favors Atley in her personality; she loves to be loved on, and is very affectionate.  I told her owner, "If you had to walk past a fire-breathing dragon with Candy, all you would have to do is put your hand on her neck and coo to her, and she will go anywhere you tell her."  I think she is very much like Broque too though, because both of them are very sensitive.  They respond to a slight, soft touch, or little shift, or a murmur. What is incredible about all of them is that they are so willing; none of them have given any major resistance along the way.  I know that this is due to three important facts:
  • It is readily apparent from examining these three sibling's conformation that they are the product of two fantastic horses.  And when you spend time around them, you can see that their sire and dam also imparted fantastic MINDS in these horses.  They are quick, but calm thinkers.
  • Allowing them to be horses in a herd with minimal human interaction can work well, as long as the interactions they do have are handled with care.  There is something to be said for a horse that grows up relying on itself and its herd, rather than seeing man as a treat machine and/or someone to rub that itchy spot.  These three are not spoiled in any way.
  • Taking the time to do things right actually makes the whole process go faster.  In allowing the horse to fully understand a skill before moving on, I don't have to go back and correct as much. 
  All three of them have been fantastic to train, and I am honored to have had the job!   There will be more updates to come, so stay tuned....

Enjoy your day!