I got this little horse in training last month and thought I would share the story because I found it interesting.
Jeff is a Heinz 57, a cute little pinto with a super-sweet personality. Loves to be petted and follows you around like a puppy dog. But he gets tight. Real tight. Being anywhere but his face was uncomfortable for him, and he seemed to be in a constant state of worry.
For the majority of April, I spent quite a bit of time teaching Jeff to bend through his body, keep his shoulders light, and to work in a slower, more methodical way. He travelled around with such a tight diaphragm, sometimes when taking his hindquarters over, he moved with such fierce velocity it looked as if he’d been side swiped. Inside hind leg knocking the outside hind leg, inside shoulder planted and heavy, and one worried Jeff. And not to mention, he’d stand with all 4 feet pointing north, south, east, and west all at the same time – totally unbalanced. Poor Jeff! In time he gained better posture and could work in a more relaxed frame of mind.
When lunging to the right, Jeff kept his head tipped to the outside of the circles with his haunches trailing in. This made him heavy on the lead rope, but is not all that uncommon. To the left, I sometimes felt like I was fighting a huge ocean fish and was trying to reel it into a boat. Jeff floated out to the end of the line where he felt the tension, and any time a person approached, he scooted off. Left meant right, and right meant left, go forward meant pull back and go back meant lean forward.
Now here is where things get interesting – to prepare Jeff for riding, I worked a bit on getting him used to carrying weight up on his back. With my helmet tied to the saddle horn bobbling back and forth from the field of vision of his right and then left eye, and my chaps tickling his flanks and stirrups, moving about much like my leg would, we practiced some groundwork. To the left he’d get tight and then settle. To the right, especially after a change of direction, he’d get tight: back arched, neck high and stiff, ears flat back, tail kinked. He’d stop there for a second, and then bolt – not to the right like you’d expect, but to the left, or worse, head tipped left, shoulder travelling right : right onto me.
I called up my close friend and good hand to take us on a pony ride, using the power of another horse to help settle him and of course the security of a dallied lead rope in case he took off with me on him. He let down a bit and liked the help of another horse, and in some time he started to get comfortable with my weight and movement up on his back.
After about 3 weeks of this work, I noticed a change in him. Before, my horses sort of ignored and ostracised him, but now he has a softer look about him. My geldings have been playing with him and grooming him, and he eats with the herd. He seems more confident, and when I take him out for work he doesn’t have that same tightness.
Today I saddled him up and took him for a line driving adventure, first out on the lawn and then we ventured bravely out into the back 40. He was soft and relaxed through his body and totally content to have me behind him. He stayed straight between the two lines and boldly walked ahead of me past scary farm machinery, ducks, geese, and even a super scary tree with only a dropped ear or a snort here and there. We trotted a few 20 meter circles with a fluid change of direction, and I almost forgot the horse I had worked with just a few days ago – he started to soften through his rib and loin and lift his back in the trot, sneezing and yawning when we transitioned easily back into the walk.
So for this little horse, relaxation, preparation and relearning to balance made all the difference.