How do I tell if I had a good ride with Buckshot? What are the factors that I use to evaluate our riding sessions, or our sessions together?
Ideally, I want Buckshot to have good energy in him, a sense of willingness and responsiveness, to seem to enjoy our exercises and patterns, for him to feel a sense of pride at the end of the ride, that he “did well” and if possible, for me to feel that I rode well and did some skill better than in the past. I revisited my definition of a “great ride” because this past weekend, we did not have great rides. On Saturday, he had low energy, and would demonstrate a good, energetic effort on one pattern, but not on the next. At times, just getting him to walk forward was difficult. The weather was pleasant, and the footing was pretty good, with a few rain puddles in the arena. Then, during a trail ride after our arena work, he stumbled quite a bit and seemed uncomfortable in his feet. He had been trimmed the week prior and the BO said several horses were feeling this way, since the ground is quite hard due to lack of rain.
On Sunday, he seemed similar – low energy, followed by a burst of energy, followed by wanting to stop or walk slowly – in the arena. The weather was pleasant and the footing was good- moist dirt/sand in the arena. We even tried some lateral work, where I pointed him in a straight line, held one leg out to the side (opening this side) and touching him on the opposite haunch, with the word “side, side, side.” I have been using this word with him on the ground, trying to get his back legs to cross over. Well, after gamely trying this lateral work, I burst out laughing, and told Buckshot I had no idea if he had done it or not! I told him he should never fear doing lateral work with me because I can’t tell at all if it is working! But I’ll take whatever effort he gives me as a huge success! How funny- to try it and not be able to tell if it is working! Really I was laughing at myself! And laughing while riding just feels so spontaneous and fun! Sometimes I just need to laugh, so I don’t take myself so seriously.
As other riders made their way into the arena, I decided to try and ride Buckshot down the road to the hay field. Well, we got to the start of the road and he was not going to do it. He turned around, he skittered, he stumbled on the rocks (it is a rocky area, and his feel were quite sensitive), he moved away from the road in another direction, but he didn’t feel happy about any of it. So I dismounted and tried to walk him down the road. We only got about ten feet down. He stopped and didn’t want to go further. I tried cajoling him, I tried being stern and tapping him with the crop, nothing worked. I even burst out laughing once at the – incongruity of it – my sweet, cooperative (usually), widely experienced trail horse – just didn’t want any part of this journey. So we turned back. And walked calmly back to the round pen, and rode there for a few minutes. Again, he didn’t have much energy or interest.
By this time, the other riders had left the arena for the hay field, so I took Buckshot back to the regular arena and we did more patterns and exercises. Shortly, another boarder came up with her horse and we decided to go on the trail. Buckshot did okay, but was again stumbling a bit more than normal on the roots and rocks. We ended the trail ride by walking back to the barn, on the road, the very same road he doesn’t want to go down, in the other direction. He did fine, staying on the edge of the road where the footing is soft (sending me through every single branch, leaf and brush above him!). We ended our ride and I gave him praise and carrots for his efforts.
I am a bit flummoxed over the situation of leading him down the road. I don’t understand why last weekend we walked a good distance, but this past weekend he didn’t want to go on it at all. I don’t know if this is regression, or if it will change from time to time. But I can’t force him. I want him to feel safe about it, and somehow he doesn’t feel safe. Or maybe his feet were much more sore than I realized and he just couldn’t bear the road’s rocks. This feels like one of those dilemmas that I don’t know if I should be stern and unyielding, requiring him to trust me and go where I ask him to go, or if it takes finesse and compassion on my part. I wonder if I should introduce treats and induce him to feel better about the road. Hmmm, I’ll just have to see, next weekend…..
On another topic, I saw the movie Secretariat this past Friday with my sister and several other horse lover friends. I thought it was a wonderful movie – very inspiring, very suspenseful, and a very impressive horse. To watch Secretariat run the Breeder’s Cup races so commandingly was breathtaking. I thought the human characters in the movie were pretty good overall. His owner, Penny Chenery, was inspirational in the choices she made and the financial risks she took. The moment in the movie I most remember was when the trainer said to her that she was a wonderful owner for Secretariat, and I was touched by that, coming from a rather brusque trainer. Overall, I give the movie a big thumbs up!