I feel like my horsemanship journey over the past year has been incredible. When I bought Thunder, he was about as broken and upside down as a horse can be. I did not know how to fix him. Nothing I learned at hunter jumper barns prepared me for the mess that was Thunder. I started doing research because I needed help. What I found is classical dressage.
I’m not talking about the stuff you see at the big international competitions with $100,000 horses that fling their front legs out like saddlebreds. I’m talking about the classical dressage training scale. It begins with relaxation. Thunder was not relaxed under saddle. He had no idea what I wanted. We started there.
Then I found this guy on YouTube called Will Faerber. His channel is Art2Ride. He has this video on engaging the back that revolutionized my entire life with horses. Why had none of my riding instructors talked to me about getting my horse to move correctly over his back? Why did everybody just say I should slap on a martingale? I started watching every single one of Will’s videos. I saw horses transformed before my eyes. THIS is what I had been looking for! Now I had a road map to follow in fixing Thunder.
For three months all I did was lunge Thunder at the walk and trot. When he started stretching, I started riding him at the walk. A few more months and I could get him to stretch at the trot with me on him. Now I’m a year into training him and I have a horse that has a decent walk and trot. The canter is still a mess, but that’s my next project.
He is a happy horse now. He is relaxed and he trusts me. We still have a lot of things to work on, and by no means is he a finished show horse. But he is so much better than he used to be, and we have a wonderful partnership.
March was AWESOME for Thunder and me. After hardly working at all in February because of the miserable weather, we came back to work in March and made real progress. I’ve started riding him again instead of only lunging. We either ride in the little pasture or we do a big loop that takes us on a residential road and on a trail.
He doesn’t hate the arena work anymore. He actually gets right down to business instead of figuring out how to evade any sort of work. I know he’s gotten stronger and the work is more enjoyable for him now. I do think horses have a sense of accomplishment in their work. They know when they’ve done well when we reward them, and they can sense how proud we are of them. Instead of being a neglected horse with problems under saddle, he’s a loved and pampered athlete in training.
Our biggest accomplishment in March is that Thunder is able to work over his back with a rider. He has a decent working walk now. It’s active and relaxed with lowered head and legs stepping underneath.
He can only stay long and low at the trot for a few strides, but his stamina is improving with every ride. We’re finally getting in sync with each other. I’m staying in balance because he’s staying more rhythmic. He has a NICE trot when he gets going in a rhythm and starts tracking up. Best of all, he doesn’t throw his head in the air during upward transitions. He goes into a trot without a lot of fuss. It was so bad before! He did his horrible canter hop thing and flung his head up every single time I asked for a trot. Now we can do walk/trot without a lot of drama- just a clean, calm transition.
It’s so refreshing! It gives me hope that he can improve and become a beautiful, nicely muscled horse and that I’m not screwing him up even worse! Next month’s goal is to keep building fitness with trail rides and to keep plugging away at the working trot.