Borrowing Fitz

Novels for Horse-Lovers

The Tipped Z Ranch books feature fictional stories but real horsemanship.

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The weather has mostly cooperated the last couple of weeks. That has meant we’ve been able to manage consist light rides. I have ridden every single day in June so far. (Three days! ) And even though conditions didn’t allow riding for the first half of May, I managed nine rides in the latter half of the month. It is almost is starting to feel like riding horses is something I do again.

But Steen is definitely not a youngster anymore. I’ve been keeping our rides light and easy with at least ten minutes of walking before progressing to anything faster. We haven’t cantered at all this year because last year he was hit and miss in that gear. I figure we’ll test it out after his fitness has improved to stack the deck in our favor.

But even with how careful I’ve been, Steen seemed dull and low energy when we rode on Wednesday. I thought he might have tired himself out stamping at flies so I put his fly boots on after that ride. Then we rode on Thursday and he seemed better but still just not inclined to move any faster than I was asking. While that is a good quality in a horse, it is really not Steen’s MO when he’s this rusty.

Today (Friday), Brian couldn’t sneak out of work in time to make fitting in a ride possible. It was a beautiful day, though. While work is as busy as ever for me these days, I have realized that one perk of being my own boss is I can work whenever the heck I feel like it. I’d rather ride during the day and work late than not ride.

So I wanted to get out there. But while I’ve been doing consistent light groundwork with Roland again, I have no plans to actually get on his back again until we have the round pen. I felt like Steen could really use a day off. So I asked Brian if I could borrow his horse.

I haven’t written much about Fitz. This is partly because I have not been blogging but also because I’ve honestly had very little to do with him. He just turned seven and we’ve had him for two and a half years. He came into our lives mere months before everything started to shift. He arrived, Nevada left, and for the first time since we had Steen and Bear, Brian and I each just had our own horse and that was it. We had thought we’d probably pick up another project before long but then we moved the horses and COVID happened and our house got destroyed and we moved twice. In the time we’ve had Fitz, we’ve been riding a lot less than the years before. So when we do ride, Brian rides Fitz and I ride Steen.

That’s not to say I haven’t ridden Fitz ever. I was the first one on him when we test rode him. And a couple times at the old place he was having some weird behavior and I hopped on to see if I could help narrow down the source of the problem. (Rain rot, turned out.) But I don’t think before today I had ever just gone out with the intention of riding Fitz as my primary objective for the day.

So I was kind of excited. Fitz is a lovely horse. He’s sort of the holy grail as far as stock horses go. He’s friendly. He’s easy to handle. He’s mellow but not dull, athletic but not feisty. He’s also really good looking. He’s a super rich buckskin color right now and he was literally glowing while I brushed him down. I groomed him and threw my saddle on and led him out into the pasture to ride. We did a little bit of groundwork and then I climbed on.

My first realization was that I have gotten a lot less used to riding horses who aren’t Steen. I rode Roland a few times last year. But Roland is almost as green as green gets. He does not yet have the faintest grasp of the idea that legs can mean something other than “go faster.” He sort of yields to the bit sometimes … ish. He’s pretty okay about going forward with a rider on his back but that’s about the extent of what he knows about being ridden.

Fitz was decently well broke when we got him and Brian has spent the last couple of years bringing him along. Still, though, my first few minutes aboard did not feel graceful. I was sending signals that Fitz wasn’t picking up on at all while he (perhaps understandably) gently but persistently angled for a line that would lead him back to his buddies. I felt like we were yelling at each other in languages that share a common root, like French and Spanish, and sort of getting a few things right but mostly just talking past each other.

One thing I’ve been thinking a lot about with Steen lately (since he’s really out of shape and rusty and that is not his fault at all) goes back to an idea I’ve encountered usually with regards to starting colts. Which is that the first thing you want to do when a horse knows nothing is get him moving forward with confidence (rather than bucking or balking). And once you’re doing that, you want to start influencing the feet. And while you can do that in many different ways, the graceful choice isn’t to try to stop the horse and turn it around. It’s to go with the horse as he moves and work to influence the feet without picking a fight.

Fitz isn’t a colt and he’s not green. But he’s not used to a lot of different riders these days either. Instead of just yelling at him louder in French, I wanted to find a way to start speaking Spanish.

So we worked on the basics. Fitz stops on a dime every time you stop your seat (something Steen only does when he’s at his most dialed in). So that’s very different. He’s a lot less sensitive than Steen but he’s not dull. Once I got with him a little, I was able to start figuring out how he moves. Then I started riding better. That led to less noise in our communication. I focused extra hard on feeling his feet and using my body to influence where they were going. Soon, he started understanding me better.

We went on to have a really nice, relaxing ride. We walked and trotted around the pasture until my right knee started to  hurt. (It has bothered me while riding horses since I was a kid and some horses aggravate it more than others.) I thought about a canter but decided there was nothing to be gained. So we wrapped things up.

As I led Fitz back up to unsaddle and brush him down, I couldn’t help but think about how differently my younger self would have approached this ride. When I was in my teens and early twenties, mostly the only way I knew to handle horses was to manhandle them. Certainly I never would have missed the opportunity to canter, regardless of how well I was communicating (or, more likely, wasn’t) with the horse I was on.

I guess everything changes. I’m older now. I like to think I’m wiser. I put Fitz up, did some groundwork with Roland, gave Steen his supplements, turned the herd out, and mucked the dry lot. And then I drove home happy.

Woh! Hey, look at you reading this entire post!

That's a bit of an accomplishment in our attention-deficient age. Kinda makes me wonder if you like to read things that are even longer than blog posts? Like ... books?

If so, you're definitely our kind of person. Which means you might enjoy a horse-centic read? Click here to read a free sample of, A Man Who Rides: a novel about horsemanship and love.

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5 months ago

I’ve spent most of my life riding one, or at most two, horses for long stretches of time and it’s always a bit of a shock the first time I get on a “strange” horse. I remember the first time I rode Jessie last year; she was so big and wide and had such big, confident strides. (She’s not really that big, people used to say that she was kinda small for polo, but compared to Trekker, she was huge!) It makes sense, but it still surprises me how much we get “tuned in” to a specific horse (and them… Read more »