“It is a matter of timing and patience…although it may seem nothing is happening on the surface, there may be profound changes occurring a little deeper.” Buck Brannaman
Earlier this year, Red and I were having some serious struggles under saddle. We were having a couple issues on the ground as well, and we were at a standstill with training. Everything I asked him to do, he either refused or did the opposite. He went back into barn sour mode, and seemed to prefer the pasture as opposed to riding or being with me, which was a complete 180 from him last year. I got on bareback, and he crowhopped out of nowhere and I fell. After that, we had to have some serious time off after I was sick for three months and then he got a case of thrush. Things were even worse when I started riding again. At this point, I was seriously contemplating finding someone to lease him. Selling him was never really a huge option. I was frustrated and felt like we were getting no work done, instead, we were taking so many steps back I lost count. After consulting with a vet and my farrier to see if any of his bad behavior was pain related or from saddle fit or anything like that and finding out that, nope, he’s fine and just being a jerkface (sorry, Red.) I was even more frustrated. He didn’t listen to a thing I asked. He wasn’t going any further. Then, Zippy came along, and attacked him, and he ended up having another almost 4 weeks off after that while he healed and I had to go out of town. I was also going through some bad fear, and didn’t want to get back on my horse after what happened with Zippy and my mother.
Needless to say, my mother wasn’t pleased, got back in the saddle before I did, and told me what was what. I got back on, bareback, and sat. We repeated this a few times until she forced me to go move my horse around and do something, and I did. The first few rides were mediocre but okay. I finally tacked back up, and we started some work back. I realized a few things, saw some things I needed to improve, and learned how to ask him for things differently. On the surface, it felt like we were just sitting in the same place, just like it felt like we were getting worse and worse earlier in the year. I wasn’t as angry as I had been, or threatening to lease him out, because I realized that I was holding him back and not giving him the chance to do good. I wasn’t riding well, I was defensive, and constantly expecting him to spook. I didn’t believe in my horse, or myself. I watched a few training videos, read a bunch of blog posts, and talked to a few people. I started riding less defensively, and relaxed, and I saw the big changes that he’d really been trying to make but I was forcing it back.
Ever since then, ever since I started letting my horse get through and stopped pushing him back, we’ve had nothing but good rides. We’ve had some moments where he’s been a little too fresh, but instead of letting out my inner terrified beginner rider, I’ve pushed it back and rode it out. And what’dya know, I haven’t died or ruined my horse. Amazing. Shocking.
I’m pushing myself outside of my comfort zone and not letting my head get in the way of achieving riding goals and getting somewhere with my horse.
I tacked up yesterday and decided to do some roping. First time I’ve roped off of him, his first time being roped off of in years. I was a little unsure of how he’d do with the rope swinging around, so after I tacked up, I stayed on the ground for a moment, showed him the rope, swung it around over him and once I felt good about his reactions I hopped on. He was a bit fresh, so I did some flexes, he gave his head almost immediately and got soft, and I was able to mount. Rode up to the round pen and he saw the hay bale and cow head, he perked his ears and was pretty unsure about the whole thing. I walked him closer, he’d spin as quickly as he could and tried running back home. I backed him, pushed him back, he spun again, I turned him again, talked to him and walked around the round pen for a moment and he finally walked through the gate and allowed us to close it and ease up closer on the offensive object. I did circles around it until we got closer and closer and finally had him nose to nose with it.
Once he was calm enough, I stood him behind it, and let him feel my rope on his neck, ears and hindquarters. I slowly started swinging at his side, then I’d drop the rope loudly on the ground and slowly coil it back up. None of which bothered him in the least. I started swinging over my head slowly, and roped the head a few times at a standstill until I felt like he was ready to start walking on towards it.
We eventually advanced to a jog towards it while I roped it. He calmed down extremely quick and had his ears either perked up the entire time or slightly back to listen to me, very much in tune to everything I was asking. I love how soft he’s getting, slowly but surely. He’ll back up with the lightest of pressure and move back off with light pressure. If you follow me on Instagram you can see some video of him backing, jogging and while I was roping off of him.
I decided to end on a good note with the roping and recoiled my rope and hooked it to my horn after about 15 minutes. I asked him to back up from the bale, then move into a jog to make a quick round around the pen before calling it a day.
I plan on tacking up again soon, maybe this evening, before the rain comes back again. I have a couple little things I want to work on like getting him a bit more supple at the walk and trot, and I plan to start working on his canter soon as well.