“You can never rely on a horse that is educated by fear. There will always be something that he fears more than you. But, when he trusts you, he will ask you what to do when he is afraid.”
~ Antoine de Pluvinel (1555-1620), the first of the French Riding Masters
Many of you will recall Rival, my now, 4yo colt. He’s my “project” horse. All horses are individuals, and he is no different. He’s uncertain, sensitive and not even remotely gentle. I have really done a terrible job sharing and chronicling our failures and success — up ’til now.
For the first couple weeks I handled him, it would take me anywhere from fifteen minutes to an hour to even get him to a place where he could be still in my presence.
I was being extremely inconsistent in how I went about helping him.
Lesson #1. An uncertain horse, like Rival, needs all the consistency he can get. It’s like a kid who pushes the boundaries to make sure there are some — be consistent, and let them know there’s something dependable there, and often the boundary pushing goes away.
One day I’d saddle Dino, and haze him into the round pen. The next I might catch him (after an hour of working on controlling his feet) in the big arena. The next I might haze him, on foot (why I did that when I like to ride and have half a dozen saddle horses standing around I don’t know), into the round pen and then rope him. The bottom line was that what I was doing wasn’t helping us progress. I needed to choose a way to catch him, stick with it, and be willing to do what it took to make it better, even if it meant it took all day.
Because Rival is uncertain around people, that adds to his flightiness/inherent need to escape. He doesn’t offer to kick you as he runs by, or stomp you, or strike you, or bite you, but he will squirt out and away from you, and is periodically known to snort when you go to touch him. For about the first three weeks I handled him, you could barely touch him in the middle of the forehead. We haven’t got to a place where he can let down yet, but we are making progress. When he gets comfortable around me, I think the things that scare him now –the rope touching his back legs, and the rope around his belly, and all other manner of things that might end up in his blind spot, will go away. It has taken nearly 3 weeks to get him to a place where he doesn’t feel the need to kick at the flag when it touches his back legs.
Again, that’s something I could have worked through sooner, had I had the confidence/determination to spend the time I needed to spend on it. He’s gotten very good at looking to me to release the pressure, as I spent a lot of time getting him good to rope, as that was the only way I could get him caught for a while. Lesson #2. Be willing to take the time it takes to help your horse get to a better place.
This horse will teach me more than all the other horses I’ve ever handled — combined, as long as I stay in a learning frame of mind.
Lesson #3. So far, I’ve come to the conclusion that I often know the answer to the question, but I don’t believe I do, so I have to go to Zach for validation, or to check to make sure I’m on the right track. I’ve spent a great deal of time with my all horses worried about failing — so much so that I am scared to try new things or try something different to see if that will help them.
Lesson #4. You may know what you need to know in theory, but practically applying it and doing it can only be learned with experience. And from experience comes confidence. Rival is gonna help gain me plenty of both so long as I stay in a learning frame of mind. You cannot fear making mistakes, because if you’re observing, remembering and comparing, making a mistake is going to help you learn.
I’ve got a lot of video to show, and tell, and thought I’d start with this one — mentally hooking him on.
I’m really happy with the way this is coming along.