My goal is to ride Thunder 2 or 3 times a week, 4 if I’m lucky. He needs a lot more work than I initially thought, but I love this stuff! I love laying the foundation and getting the basics correct. Thunder is a funny horse. When my kids are on him or when I’m on him and walking with a loose rein, he’s perfect- relaxed, forward and happy. As soon as I add leg, he’s a mess. Head comes up, he gets nervous, he kinda loses his shit. Not in a panicky way, like he’s going to run off with me, more like he’s scrambling to figure out what I want. He tries a canter, then a fast trot, then he gives up and walks. I feel bad for him; he’s just trying to figure out what his new job is.
My number one goal right now is relaxation. He hasn’t been ridden in a while, so he needs to get more fit, but that’s secondary. If he’s not relaxed in his work, he’s using all the wrong muscles and moving backward in his training. We walk a lot on a loose rein so that he can stretch and move out without being high headed and nervous. Today we walked over trot poles to get him to pay attention to where he’s putting his feet and hopefully to start building some muscle in his back. As you can see from the picture, he was relaxed and essentially perfect. Eventually we’ll trot over the poles, but that’s a ways off. I want him relaxed in the trot before I complicate it for him.
Then my kids rode him bareback with the “reins,” just a leadrope attached to the halter, to let them practice holding the reins without pulling on his mouth. I don’t even have to hold on to him. He just follows me around and walks calmly for the kids. It’s like he instinctively knows his job is to pack them around and not dump anybody off. My kids are thrilled and it’s easy work for Thunder.
After the kids rode, I hopped on for maybe 5 minutes. It might have been three minutes. We walked over the poles and then I lightly added leg. Of course he went straight into a canter (which I rode bareback without falling off, I’m happy to report) and when he gave me a few trot strides, I got off immediately and took him back to the barn for a snack. At this stage in the game, I want to reward him for the tiniest successes, and I want him to have a clear reward for trotting. He trots, he gets to quit working.
Working with horses is slow going sometimes. I’ve learned from Baron to be thankful for even miniscule improvements and to be generous with praise and rewards. Horses aren’t mind readers. I’m sure much of what we ask them to do doesn’t make sense to them in the slightest. “Why on earth would you make me walk through that death trap of a mud puddle?” “We’re trotting in circles? Again?!?” We have to be patient with them and realize that they couldn’t care less about ribbons and toplines and gymnasticizing. They want to eat and roll and hang out. I want my horses to enjoy their work, to be rewarded clearly and often, and to go to work with happy and willing attitudes. I want it to be a win/win.