It’s been just over a week since we picked up Aiden and Oliver, and in that time we’ve worked with them quite a bit. I’ve spent most of that time with Oliver. He is the bigger horse, and when they arrived, he was also the pushier horse. As Robin’s side can still get flared up from doing too much, I offered to work with Oliver.
The first day was interesting. The guys were both inclined to barge into your space as if you weren’t even there. They led poorly, and they were generally more interested in each other and their new surroundings than they were in their handler.
So we worked on that. I started with a lot of groundwork. Moving the hind, moving the front, backing up, moving out and slowing down. I worked for a while with just the rope, then added in some time with the flag, and then went back to just the rope. At times we were both working very hard, but after a few minutes, Oliver started to see the soft things I was offering him. He spent more time looking at me than looking off. These moments didn’t last for super long before I would need to remind him that he should be focused on me, but it was neat to see a change come in so fast.
Our first ride was just so so. These guys were definitely ridden a lot, so they know the drill. But they have not been worked in years. Their feet were long, so we didn’t ride hard. We mostly walked in circles, worked on bending, serpentines, moving the hind and moving the front. Most of the same stuff we did on the ground. Oliver’s worst hangup was with the bit. The slightest bit of pressure on the bit caused him to harden up and retreat backwards very fast. I can only guess that he has had some leverage on him in the past, but I really don’t know. I did not worry about it too much that first ride, I just focused on keeping him relaxed and bending him (he was fine when I would pick up on one rein).
The very next time I brought him in it was like he was a different horse. All his attention was on me, he was able to stand without fidgeting, and he wore an expression that was open and at ease. Groundwork was nothing like the first day. I was able to stay soft and build on some of the things we worked on last time.
Under saddle he was more comfortable as well, though he was still inclined to escape backwards from the bit. This time I decided to really work on that. When we were just hanging out, I would pick up on the reins as light as possible. It was lighter than I’ve ever picked up on a horse. He would still brace and start to go back, but I just moved with him and used my seat to guide him into a circle if we were going to hit a wall, but I never changed my hands. Finally, he started dipping at the poll. Then he’d start doing it without moving his feet.
From there we progressed really fast. We could get soft standing still, backing up, going forward, and in our downward transitions. This didn’t happen with every movement, but it was happening a lot, and if we ran into trouble I could just hang in there until he remembered to get nice and soft. Given his response on day one, I would not think he would come around this fast. It’s been cool to see.
But not all progress is linear, of course. Yesterday we were doing some groundwork before the ride. It was the first time we had brought Oliver in without Aiden. He seemed fine with it at first, but after we tacked him up he was a little agitated and mildly distracted. We worked on all the things I always start with, including some faster half circles, and he started spending more time getting back with me. But one time going in a circle to the left, I asked him to move up to the trot, and he didn’t respond. No big deal, I turned up the volume a bit and he trotted off a couple steps, but then he exploded pretty big. He started bucking and hopping like you see some colts do when they finally realize they have a saddle on their backs and want to get rid of it. He stayed in the same place for a while, then he started to coming towards me. I still had the mecate in my hand, and I just put my arms up and shook them. He stopped immediately and walked right up to me.
Something really got to him. He’s had some tightness in his left side, so I wonder if he trotted off and got kinked up in some way. I gave him a few big pets and then went back to all the same groundwork, but no other issues came up. The ride that day was decent. I could tell he was a little tired from riding every day the past week, so we didn’t do too much. He also showed more signs of being stiff to the left. Walking in a circle that way he’d kink his head so that his nose went out and his poll went in, but the whole head was also generally out of the circle. I’ve never seen anything quite like that. Afterwards we rubbed him down a lot and worked on bending that neck. Our barn manager elicited a few pops from his neck and he really relaxed after those. Hopefully that is all it is.
He’s been a really fun horse to work with, and I’m excited to see how the next couple weeks go for him.