First of all, I’ve actually been riding some of the horses at the Ranch, in spite of the fact that they’re “green,” and I've done well. Jay has been complimenting me on my willingness to get on these horses and ask them for a quick response—and to get it. That’s huge, for me! Actually, come to think of it, that’s pretty huge for anyone who’s not a long-time horseman ... and maybe for some folks who are.
I even rode “Duke,” a stubborn little Connemara pony the other day. He's been ridden quite a bit by his previous owner, but the little stinker has little or no stop, not much backup, and his lateral controls don’t work super well. However, he does a one-rein stop and, once he’s sure you’re not going to give in to him, he steers fairly well. We walked, trotted, did figure-eights, and worked on improving the “whoa.” I had a great time (and I think he did, too, though he’d never admit it). By the time we quit, he was doing those figure eights at a trot and moving almost entirely off my seat and posting cues. Way cool!
Then that same day, I had an amazing experience with the little walkaloosa I’d been riding. He spooked at a piece of paper blowing down the barn aisle as I was backing him out of the arena.
The barn aisle was clear—I had looked before we left the arena. I didn’t see the paper at first, though I knew he was spooking at something. I sure as heck wasn’t going to stop to find out what it was, thereby reinforcing his thought that it was going to eat him for lunch. I just kept asking him to back up—into whatever it was. Then, as the paper blew past him, he levitated—all four feet left the ground—but he carefully did not come toward me. Rather, he went sideways to avoid both me and the paper.
My heart rate didn’t even go up. That’s not something that can be controlled through willpower—but evidently I have gained enough experience to know, in the moment, whether or not I need to be afraid. I never even changed my stance—still with my head slightly forward, eyes and energy focused on his chest. As soon as he landed, we continued backing down the aisle to his stall.
And boy, did he back up like a dream! Head low, moving straight down the aisle, looking neither right nor left. Good boy! He didn’t “recover himself” until we got him backed into his stall—then, feeling secure once more, he challenged me a little bit, but not much.
Jay saw the whole show. His comment, afterwards: “That’s horsemanship!” I was so proud of myself!
Then yesterday at the Ranch I was planning to spend the day writing an article, but Jay grabbed me as soon as I walked in and handed me a horse to check out. “Dancer” is a lovely little mare, sorrel with a flaxen Fabio mane and tail.
I didn’t know it at the time, but this is a mare who has reared and gone over backwards several times since she arrived. She is the first horse I’ve encountered who wouldn’t do the easy yield-and-backup game that we use at the Ranch. She refused, at first, to yield either end! So I spent over an hour with her, getting her to disengage front and hind, and improving her backup. In between practices, we walked through and around obstacles in the arena, which she handled very well, head down and calm as could be.
Jay, who had been working in the round pen with another horse but who has eyes in the back and sides of his head, came over as I finished with her. “I hope you know how proud I am of you! You may not realize what a big thing you’ve accomplished there.” Then he told me about her history.
I felt great about it! And I did realize just how far I’ve come in the last ten or so months. That “Lead Intern” title is well deserved, I guess I have to admit.