Last weekend I went to see Buckshot Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The weather here was lovely- in the 50’s and 60’s, even a tad warmer on Sunday, sunny, no bad weather in sight. On Friday and Saturday we had great rides. Buckshot is learning the new mounting protocol – of only getting a treat before I mount- and half of the time he is perfect. Standing still while I get on, and staying perfectly still while I get myself adjusted, and he only moves when I tell him to. The other half of the times he forgets that there is no second treat, and will turn around and look for it. But he is learning, and he is better at standing still than he was before this change. Good boy!
On Sunday, an interesting challenge came up. We were riding alone, and during our warm up I could tell he had low energy. It was a bit warmer, and sunnier, so it felt like a spring day, but of course he has his winter coat and so, understandably, he felt a little sluggish. He trotted okay, though. After our warm up, we started walking around outside the arena and I led him to the trailhead to go on the trail. He was a little reluctant but he walked forward and we started down the first section of the trail.
I had to urge him with my legs a few times, but he went on, albeit slowly. After a little ways, he stopped. He didn’t snort, or act agitated, or worried at all. He just stopped. I tried squeezing with my legs and saying walk on. But he didn’t move. Not an inch. I looked around to see if something or some critter was nearby, but the woods were lovely, calm and quiet. I concluded he just didn’t want to go further. He just didn’t. Nothing really was wrong, except for going forward.
So I sat there, and thought. I have lots of techniques for getting a horse to go forward, I’ll just have to use them. I turned him in little circles, and then headed him forward. Nothing. I turned him in circles the other direction. Nothing. I backed him, and he backed up for 5 or 6 strides. Then we moved forward to the exact same spot and he stopped again. I squeezed my legs again, hard. Nothing. Harder. Nothing. I used my crop and tapped him on the shoulder. Walk on. Nothing. I tapped harder. Nothing. Just a horse statue. I tapped him, fairly hard, on his haunches. Nothing. I steered him sideways into the woods, and then back out, and at the same spot, he stopped. Well, I thought, I’m exhausting all of my tools. I know I can’t outmuscle him, and using the crop as hard as I can isn’t going to work. And my legs are getting tired. I couldn’t figure it out. He was very calm, and stubborn. But I was determined. Since nothing was wrong (he wasn’t afraid, or agitated, or worried, or hurt) I wanted us to go forward. But I didn’t have as many tools as I thought I had. So I stopped and thought. I just don’t know. I was a tiny bit irritated at this, but I wasn’t going to get angry, I told myself. Just keep trying things. And wishing I had a few more tools to try. So again, I squeezed, and also kicked several times, and he started right up! Amazing! I don’t know what was going on, but at some point, he decided to walk!
We continued just fine through the trail. He tried to turn around once, a half-hearted attempt on him part, and I got us back in the forward direction. We had a nice time through the woods and came out to to field and walked around it to the reining arena. We started some trotting and his energy seemed so slow it was barely above a walk. I felt him beginning to balk a little. So I tried something new, hoping that he understands English. I stopped him, and said, very clearly, and sternly, Buckshot, if you don’t go forward in the arena, you won’t get to eat grass. He is always allowed to graze by the arena when we finish, but I was going to forget the grazing that day, if he did the statue thing again. And, do you know, he moved forward just fine! We got some nice trotting work and walking work in. We even did two canters that were fine. Not great, but considering the warmth of the day, just fine. And then I walked him over to the grass and let him eat.
Then I headed us back to the barn, and darn if his forward energy didn’t pick right up! What a character! I petted his neck and told him he did good work! And we had done two new things we had never done before- dealt with his statue-thing and he had learned English and understood “no grass!”
As we walked back and I untacked him and gave him treats, I kept thinking about the statue situation. In the back of my mind, I felt like it had been a test, that he had been testing me to see what I would do if he was really stubborn with me. Would I get angry and yell at him, or hit him? Or give up and get off of him and walk him forward, or give up on the trail totally? If pushed beyond our usual limits, what would I do? He wanted to know. Maybe he needed to know. Like when you’ve been with someone for five years, and are wondering what would they be like if you were really stubborn. You might see the real person inside. Maybe he wanted to test me. I think I passed his test and showed him I can be persistent, and firm, but not get angry, or tense, or demanding. And he passed my test, if it was one, by finally responding to what I wanted. When I told the BO about it later, she said maybe he wanted to know if I would eventually give in. And would let him not go forward, or even get off of him and lead him.
I also thought about the number of tools I have. I quickly realized, after the fact, that there were two tools I didn’t think of using. I didn’t think of “patience,” by which I mean I could have mentally counted to 20 in my head, between tries. Sometimes if you give someone more time to react to the request, they will do it. They just won’t do it immediately. I didn’t think to use mental counting and patience. I will remember that in the future.
I also forgot that I had some treats in my pocket. The BO said that was probably good, that using treats in that situation might have been counter productive, and taught him that eventually he’ll get a treat. I agree with her on that- treats wouldn’t have been a good tool.
I wonder if there are still other tools I could use in that type of situation. Perhaps there are. But it was an interesting day, and an interesting challenge for me to deal with. Buckshot is a good horse, and is reliable and calm, most of the time. But once in a while, he challenges me, and it’s a good learning experience for me. And for our relationship as well. And he is interesting, that even in his stubbornness, he stayed calm, and it was never dangerous or scary. Just a test of wills between partners. He got to stand still for a long time and observe me, and see what I had. See what I was made of. And I got to, eventually, move forward through the woods on a calm, and interesting horse. It’s another reason I love him.
Hope you had a more cooperative horse to ride! Have you ever gotten the feeling that your horse tested you? If so, please share about it. And the most interesting comment will win a prize (I promise)!