Although my mom and my sister each have a horse, lately neither of them has had much opportunity to ride. My sister’s horse, Jak, is happily one of those rare horses who doesn’t seem to backslide much even when left standing for long periods of time. He is sometimes a total goofball and maybe a little bit of a punk, but he’s never bad.
My mom’s horse, Rojo, has a rather more complicated history. She got him several years ago and had a few problems with him early on. One major one is Rojo seems particularly prone to becoming buddy sour. Leaving Jak will cause him a lot of a anxiety, which translates into some pretty unpleasant behavior on his part. But the main ‘problem’ is he’s a Missouri Foxtrotter, and no one in my family knows the first thing about gaited horses. My mom thought when she bought him that it would be pleasant to scoot around the trails at the foxtrot. Which I am sure she was right about. However, what we didn’t anticipate is that when Rojo is nervous he often chooses a fast trot or something called a pace over the foxtrot, and none of us really know how to ask him for the foxtrot instead. Sometimes he ends up transitioning between these three gaits rapidly, and when he’s doing this it’s difficult to ride well. This leads to him getting upset and confused while whoever is riding bounces around on his back. This happened enough times he started to get nervous and combative even for tacking.
So for the couple of years, Rojo really hasn’t been ridden. I’ve made a few forays into working with him in various ways, but I’m not home enough to have a real impact. Still, I did get him set up with a fitting snaffle and headstall a while ago, and that seemed to do away with a good chunk of his anxiety. I have also done enough groundwork with him to conclude he really knows his stuff. He just needs some confidence and some consistent handling.
Brian and I had four solid days in Tucson, and we spent time with the horses each day. The first three days we mostly just hung out with Rojo – grooming him, leading him around my parent’s little outdoor arena. He was pretty great with all of this and his inclination towards anxiety has decreased dramatically. So on the fourth day we decided to ride him.
The ride actually went much better than expected. Meryl, Brian and I all rode him for a few minutes each. He seemed actually quite willing to work as long as he knew where Jak was at any given moment. Meryl started out on him, since Rojo knows her much better than Brian and I.
He went pretty great for her, so after a few minutes we switched places. Of course the ‘not my horse’ moment with Rojo is even more noticeable than when I switch between horses of the same breed. Even his walk feels completely alien. He seems to sway from side to side instead of moving forward and back like a non-gaited horse.
We decided to simplify the way we think of his gaits for now, and in hopes of not mico-managing him into anxiety, letting him choose to either trot or foxtrot when asked to go faster. It was interesting both to feel and to watch as he shuffled between trot and foxtrot. When he relaxed and collected a bit, and shifted into the foxtrot, it was very smooth and pleasant. When he wasn’t foxtrotting he was moving into a very high, extended trot. So I just posted when necessary and tried to ride him as smoothly as possible. Towards the end he was moving in the foxtrot more easily and staying in it for longer periods of time.
I also rode Jak a couple of times. He is almost always great for me, and I trotted and loped around bareback for a few minutes each day. He’s so smooth and collected in all his gaits, it’s never any trouble to go any speed on him, with or without a saddle.
Since Jak is so out of condition right now, I didn’t feel it would be very fair to take him out on the trails, but it was fun and interesting to spend some time with different horses.
Horseback hours YTD: 24:40