When the colts and fillies first arrive in the round pen they mostly want to run away from me. I encourage this. I make the kiss sound, which they quickly interpret as a go forward cue. I use a lounge whip, which I rarely touch them with; waving it around is more than enough to get their attention. When I put the whip in my left-hand the horse learns to move to the right; when I put the whip in my right hand the horse moves to the left. When we first start there’s a panicked, “Get me out of here!” response. But gradually in the first round penning it turns into a learning session. They learn directives: turning, halting, moving out, standing quietly for grooming, picking up feet, and saddling.
At first most of the time is spent asking the horse to go around and around. As the lessons continue less time is spent with round penning and more with physically handling and riding the horse. This is our third session and we’re already spending a lot more hands-on time.
Today was my fourth day of training Rocky. These four lessons have been stretched over a month. April 23, May 15, May 24, and today, May 26. I usually am able to start training around the middle of May. This year there was a dry spell in April, but the day after our first lesson it started raining and it is still borderline too wet. The problem with the wet ground is that it adds another tension for the horse plus the danger of slipping and falling if the horse has a cowboy moment. Consequently, I really started regular training on the 24th.
Though spread out over a month Rocky has clearly learned from every lesson. Today we took our first trail ride. I led him out down our quarter-mile driveway to the County road and jumped on bareback, using a bosal for a bridle. We basically just walked home but I halted him about every 50 feet and turned him both ways in order to give him some instruction about what the reins are for. He was very heavy; turning left was nearly impossible
Today was like other days with just a little more riding time than the day before. First we round penned. Then I brushed him. Though he seemed ready to stand as I was putting the saddle on, he ran away from me. I lounged him some more. After a few rounds he was ready to stop and stand. I talked friendly to him the whole time I was putting the saddle on. When I tightened the girth he turned his head toward me, almost like he was cinchy, but he was not putting his ears back or threatening to bite me. Nevertheless, I watched him.
I round penned with the saddle on for a few minutes. I long reined by tying a rope to the bosal and doing figure eights in the round pen. He is doing pretty well at ground driving. I took the saddle off and took him out of the round pen. When we got to the driveway, I jumped on his back and we took a 20 minute trail ride. On the way back we practiced stopping and turning, both directions. I pull as light as I can and as heavy as I need to be. This is a very important principle. A horse will become heavy according to how heavy your hands are. Tonight I attempted rein back. I pushed him into the reins. As he attempted to move forward into the reins he felt the reins and stepped back two steps. We did this exercise three or four repetitions.
As we got close to home, he started to show a little impatience by tossing his head and pushing a bit. I didn’t want to obey his nagging but neither did I want to aggravate more than I needed to. I just kept the lesson going a little past his comfort zone to teach him patience.
Today I put the saddle on Rocky, who was so relaxed and comfortable with it that I decided to take our trail ride with a saddle. We did not leave the training pen but just rode around its perimeter and accomplished figure eights around the barrels. We practiced backing up. I kept it to two or three steps back. I didn’t want him to become irritated by it and freeze up. He did very well. After 10 or 15 minutes I could feel him starting to get impatient and perhaps a little irritated but I pressed him to keep going another 5 minutes or so.
Rocky Day Seven
Today when I put him in the round pen, he stood quietly and waited for the saddle. After I put it on, I asked him to trot around me both right and left. He was calm and pleasant. I introduced a snaffle bit. I left it on for 5 minutes but didn’t attempt to give him any direction with it. Then I took it off and put on the bosal again. I long-reined him for a few minutes. I tightened the saddle and notch, and mounted. We rode out into the training pen and rode around the barrels. When I asked him to back up, he did it admirably, lightly, and as many steps as I wanted, like a pro.
So far I have kept Rocky at a walk when I’ve been on his back. Tomorrow we will try a trot.