My plan for this post was to describe a typical training routine with Samarra and Lokey, but today was not quite a typical day due to the breezy weather.
I caught Samarra first. She was easy to catch and on the way to the training pen but she was afraid of the gates I led her through and overly interested in our stallion, Titan, when we walked past his pen. I spent 10 minutes getting the burdocks out of her mane. She was patient and affectionate. She stood for the grooming, her feet picked and the saddling in the round pen with no restraint. I used a snaffle bit and drove her around the pen with long lines. So far, all this is preflight ritual preparation for the ride.
I threw my leg over her back and mounted. Immediately she hunched her back and moved as if to buck. I held her firm, stroke her neck and talked calmly to her until she relaxed. She hadn’t done this since the first time I rode her so I carefully dismounted and took her saddle off and looked for something that was irritating or under the blanket. Everything was clear so I put the saddle back in place and mounted. She acted the same way. This time I didn’t get off. Again I stroked her neck and calmly spoke to her. She walked awkwardly for several minutes. I open the gate of the round pen from her back and rode her out into the training arena.
As we traversed around the pen she walked nervously attempting intermittently to trot, which I did not allow. She was wired up, stiff and wary. Last night we had a bonfire which was still smoldering. When she saw it she panicked and tried to run away. I was able to hold her. However, I was not able to get her to go past the smoldering fire. We eventually took a detour and got back to the south end of the pasture. We went around the perimeter of the training pasture several times. She calmed down a little each time but she stayed stiff and heavy on the bit the whole time. I dismounted at the north end amongst all the scary stuff, including the smoldering fire. I was curious to see if she would still be afraid without me on her back. She wasn’t. She only looked at all the things that she’d been scared about as if they might at any moment turned back into the monsters they had been when I was riding her. I got on again; her fear returned.
She was finally able to get close to all the scary things with me on her back. My normal regimen is to walk, halt, backup, half–pass or shoulder in, trot and turn right and left. Her head wasn’t in it. She was too worried about all the scary stuff at the north end to pay attention to my cues. One interesting thing is she was able to full–pass and half–pass around all the scary stuff very nicely. This seemed to carry over to accomplishing the full pass away from the scary stuff when I asked for it at the other end of the pasture.
You might think that all this fear is irrational but it’s not quite. As I mentioned, it was a windy day. Horses are prey animals. Hearing is a major part of their defense. On a windy day the sounds are camouflaged by the overall noise of the wind through the trees. All horses are affected, some worse than others. For a green horse, a rider is another distraction adding to the stress. Whatever the reason for the horse’s fear, it’s important for the rider to not allow her/himself to get angry or afraid; this will only add to the horse’s stress and validate the bad behavior. The rider’s fear or anger will always bring negative results but eventually with the growing friendship and steady manner of the rider, the horse will vicariously gain peace and solace from him/her. This may seem a little hard to believe for someone who sees a horse as a dumb animal, but I’ve seen and experienced many times the horse adopting the rider’s attitude both ways for peace and harmony or violence and discord. At this point Samarra and I don’t have enough of a relationship for these conveyances, especially of peace and harmony, to be conveyed to full extent Perhaps I’ll gain some trust during the time she’s here, but those communications will come down the road with Samarra and her owner.
Lokey was easy to catch. He was not afraid of the gates. He was not interested in the stallion. All the details in the round pen were similar to Samarra until I got on his back. I could feel that Lokey was also affected by the wind, but when he got to the smoldering fire he momentarily slowed down, snorted at it, but just walked by and never paid any attention to it again. We went through all the training exercises and gradually he seemed to forget about the wind entirely.