Sunrise is now three and a half..
I have followed a very different way of training her to be an eventual riding horse... beginning with just crawling all over her, and letting her really enjoy, actually desire, the sensations of having me on her back.. while she was lying down and sleeping. Then, when she was around two, I began letting light creatures sit on her while she hung out with me.. chickens.. cats.. my pup.. and eventually one of my students. I didn't tell him that she was "untrained". Of course, none of this was any big deal for her. She accepted it all as her due.. she loves attention and adulation.. and having people sit on her to give her this didn't feel at all of an imposition. It seemed a natural progression for her.
When she was three, I got on and off her a few times, while she was loose in the paddock, just as part of our "love" sessions. She once again accepted it as such.
I told someone at this time that I had an idea to not actually attempt to "train" or "teach" Sunrise to be ridden... but just blend in with her, not oppose her in anything, and follow her lead.
They (despite their very alternative approach to horsemanship) expressed some doubt that perhaps she might just become very willful and uncontrollable. Hmm. Well.. the time hadn't come for real riding anyway..
, so we just continued on our merry way. ONe day, I was riding Brodie and ponying Sunrise. We arrived back at our driveway, and stopped to eat bamboo. I was looking down at Sunrise's back, and suddenly, out of nowhere, I had the desire to slide over and be sitting on it. So I did. She didn't bat an ear, just carried on munching.
She had no idea what any cues meant.. so I just let her eat, and then meander up the drive, leading Brodie, as she desired. That was our first "ride".
Some months later, our second "ride" occured while I was leading her on a walk on the cycle track/road circuit.. a fortyfive minute walk round trip. I had hurt my big toe, and walking wasn't easy. She wanted to trot with me.. OW! So.. once again, with no premeditation, she stepped up to the wall along the canal, I got up, and slid on as she waited for me. Then she walked and slow trotted the kilometre to the end of the road section, where I dismounted and led her through the grass to graze and wander home.
She was so contented, and seemed to totally accept my riding as natural, and in fact sensible, given the situation. I had just a loosely draped lead rope on a halter, but didn't attempt to control her with it. I'd been doing a lot of liberty work, as well as our walks and bike rides, so she responded to my voice commands for a stop. I never felt unsafe, or at risk, in anyway whatsoever, and Sunrise felt as connected and "with" me as if she had been a fully trained horse, in full bridle and saddle... if not more so.
I've thought about this a lot.. It's the "withness" that's so important. I have no fear of Sunrise running off, cantering, galloping, changing direction beyond my control. She may canter, she may gallop, she may change direction, but none of this will present any problem to me, because she is WITH me, she has absolutely no desire to run away from me.. so any running she does, she will be doing with the desire for me to be able to stay with her, and run with her.. from her back. This has been borne out by recent events.
She is also totally sensible in potentially dangerous situations. She knows how to behave in traffic, how to handle a narrow path, what to do when there's something scary to look at.. not because I have controlled her actions, but because she has been exposed to these challenges since foalhood, in a safe progression, and has been allowed the freedom to choose and modify the most apropriate reaction. She doesn't need me to tell her to move over to let a truck go past. It's common sense, which she has developed in abundance.
AFter that "ride" I once again stayed off her for a few months..
Then, I had a few sessions in the round pen at night, when I was inspired to climb on her back, with no gear, not even a halter, and help her to "translate" some of the language of groundwork, into the language of ridden work. This involved just sitting on her, blending in with her movements to let her understand "walk" and "stop" and then "step hind leg under". Each session was only a few minutes, and didn't involve actually "riding".
So, I'd separated the two parts of "riding", kind of like my dad did when I learnt to drive a car.
First I learnt to just steer the car, while sitting on his knee.. no need to worry about all the controls (cues), just stay with is and get the feel for it. This I can like to Sunrise learning to enjoy just having me on her back, and the feelings of moving in different ways with me on her back, without having to be stressed about trying to understand what I wanted her to DO.
Then, when I was a great car-steerer, many years later, it was a simple transition for me to learn, while not actually driving the car.. just stationary with the motor running, how to operate all the controls.. the lights, the blinkers, the horn, the clutch, the brakes the gear stick.. to co-ordinate the various actions.
Finally, I put it all together.. and voila,at the age of fifteen, I was a pretty good and confident, and SAFE driver, without ever having actually "driven" a car.
(My first "real" drive, was in a little old Austin A30, with dubious brakes, and the kind of indicators that stick out from the top of the door.. My boyfriend bought it.. and I had to drive it while he rode his motorcycle..
On my own, an hours drive from one side of Auckland city to the other, up and down hills, on and off motorways, through rush hour traffic.. hillstarts from a red light with no handbrake.. Madness of course.. but possible because all the pieces were already in place.)
This is a similar learning experience to what I want to create for Sunrise. Perhaps not the Auckland city at rushhour with no handbrake part though.
Then I had an "incident" when I decided to get on her at night, when she told me that she wanted to play. I was feeling a little unco after a can of bear.. hahaha.. She did her playful little flip, jump rear leap kick..and some other horses joined in... and I was definitely not up to it. So.. kids at home.. if you are following this how to.. skip this part. She had no ill intentions.. and it was a very interesting realisation for her to understand that I couldn't cope with that kind of playing while riding her, bareback, not even a cordeo, and slightly inebriated.
In retrospect, that could have been so easily avoided by listening to her requests, and obliging her desire to play with me on the GROUND first.. then going to the sitting on her back part.
I began to experiment with turns at that time.. but she wasn't ready for that level of control. I had no gear on her, so there was no way to pressure her into anything, and I couldn't find a way to blend her desire with mine to teach the turn..
So.. I just left things there, after perhaps four five minute sessions. No more "riding" once again for, nearly six months this time.
I began NHE with her.. her fitness level dropped initially. Her tummy sagged and her back bowed...
There was no way I could even sit on her like that.
Just in the last few months, she's regained her fitness again, And, wonders!, has learned to collect a little, and step under herself nicely, rather than waddle like a toddler as she was doing before. I've seen this work magic on her back and posture.
Added together with the fitness work we've done in the last couple of months with daily walks/cycles.. she's starting to look much more like a mature horse, than an ungainly kid.
The two and half weeks at the beach completed the transitions.. as she walked, trotted, cantered and galloped free, for miles every day, and did her exuberant playing, galloping, capriole, levade etc etc.. up and down dunes of loose deep sand.
She was looking quite spectacularly different by the end of it.. with nicely defined muscles in her buttocks, muscling over her loins, a much stronger shoulders and neck, a (slightly!) tucked up tummy, and a beautiful proud strong carriage.
She was telling me, with her actions, her appearance and her emotions, that she was ready for me.
Sunrise and I decided it was timely to do some more riding..
More on this later.. suffice to say though, that Sunrise loves being ridden, and my friends fears that she might turn out to be willful and obnoxious have been completely unfounded. On the contrary, she is willing, joyful, and eager, and began the transition to following me leads with no resistance. When I meet resistance, I blend with her.. or if that's not possible, I just get off.
I should add.. the riding I did was still no more than ten minutes at a time... a number of times over the space of a few days. And now, I will stay off her again for another six months, as we concentrate again on her collection, and growing obedience on the ground.
I want her to process the experience, and remember riding as something that gave her joy and freedom, so that next time we do it, she's yearning for it.. no risk of her becoming tired, sore, frustrated, oppositional and learning to dislike riding, or simply tolerate it.
I had this little thought while we were doing this:
Horse generally DO dislike being ridden. The dislike stems not from actually having a person on their backs.. it comes initially, and mainly, from the "CONFLICT" that arises for them through being ridden.
This conflict between their needs and desires, and the humans will, is what creates the psychic disturbance. So.. even if you make a formerly hurting horse comfortable with riding, train it using positive means, attempt to listen to it, I believe that what you will continue to hear will likely be the reiteration that they don't like being ridden.. Because it dredges up for them the memories of that psychic disturbance. AND.. of course, when we are "really" riding a horse, we do feel compelled to have to impose our will over them.. for safety and practicalities sake. So the psychic disturbance is carried through to the present. I think this is where the "no riding because it inhibits the training" rule comes from in NHE.
However...when you are starting with a young horse who hasn't yet suffered this psychological dilemma between it's needs and our demands.. we are at liberty to choose our situation and method of training, so that we can almost totally avoid the negative connotations.
THEN.. I believe it's very easy for a horse to enjoy being ridden.. even... and
, perhaps even especially "trail" riding.. as this comes closest to the horses natural model of normal activity.. which is most commonly unable to be fulfilled within the domestic environment.