Finally! A Ride!

Baron’s leg is healed up now so I can start riding him again. I was supposed to have a riding lesson this morning with a new trainer, but the ring is a mud pit from all the recent rain. We re-scheduled for next week. I decided to take Baron on his first ride down the road to the trail head. The trails were too muddy to go on, but I figured I could at least take him out for a short ride on the road. Keep in mind that I have been walking him down this road lately, but I had never ridden him on it.
I tacked up and took him to the round pen for a little lunging. I always do this so that if he needs to get some excess energy out, he has a chance to do it before I’m on his back. Then we started off down the road. A couple cars came by and he had no reaction. The German Shepherd and Chihuahuas sounded their alarms and rushed the fence, and got no reaction. His pasture buddies came to the fence to say hello, and this time he ignored them. No head tossing, no pawing the ground and no little dance. Improvement already!
As we came to the trail head, there was a little hill. He went down with no problem. I rode him along the dry part of the trail, and he shied a little as we came to a mud puddle. I had no intention of making him go through the mud puddle because I didn’t want to get his leg wet where the cut was. However, I didn’t want to let him think he could shy away with no consequences. I turned him back toward the puddle and asked him to “Whoa,” not to go forward into the puddle, but to stand still without trying to flee. He was not great about this; he wanted to get the hell out of Dodge. We had a little war of wills where I would ask him to stand still facing the puddle and he would try to turn and head out the way we came. I learned this approach from Julie Goodnight, one of the trainers whose shows I watch. She says that when a horse faces something new and scary, the goal of the rider is to encourage curious, investigative behavior and discourage the natural flight response. Baron and I turned in circles a few times, with him trying to flee and me asking him to stand still. When he finally gave in and stood still, I let him turn around and leave the trail.
I watch a lot of Pat Parelli’s training shows, and I’m always impressed by his ability to bring out the willingness in a horse instead of forcing the horse to comply. I want to give Baron a positive experience so that he is a willing partner. Another trainer, Tom Dorrance, said that the goal of horsemanship is to deal with your horse in such a way that he would rather be with you than anywhere else, whether you’re on his back or not. That is definitely my goal with Baron.

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