Horse Wisdom: Taking What the Horse Offers

Novels for Horse-Lovers

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As much as I learn from people on a regular basis, it is always somehow the horse that provides the ultimate wisdom in the moment the lesson really solidifies.

Two rides on Nevada

I thought I had a great ride on Nevada last Saturday, but Sunday’s left it in the dust. Nevada and I had the kind of day together that leaves me grinning the whole way home. In the outdoor arena, we got great work done at all three gaits, and also continued our work with lateral movements.

The week was busy. We didn’t get out to the barn again until Friday. It had rained, but the footing was ok in the outdoor arena, so we rode out there again.

The herds had just gotten turned out into the big pasture, which is wonderful, but this kind of change often gives rise to a little extra energy. When I got on Nevada on Friday, she was the most distracted she’d ever been outside – really wanting to stare at the horizon and the horses on the distant hillside. When we worked at the trot, it was the first time I ever felt her get a little forward, ahead of me, and unbalanced. So we worked on circles (always useful) to balance her back out and after a little while she really settled. The ride wrapped up beautifully.

Just before the horse wisdom started flowing

Saturday, it rained the entire day. Like, relentlessly. While we do have an indoor arena, when it’s actively raining it gets so loud with the water falling on the metal roof it’s pretty unpleasant in there. Multiple times Brian and I have rallied our enthusiasm on such days only to sort of end up wishing we’d stayed home. So we just skipped riding.

This morning things were still dreary, but we headed out early in hopes of beating another storm. We found the horses pretty happy to come in. Things were too sloppy everywhere to ride anywhere but inside.

Sometimes, an indoor ride hits the spot

Tacking up, Nevada flinched when cinched. Last year right around the period when she got explosive, she got super touchy about her girth area and flanks. So we rubbed her around there and she seemed fine. I’m pretty sure Piper is in heat, and while I haven’t seen as much direct evidence with Nevada, we did think there was some connection to her trouble last year and her cycle.

She was fine with groundwork, so I got on, though she had another little moment of flinching when I touched her girth again. I explored the region more, and again she didn’t seem bothered. As soon as I was on board, though, she felt more unsettled than I’ve ever felt her. When I’d barely nudge her with my calf to ask her to step over, she’d wring her tail. She didn’t want to move out at first — another behavior that preceded her bolting and bucking melt-downs with Brian last year. So I was pretty ready for things to get Western.

At the same time, though, I really didn’t want to push her back over that edge. Steen has been Nevada’s safety net since the day Brian got on her back for the first time, so we started off sort of following Steen and Brian around a little. Once she got going, she really wanted to keep moving. Brian suggested we practice some turnarounds when she got ahead.

Playing at training

So we played a super slow motion version of “playing cow.” When Nevada got ahead of Steen, Brian would stop and step Steen’s front around. I’d asked Nevada to do the same. Steen loves these games and gets super motivated by them. Nevada had never played one before. She got the idea quickly, and soon was giving me very light, fluid turnarounds, mirroring Steen. For a while I thought I’d misread all the signs, and she was totally fine.

We did that for a little while, then took a break. She spooked a minute later, hopping into the trot from a standstill when the wind gusted through the door. I was so ready for her to explode I just grabbed my nightlatch and settled in, but she only trotted about half a lap. I was able to softly bend her to a stop without further trouble.

We worked on more walking, bending, etc. for quite a while, and things stayed on edge. She was bothered by one end of the arena and by being on the rail. She prefers to watch the world out her left eye, so going in circles to the left she kept sagging through my leg and counter bending. At one point I decided I was one more sign away from getting off and doing more groundwork.

But then, things turned around

Nevada hopped into the trot of her own volition again when we were by the door. I decided just to take the trot and do some good with it. We trotted all over the arena for many minutes. Where I could get with her, I did so. Where I couldn’t, we just worked on finding something positive – some yield, some give, some try. She came down bit by bit. Steen is like this also. Sometimes when he’s all wound up and full of anxiety, the best thing is to just let him move out. None of our other horses have ever been quite the same. Many of them get more anxious if turned loose when troubled.

Today, though, it did the trick with Nevada. Our “togetherness” got more consistent. Soon I was able to start working in some lateral movements. Shortly after that, she remembered about my leg in left turns and not collapsing through it. After she settled, she was lighter to my legs than I’ve ever felt before.

Horse Wisdom: Nevada Style

After about 50 minutes had gone by, the trouble was a thing of the past. It’s the perfect illustration of the kind of scenario I would have “gotten wrong” a few years ago. I used to think a nervous and distracted horse needed to be shut down, their attention brought back to me this instant at any cost. Because of this, I picked more than one fight that only achieved the opposite.

A year or two ago, we watched a few Joe Wolter videos that made such an impression on me. He was working with a couple really young, really energetic, really just-this-side-of-explosive mares. And he just kept talking about how you can take all the energy and you can oppose it or bottle it up and then you have a rough time and the horse has a rough time and if you’re lucky you don’t do any lasting damage. He said he preferred to take the energy and use it, and I was surprised at the number of little behaviors he didn’t try to correct at all — things I’d heard many trainers put in the category of “you can never, ever, let a horse get away with this.” Because obviously horses who “get away” with these things turn into unruly monsters.

Nevada Wisdom Coming Through

I’ve been thinking about this idea of taking what the horse can give for a long time, but I don’t think I’ve ever had quite so clear an illustration of how well it can work. I’ve no doubt Nevada and I could have had our worst ride ever today. But we didn’t. We actually had a great ride. By the end, all of the trouble was gone. She was soft, focused, lively, and happy. I was happy too. I never kicked, yanked, whacked, spurred, whipped, or got angry. I’m particularly encouraged by the way she held it together the couple times she got really close to the edge.

If this is Nevada on a bad day, I think we’re going to continue to get along just fine.

Horseback Hours YTD: 42:25

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No idea if it's related, but I've noticed Trekker tends to get really sensitive around the girth area in the spring when he's shedding. He's always been a really skin sensitive horse though. I hear you on situations you would have "gotten wrong" in the past though. I was always taught the dominance thing in horse and dog training when I was a kid, and it's been a tough habit to break. And I still do get it wrong from time to time, but less often than before. Interestingly enough working with parrots has been the thing that's really driven… Read more »