Can't think of a more appropriate place to put this little story of my work with a new horse today.
A bit of background first.
The owner is a lady of 74, my age. Ridden since she was a child. Owns four or five horses, keeps a couple of others for family. Recently bought a Tennesee Walker, heretofore referred to as a TW. Gelden, black, about 10. She guessed 12, the veterinarian I asked her to take him to for his teeth said about 10.
Probably 15 or 15.1 hands. Very high headed. And rather snorty and frisky. He was tongue lolling very badly when I saw him the other day and insisted that before I evaluate and ride him that he visit the vet. Those almost always, I think, are caused by either points on the molars or a damaged mouth. He doesn't do it now.
I've decided that my decision to train, teach, coach, advise, etc. was the correct thing to do. Though I most often have to use the equipment I know the owner will use, some have let me use my own. This horse, reportedly, had been ridden in both a German hackamore, and La Jaquima with Bosal. My own familiar tool. You can guess what I choose to test him in.
The question was, could this horse be ridden by this older and a bit frail lady with arthritus and a bad hip, or was he too hard to handle.
I began with circle work on a 20ft soft lunge line in a tape enclosure rather unround but sufficient.
He came out of his paddock snorty, in fact he was snorty at my approach and fastening the lead. Crowded me quite badly a few times on the way to the work ring.
Very interesting. In the work area he was still dashing about and nervous, but settled soon enough as I tested what style of training he'd been given. (She didn't know). He's a PNH trained horse with incomplete level one, and very put off by humans. He looks away, moves away, etc. But did respond to both bending to address the hindquarters and moved them away, coming to a halt, and coming to the handler with a soft word of encouragement.
We spent some time with breath exchange. My soft wuffling, him not so sure but more than willing to let me catch his breath and he to collect mine quietly. It helped calm him when he read that I had no harm in mind for him, that I liked him, and that I would be patient and forbearing as he learned who I was and what I wanted.
I practiced three point lunging (what he knew) softly with him, a few reverses of direction, some soft tugs as his inside shoulder was about to come forward, and could bring him to a walk a number of times. Fiften or twenty minutes of this and his constant nervous fidgeting was more or less over. He would not look directly at me but I proved that he was watching me by teaching to move off in the direction I pointed and to reverse if I pointed the othe direction. Thus I knew he was watching though still in survival mode.
He proved to have been carelessly whipped rather than encouragingly touched with crop or whip. So we played at desensitization. Quite responsive and quick to learn really. Much less difficult than what I thought when I just led him about a few days back to get introduced.
The owner wants to trail ride and be able to walk up and down the highway verge safely.
She is not a loose, or looped, rein rider. I demonstrated to her that he will run through your hands if you hold a tight rein on him, and he will calm and respond if all hand cues come through and return to a loose rein.
I took the opportunity, as I demonstrated how he would with only a few soft touches, yield his neck, and give his nose and hold it there without any pressure, to talk about how she rode and played with her horses when she was a child (sly devil that I am), and discussed how to play and be fun for the horse, gentle and joyful with them. Given what she saw happening I'm sure she took my comments as credible.
Very shortly he was moving off my leg and giving his hindquarters to disrupt his overly enthusiastic forward rushes, and in short order began to drop his head (which she had never seen him do before apparently) and amble along softly. TWs do have a lovely rolling yummy feeling walk. And it substitutes for a trot, which she, because of her hip and back, cannot tolerate as non-gaited horses trot.
My objective, ostensibly, was to evaluate this horse and determine if he could be safely ridden by her. Of course you and I know I had more in mind than just that. But the evaluation was pretty much up and I had dismounted and she said she was very curious if he could be ridden out beside the road. I had intended not to do that unless she wanted to engage me to either train him, or preferably, take instruction from me while I trained both of them.
But what the heck. I had the feel of him, he trusted me, and so I mounted back up and road away from the paddocks. He balked, which she said he was likely to do. She had had some kids riding him about so she knew his behavior patterns a bit.
I did a few calming exercises and asked for my little bat, having already figured out he'd been ridden with a whip, and possibly harshly. All I did was hold it and wave it pointed to the rear very gently and away we went down her private road to the highway.
Which he proceeded to go up and down alongside with at first some nervous energy, and then very shortly with head down, a long looped rein and my frequently dropping it on his neck and riding no hands.
That went on for about 20 minutes and I ended our session. I could tell by her expression when she first saw me drop the reins riding along the highway and the horse just became calmer (and I explained the real intended use of pressure release to produce calmness and lightness - and how I got him in just a few minutes of handling and riding to do it) she'd never seen him (or possibly any other "spritied" horse ridden that way become calm so quickly),
He's a good boy, and tried hard. And had a lot of "training," that made meeting me something of a mystery to him. I could DO things he'd had done to him before, but I could do other things that were far more gentle, even fun, and repeatedly told him he was more and more free as we worked together.
I charge for these "evaluations" about the same as I do for a training session or for instruction, or my combination sessions for one person with one horse.
She came to pay me and handed me double my usual fee and asked if I would come back and ride out with her on another horse (much older calmer horse) with her on a trail ride so she could watch. And I presume, learn. I accepted.
He's very much like Dakota but with far more potential strength. When he wanted his head, he took it away, and when he wanted to walk into me he did (That was a Dakota trick by the way). But then he learned very fast so I accepted her request for a "lesson,": though she didn't want to call it that.
How far toward a more AND frame of reference and philosophy can I move the horse, and her?
I guess we'll see, won't we?
Let's call him "Nugent," for now, to preserve her and his privacy. It's not his real name.
And see together where this is going. I know she can't really afford a full course of training and instruction, but I suppose much can be done in the time I'll have.
Love is Trust, trust is All
So say Don, Altea, and Bonnie the Wonder Filly.