Calm, Forward, Straight

Calm, Forward, Straight

Friday, January 28, 2011

In the Arena #48 - Back in the saddle again

There are some days when I think I am going to die from an overdose of satisfaction. Salvador Dali

After nearly a month of bareback only, (have I mentioned how much I love riding bareback?!) I decided to try the saddle again. I think my hips have really benefited from the bareback work as I was able to let my stirrups down a notch. (jumping up and down + clapping!)

The back end of the arena presented our first challenge. It was still one giant puddle /  mud slick due to last weekend's snowstorm melting away. Val showed zero desire to work in that area. I figured this was a great faux trail ride training opportunity. I quietly persisted in asking him to go forward while not allowing him to evade with my legs, and maintaining loose but steady contact through the reins. It took a couple of minutes, but he relented and walked through very calmly and quietly.

Next, we tackled the scary side of the arena near the loud and disturbing neighbors property. The loud disturbing neighbor was in full force, banging and clanging tools, punctuated by hollering at his dog (or maybe his grandchild?)

For our last several rides, Val has been reluctant to ride on the rail in this area. Same strategy here. Quiet persistence and making the desired action easier than the evasion. I caught myself coming of off my seat and twisting in the saddle a few times... my aids were much more effective after I corrected myself. Success. I could feel how my leadership was relaxing and calming to Val - as opposed to my tendency to become frustrated, which always escalates the issues.

I can honestly say that while I intellectually understand why I must refrain from being emotional in the saddle, being in control of my emotions is one of the most challenging aspects of riding for me. I hope that someday practice will make perfect :)

The rest of the ride was a piece of cake. I've been trying to choose one item to focus on for each ride, and today's was keeping my eyes up and softly looking at my desired destination. So often I find myself staring down at Val's neck. When I can achieve this, it is almost like Val knows where I want to go before I even give him a directional aid. We finished up with some nice trot work, weaving through the cones on the buckle and some snappy transitions. We both enjoyed our work today.

After an under saddle rubdown + cookies, we went for a little walkabout - wait for it - out the front gate and off of the property!! I've been thinking Val needs to spend some time on harder surfaces to help toughen up his soles. Today was the day. We mosied down the sandy gravel road, around the bend at the graveyard, and right up to the death dealing corner of knocked over black trash cans. Val hesitated just a bit... I let him approach the cans slowly. With patience and judicious rewards, he dealt with the horse eating wall o' cans like a rock star. We proceeded down the asphalt road a good ways, found some edible grass (!), and turned around for home. On the way back, he even sniffed the trash cans :)

Scary cans are boring now

Since things were going so well, as we headed back past the gate to home, I decided to walk into the woods toward the trail head. A family of deer passed by not ten yards to our left, eliciting some heavy sniffing and a few dance-y steps. We proceeded to the trail head, and onto the trail just a bit. Since all the while Cowboy had been screaming his fool head off, we went back home so he could settle down. I have never been so proud of my horse. What a good boy!!



  1. I think being in control of your emotions is both the hardest thing for all of us, and the greatest benefit we get from horses. Sounds like a lovely ride :)

    Riding doesn't usually phase me anymore - trailer loading! Argh when Dixie does her statue impression at the trailer door I can feel my blood pressure skyrocket and I really have to detach my emotions, breathe deep, be the calm leader, etc.

  2. Sounds like you and Val got in some very beneficial work today. I like how you try and only focus on one thing for your ride and follow through.

    I think it was a great idea to take him for a walk past the scary monster cans and to the trail head. Step by step he'll get used to all the different sights and sounds. Good boy Val!

  3. Great quote!
    Glad to read of your impressive ride. I'm especially wowed by trotting through cones on the buckle. I practice looking where I was to go, but we'd never make it through comes and the trot that way, even if my legs were stronger :)
    Also, good for you for doing so much bareback.

  4. I love you idea of just working on one thing. That is a great plan - and doesn't overwork my already scrambling brain.

    Isn't it amazing that we can just softly look in a direction and intend it and our horse knows!

    Great post ride meandering! Scary trash cans no more. Do you ride out there. That sandy/dirt track into the trees sure looks inviting in the photo?

  5. p.s. don't you just love my "not-awake-morning" spelling errors and punctuation in my comment? Ugh! Sorry!

  6. Great post - love the photos.

    I am reminded of my daughter's training blog for her pony (it had the greatest name ever - Shine On Apache Moon - and she DELETED it w/o my knowing so we lost some really good material that I would have backed up had she only told me she wanted it offline!).

    One of the posts was working with the pony and our huge black and white umbrella, which he was initially terrified of... she did the work and I took the photos. We started with the umbrella lying closed on the ground in the arena, and she first let him investigate it with her on the ground, then they rode in big circles around it, then closer and closer until he was able to walk up to it with her in the saddle and sniff, mouth, and paw it.

    Then we opened it and propped it on its side and did all of the above. At one point he was walking around with her in the saddle dragging the open umbrella with his teeth.

    Finally I took the umbrella and started parading around the arena with it, at first quietly but eventually I was able to twirl it, whirl it, and she was able to ride right up underneath the umbrella with me.

    All of this took place in one longish session, at the pony's own pace, with the entire rest of the herd hanging their heads over the back arena fence - they were totally intrigued with what we were doing.

    Val's sleepy eyes with those trash cans reminds me so much of the series of photos I got that day. Both are a tribute to how easy it is to do this kind of work when the horse in question feels trust and isn't pushed beyond the comfort zone.

    Again, great post, great work!

  7. Ahhhhhh! Sweet Val. I love the trash can photo. I used to ride with a "friend" who made me feel like I was ridiculous for walking my horse through areas that were "scarey" for me or the horse. Poo on her! It's awesome to see the way you loving work things out with Val. You inspire me. :) Who's the Rockstar now?!

  8. Fantastic! You guys sound like two pros. You make it sound so easy. Love the quote too.

  9. An awesome list of accomplishments. Very productive ride!

  10. Just found your blog and love it! Love the photo of sleepy eyes at the Horse-eating-cans testament to your horses trust in you and the work you've done.

  11. Great ride and hand walk...I can so relate to so much of this post!! Especially scary corners and annoying neighbords! lol
    Val is such a beautiful boy! I know I've said that..but honestly, he is!


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