Join Date: Dec 2010
Location: southern Arizona
Mia and I will undoubtedly work on having more precise control. Right now, our arena work consists of getting her comfortable with cantering, working on my lower back's flexibility, and trying to make every stop a perfect stop.
I am not in any way opposed to gaining as much control over your horse as possible, and I agree that more control results in greater safety on the trail. My point was simply that I would not wait for perfection (or 100% control of every body part) before taking her out on the trails.
The worst ride I ever had on Mia was in an arena. Lots of little things - a guy moving his trash can, some kids riding a bicycle past, birds, and who knows what all - added up until she melted down. In an arena. As in 2 hours of non-stop motion. Uncounted bolts. Diarrhea all over the arena. My oldest daughter at one point shouted out, "This isn't going to be good! Her eyes are rolling like a slot machine's!" In the end, after sunset (!) I jumped off. I cranked her head around tight, put a wrap of rein around the horn, and bailed as she tried to straighten out and build speed. And as soon as she saw me on the ground, she ran to me, stopped, put her head next to me, and waited for the bad things to go away.
That was the beginning of 8 months without riding her, while I worked to improve my riding. Then I hired a trainer, who after a week of work concluded Mia had never been broken to ride. Then 2 months of breaking her to ride via ground work, and then mounting again in Jan 2012. By that time, I had been leading her off property for about 3 months. Our first ride off property was in March 2012, and we only went 100 yards. By June, we were doing about 5 miles, but only with another horse.
The trail work has been critical for her. The confidence that is slowly building as we face challenges and fears and slowly overcome them together has been essential. She is now about 90% calm in the arena.
Off property, a car can zip by her at 50 mph without her blinking. She still gets overwhelmed at times, but never yet so bad that either Trooper couldn't ride by and show her, or that I couldn't back her up, dismount, and lead her past it. But if I had waited for total control in the arena, we would still be working on it. And we might never get there, because the arena doesn't have enough new things to build her confidence.
The calm and trust we've built off property is what has made it possible for us to work on cantering in the arena without having it turn into a bolt. And I cannot imagine Mia ever strolling down the trail, a cigarette hanging out the corner of her mouth, half-asleep. Trooper does that almost every ride. Mia? That isn't in her nature.
Eventually, we'll work on more refinement. I suspect I'll be able to go out when Mia is 26 (hmmm...I'll be 69 then) and still have a goal to work on with her. But I needed to get her out into the desert and facing fears over and beyond her imagination.
I'm not an 'all arena' or 'all trail' kind of guy. I think both are critical to developing a good horse. Mia was 11 when she was broken to ride, although I had ridden her a lot before. And while I eventually want to be able to say, "Put your right front hoof here", most of our riding will remain, "Let's see what is over there...." And she will decide what she needs to do to get there.
"Make the right thing easy and the wrong thing...well, ignore it mostly."