It’s a challenge we all face (well those of you who ride, anyway). Especially this time of year. Even more so if your horse is coming off 8 months of pasture time. Thankfully this awesome weather is providing lots of opportunities to get out there and re-focus your pony on the most important thing: what you’re telling (asking) them to do.
The past few rides for me have gone along these lines..
1. Pleasant warm up with Mom in the ring playing with Felix.
2. Me being amazed at how well my horse is listening and responding.
3. Feeling like a champ.
4. Other horses leave the ring.
5. Suddenly I become of little importance.
6. Awesome feeling vanishes.
7. The next 45 minutes are spent competing for focus.
This is to be expected. My horse literally hasn’t left the pasture since last August. Who can blame him for being a tad bit herd bound. I’m noticing huge similarities between the horse I bought 5 years ago, the wild eyed 6 yr old who pranced for the first half hour every ride, regardless, and the horse I’ve been working with for the past few weeks. Although, he’s definitely still got some of his discipline. Deep, deep down. It’s very apparent when he’s surrounded by his friends and I’m riding. As soon as you take him out of his comfort zone, though..
Luckily, I’ve learnt how to deal with this. Way back in the day during our trial period with Mr. Willard, I attended a dressage clinic at Pine Ridge. It was a solo lesson, and the Willard I was on was in no way happy about this. I was pretty nervous myself, to be honest. But- what happened over the next hour that day was amazing. By the end of the clinic, he was completely focused on me and not worried about anything else. When we left the ring we had spectators coming up and telling us how amazing the whole process was to watch. I’ll probably never forget that day- as it was the first time we’d seen the potential Will has. What was the magic trick? Constant stimulation. Never letting him take his attention off of me. Even if it meant walking two steps, stopping, walking, stopping, walking, backing up, trotting, stopping, etc. Every time he even thought about taking his focus away, I was responsible for bringing it back. Always questioning him, asking for something. It could be the simplest idea. Like a walk to halt transition. Any kind of transition really. A pivot. A change of direction. Walking in squares, spirals, circles, triangles, you name it. Constant change. A major clue as to where your horse’s focus is? The ears. If they’re pricked forward, he definitely is not concerned about what the small human on his back is doing. Having one ear cocked to the side, or slightly backwards is a positive sign you’re getting somewhere. You can tell a lot from the ears. Another thing I’ve learned over the years working with Will, and similar horses, is that sometimes you just gotta give them a chill out period. After 15 minutes of you constantly picking at them, who can blame them for getting a little annoyed. A few minutes of loose rein time can go a long way, especially with ADHD horses. It also gives you as a rider a chance to relax, too. Because, trust me, rides like this are not always the most fun. It’s also important to know when to push, and when to call it a day. If you’ve won a battle, and your horse is listening to you- doing what you ask, then maybe it’s time to give them a pat and move on. There’s no sense pushing it too far, and opening up a new war that ends up lasting another hour. That’s hard on you and the horse. Be okay with small victories!
Riding isn’t just a physical act; it’s a mind game- 110% of the time. Horses are smart (even though I’ve often found myself muttering the words stupid, ignorant, idiotic when having a frustrating ride), and they can read you like a book. They will find ways to challenge you and try to take the easy way out, at least some of the time. While every horse is different, they will be stubborn, pushy, full of attitude, and be complete asshats- as much as they will be cute, full of heart, compassion, and talent. As Charlene likes to say, “Horses keep us humble”. They can bring out the best in us, if we have the patience to work for it. Nothing worth having comes easy, right?