So a few months ago I went on a trail ride with the local rental string. Good to get on a strange horse from time to time to expand one's horizons as a rider. Actually I'm lying a little bit. The place was hiring and I thought it might be a good opportunity to ride a lot of different horses and get paid for it. So I was there to check them out but I didn't say anything. I wanted to see how discreetly I could make this horse better by the end of the ride, without looking like I was training or doing too much. I figured I'd just poke along with the group, talk to the girls, maybe play around (experiment with, familiarize myself) with whatever bridle they gave me and see what I could offer to whatever random horse I was given. I told them I was an advanced rider so they gave me an intermediate horse. He was an Anglo-Arab gelding that I was told had been 'classically trained'.
First thing I noticed was that the wrangler had to physically hold this horse back to keep him from walking off while I mounted. "Oh", I thought. "This should be good.". The saddle had the stirrups adjusted about a foot too short for me and the hardware was, of course, rusted shut so there was absolutely no hope of ever adjusting them ever again. The bridle was a kind of grazer bit with reins literally made from nylon string that looked like it came off the spool at Home Depot. Well, I'd just see how adaptable I could be and adjust to this situation for my 2-hour ride. I felt a bit like Lebron James riding a tricycle with my knees up under my chin but, you know, cowboy up.
This was the first ride of the day, 8 AM, and this horse was as fresh as fresh could be. True to his Arabic roots he was all about getting to the halfway mark as fast as possible so he could get back and be done with me. So he set out at a walk that soon had the group about a quarter mile behind us including the guides. The guides were these two Mexican gentlemen who would soon come to be known as "No Bueno" and "Muy Bueno". No Bueno (NB) was on point, Muy Bueno (MB) on the drag.
Well I was way ahead of NB and thoroughly enjoying this horse that really wanted to go forward but NB didn't think I ought to get too far ahead. That was fine, I also wanted to do some flirting (not with him) so I began to circle back. As soon as I touched the reins the horse threw his head up so high that I thought he might break my face. Whoa boy, take it easy. I'm not going to use this shanked bit to balance myself like I'm sure everyone else that rides you does. I think I found what we need to work on though!
So I'm riding along on this horse that's either throwing his head up into my hands or else trying to take off every time I put him on slack. Easy Ian, just do the minimum. These people are not paying you to train their horse (yet). If he were mine I'd put a snaffle bit on him and let him gallop, but he's not. Pretend like nothing is amiss. Pet him! Smile!
For the next little while I managed to stay with the group with lots..and lots of circling. A few of the other riders noticed this and asked me how I got my horse to turn like that. Umm..I turn him? I dunno. I told them that I could just do this because I rode all the time and that was pretty much the reason I could and they couldn't. That's the truth right? Besides, I didn't want to encourage any more amateur horse training than was already taking place between my own legs. Nevertheless, two of the men (naturally) who were in the group were fascinated by what I was doing and starting trying to turn their horses around too. "no bueno", said No Bueno.
Finally we reach the beach. My horse says "Oh it's on now" and runs off. I say "sweet, I can dig it but let's make some big circles". He's cool with that and I'm loving getting to practice this circling thing. I had read that Ray Hunt had employed a similar technique once with a thoroughbred stallion who had wanted to buck and run off with him so I figured it should work on this semi-sour and fed up dressage-turned-dude horse. It did, and I could feel him starting to get just a little better as a result of my knowing what was up. I'd take him in a big circle and then come back to the group and let him walk, trying to let him find more relief near them (and walking). He'd walk a few strides and then have to be leaving again, and we'd do another circle.
It was all going pretty well but naturally, my horse is getting a bit of a sweat on him. I'm not talking drenched, but what I think they call a neck sweat was on him. NB didn't dig that. This outfit even has a sign in front of their sign-up counter saying that you'll be charged an additional $5,000 on your credit card if you let your horse sweat. So I'm trying to let this horse relax when he's near the others but what can ya do? If he's going to run off, ya gotta either turn in a circle or go straight! NB rides up by me and keeps shouting "No Bueno! No Bueno! Relax!". I looked at him and shrugged, and put my reins on the horn. Horse takes off running full-tilt down the beach. I let him go for about a quarter mile just to make my point and then turned around, rode past NB and shrugged again. “no bueno”, he said.
Right around then we reached the halfway point and turned around. On the way back we did a few more circles but he was starting to come back to me. We still had to circle, but gradually we were doing more of them at a walk. I could start to trust him a little more to walk on a loose rein. He was starting to come back into the bridle, which was pretty good considering the quality of equipment involved. I could actually walk along and talk to girls. It was pretty cool in the end. My horse was feeling nice and I was feeling good for having helped leave him just a little better than I found him. The sky cleared and we saw whales from our vantage on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific. On the way back, Muy Bueno was on point. I rode up alongside and showed him how the gelding was starting to bridle up. “Muy Bueno”, he said.
We get back to base and I dismount. My horse starts rubbing his face on me like I’m his entitled scratching post. I gave him a good scratch. What else could I do? --
Epilogue: **** that was long. Congratulations and thanks for making it all the way through! Oh yeah, and I didn’t get the job. The owner said that her employee told her that I was over-horsed. Then she told me that he was classically trained. So I was supposed to ride him by holding him back with that bridle and white-knuckling it the whole time. Ohhhh....right.