Trail rides are training rides.

When I got Baron I didn’t realize how important trail riding would be to our training. My barn doesn’t have an arena and I thought I wouldn’t be able to progress without one. I’ve found the opposite to be true. All the trail riding we’ve done is how Baron started to muscle up and get really fit. Trail riding also varied his routine so that we weren’t always trotting in circles, not to mention calming him down and getting him used to all sorts of terrain. He can walk, trot and canter on the trail without going nuts and he’s fun to ride, a very enjoyable and athletic horse. What I originally thought was a negative about my barn has turned out to be a huge positive for my riding.

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My plan for working with Thunder is to do mostly trail rides and mix in some flat work. We’re light years away from jumping anything, not because he can’t do it, but because we have so much ground work to lay first.

This is Thunder after our ride. I think he's well built. Big quarter horse butt!
This is Thunder after our ride. I think he’s well built. Big quarter horse butt!

Thunder and I had a really good ride today with some big improvements. We rode alone on the trail and in the huge vacant lot. My only goal was relaxation. He gets nervous when he doesn’t understand what I’m asking him to do. Today I wanted him to learn that his only job right now is to chill out. We walked most of the ride and mostly on a totally loose rein because I wanted him to feel free to lower his head.

At the vacant lot we did some simple flat work- big circles and straight lines- mostly at the walk. I wanted the ride to be slow and subtle. I would pick a point and ride to it with the straightest line we could manage. When he veered off, I used my seat to bring him back. He was listening really well and being responsive to those light aids. I want him to know that I’m not going to be yanking on his mouth and pulling him around. I want him to be ridden with some finesse. He’s such a willing horse; he deserves a thoughtful rider. I was hoping he would stretch down and about halfway through, he did. He did some good long stretches, neck to the ground even. That’s a good sign!

I French braided his mane. This is what we would do for shows, I guess, because he has a long, beautiful mane and I don't want to cut it!
I French braided his mane. This is what we would do for shows, I guess, because he has a long, beautiful mane and I don’t want to cut it!

We did a teeny bit of trot work, but he gets really anxious about it so I kept it short. I added the tiniest bit of leg, he cantered, I half halted, we ugly trotted around a few times. As soon as he gave me a few steps of rhythmic, calm trot, we turned around and headed for home. I want him to learn that he’s working way too hard. He doesn’t always have to canter! All I need from him at this stage of the game is a nice trot. I really can’t exaggerate to you how bad our trotting looks right now. It is FUGLY.

On the way home, he was perfect. He lowered his head and was actually working correctly for once! I didn’t ask him to do anything except walk and relax, and he was in his long and low groove all the way back to the barn.

Sometimes when I ride and it’s going really well, I’m tempted to ask for one more thing, one more little request. I’ve learned to have a goal in mind for the ride and quit when I get it. If I don’t get it, I get something positive and then I quit. I like rewarding the horse for a job well done rather than continuing to pester him for one more thing. Baron has always been happy and willing in our work and I think it’s because it’s been so low pressure. I make small goals, he gives me what I ask for and we go back to the barn for a treat. It’s a win-win. He never gets overwhelmed or feels pressured, and I have a horse that’s a pleasure to ride.

With Thunder I can see that the key to unlocking his potential is in telling him he’s okay over and over again. As in, “You can walk and stretch and chill. You don’t have to canter full speed ahead all the time.” We’re going to ride trails and trot hills and chill out and have a good time together. Once he figures out that I’m a soft, considerate rider, I think the rest of the pieces will fall into place. He’ll learn to carry himself, he’ll get fit and he’ll turn into a hunter. Brick by brick, piece by piece, we’ll lay a good foundation and he will turn into the prettiest little children’s horse you ever did see!

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