My Journey to Road to the Horse 2012 - Day 2
By Jonathan Field
Photos by Caitlin Taylor
The next day was another big day, where we needed to get riding and see how much preparation we could do for the obstacle course section of the competition in the same amount of time as the previous day.
#1 Looking good
The first thing I noticed was the colt's demeanor and posture as he casually and quietly walked around the arena. It was a significant change that I was very happy to see.
#2 Checking things out
While I was waiting for the cameras to get ready, I was happy to see this colt's curiosity get high enough to sniff the saddle without any encouragement.
#3 Showing trust
Today he was very easy to catch. Here you can see him walking up to me confidently and optimistically. A major key to me is that horses feel that they want to be with people and they think it's going to work out okay. This trust is something I never want to lose with a young horse.
#4 Introducing obstacles
I wanted to see how well the colt guided now and how well the lead rope was connected to his feet, so I brought in a little obstacle. After a few times over, he really got the hang of it.
#5 Laying down on the job
Before I put a saddle on, I always lie across the young horses I work with so my body touches as much of the horse's as possible. This is a very tricky technique and highly risky if done wrong, but it's so valuable for a young horse to feel both the weight of the human on his back plus so much touching him. The reason I like it so much is because, if the horse gets too nervous, I can simply slip off and allow him to regroup and relax. If he doesn't pass this test and accept it, I won't go to the saddle. Here you can see the colt is relaxed yet attentive. (Please do not try this unless you're highly trained because you can be kicked in the belly before you can blink).
#6 The first break
I took my first break right away in the session. As horsemen we must always remain flexible and in the moment with the horse we're working with: my original intention was to get to saddling as quickly as possible, but he did so well with the obstacle and me laying over him bareback that I thought he deserved a break. I knew the saddling procedure with this strong five-year-old was going to have some buck and I didn't want to attach that session to all the good stuff he just finished.
#7 Getting the bucks out
Once saddled, he had to get the bucks out. Sometimes no matter how much time you spend, there is no avoiding this. While I prefer to do all I can with every horse to avoid him or her bucking, on occasions like this, with a horse of his age and background, there is no way around it.I focus on moving him forward, staying out of his way, and helping him through the situation. That's why I have the lead rope on and stay in the pen. It's riskier to stay in the pen as he may blindly buck towards me, but I feel responsible to help him through this and show him he can move freely with a saddle on and it won't cause him trouble.
#8 Moving on
After a few dramatic bucks, I had my guy back. He remembered all the lessons about circling and bending, and was moving forward nicely. Now I asked him to do all the movements I would ask of him when I rode him. Then I'll take the saddle off and let him have a break.
#9 Half way up
Feeling the weight of the saddle and me is a huge moment for him. I'm doing a half mount with the halter and lead rope on because I will do this several times on both sides, then step off and allow him to think.
#10 The first ride
It's our first ride! He was relaxed with his head down and moved forward slowly yet attentively, staying connected to me with his left ear.You'll notice I have the same bend through his body that I asked for several times on the ground. I'm also riding him in the halter because it is currently the thing most connected to his movement and control of his feet; the halter is the primary way I have established communication with him up to this point. I won't ride him with a bit until I do the same preparation on the ground that I did with the halter, so he learns to follow the feel of the bridle and control his feet with the bit in his mouth. To me this is the most logical way for him to connect each lesson.
#11 A tarp and a break
After his short ride, I pulled the saddle off, led him over a tarp, and let him have a nice break. He was completely dry except for a little bit of moisture by the cinch and was in a relaxed and confident state.
#12 Hindquarter control
Once mounted again, I make sure to get good disengagement of the hindquarters using the indirect rein position. By doing this, I am establishing control of his hindquarters, which will keep us out of trouble if he gets scared as I begin to encourage more forward movement.
#13 On the go
Now are getting good forward movement. I asked him to move around the pen for two or three laps, then stopped, rested, moved a body part, and then went again. At this stage it's important to keep a willingness to move forward and the challenge is not to overdo it. That's why I only go a few laps before resting and then do it all over again. Over the course of the session, I actually end up moving a lot, but I don't lose the willingness for forward because he only has to go forward for short time.
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