Well, I am trying to figure out what went wrong this afternoon. I went out to ride my horse around in the back pasture, and had a sort of rodeo-esque experience.
About me: rode western / bareback as a kid (elementary school) -- sporadic trail rides until a couple of years ago, when I took English riding lessons for about a year -- taught by a "Centered Riding" instructor who was also a competitive dressage rider. My weak area is keeping contact on the bit -- I guess from riding Western and neck reining as a kid. So, a 41 yo female adult beginner. My husband was a non-rider who also took lessons a couple of years ago in English w/ a different instructor overseas, who also happened to be a competitive dressage rider. So, he's also a beginner. My lifelong goal has been to have my own horse, and after much searching, I found...
Levi, a 9 year old draft cross, who for the past 5 years took a young lady from learning to ride through jumping 2'9" fences. She wanted to jump higher, so parents imported giant German sport horse, and I got Levi. The vet who did the vet check for me thought he would be perfect for me, and, if anything, a little on the lazy side, which was fine with me :)
Since Levi first got here about 2 months ago, I have ridden him in a bareback pad and Western saddle. It was recommended that I ride him in a french link dee snaffle, and this one was specifically recommended Dover Saddlery | Mikmar Cupreon D-Ring Snaffle Bit French Link Roller .
Until I got that bit, I rode him in a stainless steel french link dee ring purchased locally, and he was fine.
Due to dealing w/ a dying family member out of town, we have not ridden Levi much. About a week ago, I was getting him tacked up and he was really fighting me about bridling him -- turns out when I put the new bit into the bridle, I somehow completely screwed it up, and I realized that when he was so resistant, took it off, fixed the issue, got him bridled -- he was somewhat reluctant, but accepted the bit. My husband ended up riding him, and he did alright -- certainly nothing wild, but he wanted to follow our other horse, a 17yo TWH mare, Cotton. My husband was able to get him to go in different directions independently -- so, not fighting or anything, but my husband had to "work" if that makes sense. But, again, no running, head tossing, hopping, running, etc.
Fast forward to today. I groomed Levi including picking hooves, and he was perfectly calm and amicable. However, when I tried to put on the bridle, he was really fighting me over it. I checked it multiple times, finally got it on him, checked some more, and everything seemed fine. He stretched down to munch some grass while I put on his saddle, and again, the bridle seemed fine -- and this was the exact same setup as when my husband rode the week prior. Anyway, he stood to be mounted, while I put the mounting block next to him. He stayed still until I got all situated. Then he walked forward and we turned to go toward the back of the pasture (basically, to make a loop around the 8 acre pasture).
Then, things took a turn... he kept trying to turn to the inside and head back toward the gate. I used my leg and my hands to try to keep him straight. And, as I kept trying to keep him going where I wanted him to, he went nutty -- hopping around and then bolting to the gate. I tried to stop him with whoa, still seat and the reins -- he was completely unresponsive to the bit / reins -- except that I would say that with more pressure, he possibly got nuttier. It's kind of hard to describe exactly what happened, as it was happening pretty quickly, and I was mostly just focused on not falling off. I always ride with a helmet, and my neighbor was there watching, but I am looking for calm and peaceful, not wild and crazy.
He got to the gate and stopped, I got off, examined the bridle, which looked fine, tightened the girth, which had loosened, and he walked peacefully over to the mounting block, stood nicely while I mounted, walked calmly around to about the same point, and we repeated the "show" again. I tried the one rein stop, and he gave me some extra hopping around for that :(
So, having absolutely no idea what to do, but thinking it might not be good to just untack him and reward the behavior, I got the lunge line out. At first he didn't want to go, then he moved into a pretty fast canter and pulled a bit, but not really trying run off, which as a 16h draft cross, he could certainly do. I took the approach of making him keep up the fast pace when he decided he wanted to slow down, then after a while I called for him to trot, which he did immediately, then to walk, which he did immediately, then whoa, which he responded to immediately. Then we did the other direction -- with a controlled canter this time, then responded verbally to trot, walk, whoa.
And, I tried to mount up again in the hopes that we could have a super short but successful "ride" to end on. I don't even think we made it as far at the walk as the first 2 times before the "show" began and culminated with him charging into a hay bale next to the gate versus sliding to a stop at the gate. So, thankful to be alive by that point, I just got off of him.
However, I did put his halter on him and walked him around the entire circumference of the pasture -- that path I planned to ride -- with the saddle on versus just untacking him and turning him loose. I also left him out in that back pasture versus letting him back into the front pasture with Cotton, the mare. I have to feed them separately later, so after they eat I will put him back in with her.
So, now I am trying to analyze what the hell happened and why. We do not yet have a trainer here, however, we are getting our horse trailer this week, and once I learn to pull it with the truck, I will be able to haul Levi to a trainer -- so within 2 weeks.
Here are my thoughts, and I really want feedback as to how to proceed in the short term until I find a trainer / instructor and in the longer term.
#1 -- Teeth - vet is coming out a week from today for a farm visit, and I will have him check Levi's mouth / teeth. They were checked at both the pre-purchase exam and by my vet here when Levi arrived. However, maybe when I had the bit screwed up last week it somehow hurt him during the brief time it was in his mouth -- though it was only in his mouth for a second and I realized the problem before I ever got the bridle over his ears. Or maybe he hurt his mouth on something else.
#2 Grain / Diet / Weather -- It got cold here in Southern Mississippi starting last week, so I increased the horses grain and put out more hay for them at night. They are on pasture 24/7, and I feed them Omalene 200 and Strategy as well as coastal bermuda / bahia hay. So, I can feed Levi strictly Strategy, and get rid of the Omalene grains.
#3 Bit -- Maybe we need to go back to the basic stainless french link dee ring and skip the very fancy (expensive) bit with the roller in the middle. Although, the very fancy bit with the roller was the one recommended by the seller.
#4 Barn / Buddy Sour -- For the first month, Levi was our only horse, and he seemed to fall in love with my neighbor's pregnant mare. He shared a fence line with my neighbor's horses: pregnant quarter horse mare, a mini - gelding, and a mini- stallion. The mini-stallion spent lots of time trying to show Levi what a stud he was, which Levi ignored while mooning over the mare. It got to the point where I was very concerned because Levi seemed to spend most of his time in one spot -- at the gate to my neighbor's pasture. I ended up putting bedding down in that spot, because I was worried he would hurt his feet standing on the hard clay. Anyway, I ended up acquiring Cotton, the 17yo TWH mare, who was kind of a rescue situation that I took on reluctantly, but Levi loves her, and she is very kind and sweet. They took to each other immediately. And about as immediately, Cotton went into season.
As a contrast, I rode Cotton in the back pasture while she was in season. She was reluctant to go toward the back of the pasture -- away from Levi in the front pasture -- but went, and then tried to rush back once we were headed that way. I let her rush and then kept her going right past Levi and back around away from him. So, that was my experience that I would have called barn sour / buddy sour, but I never felt in danger. I felt like she was saying "yippee back to my man, Levi", then, "darn! She's making me go BACK around AGAIN". I had to WORK riding her, and I felt challenged in a way that I was improving my skills versus today with Levi where I felt like I had absolutely ZERO control, which was scary.
#5 Saddle / Back Issues -- we used the same saddle a week ago,and it was fine. And, he had no problem with me mounting, so I think this is least likely. However, I already have someone coming out to help me take measurements and pictures, so that we can get a saddle fitted for both Levi and Cotton.
I welcome any and all feedback on what I did wrong thus far (or what I did right, if anything) and any ideas as to how to proceed until we can get to a trainer.