Thanks for the encouragement everyone!
It's just in my nature to be analytical and critique. But I know that every now and then, we'll throw in a clunker of a ride- those are the best learning opportunities, right?!
I had a perfectly lovely visit with Izzy this morning. The chiro came for her regular 3-month visit, and since she is always at least 30 minutes late, Izzy enjoyed getting a 45 minute grooming session while we were waiting. Why I don't learn and just stop going to the barn as though she'll be on time, I don't know! But anyway, I went over Izzy head to toe and she was super shiny by the time I was done- I even picked through her tail for the first time in a couple of months, and it was silky smooth by the end. Her chiro visit was good, as usual a bit tight in her right pelvic area but not really sore anywhere else. She did have a rib out on the left side (my summary report is getting emailed to me so I can't remember which one) but I've been feeling for awhile now that saddle fit is a little off right now, as Izzy has grown a little...ahem...round through the belly. So I don't know if that had anything to do with it, but I will have to keep an eye on that. She clearly felt great when she was done, when I turned her back out she went energetically trotting across the field to rejoin her friends, tail flagging.
I think this post came over as a bit judgemental - not my intention at all
I just find very interesting the whole business of how much we should listen to our horses. When should we let them make decisions? And when should we not? There's no right answer but everyone has their own ideas on this and I find it a thought-provoking subject.
Oh- I didn't take it that way at all, no worries! I too find these conversations interesting, and find myself thinking about these threads sometimes while I'm riding.
I have a couple of thoughts about your questions, in light of my last ride. In retrospect, I definitely started the ride wanting a casual stroll vs. a more energetic ride. The reason I have that little video clip from my last post is because as we started our ride, the wind was blowing really beautiful patterns in the tall grass, and I was hoping to record it (unfortunately the cell phone camera isn't that great so you can't really tell how neat it looked). But, in retrospect, it was a bad idea. One commonality in many of my bad rides with Izzy is that I've stopped right at the beginning of the ride to snap a picture (stupid cell phone!!
). I definitely think she sees that as a moment of indecision on my part- if my human isn't committed to going on, then I'm definitely going to decide for us, and of course we're going home.
So when I interrupt the decision she's made, she gets really irritated with me and fights it- so in that case, I do think it's important that I make the decision, not her. Though I do see why that would be confusing to her and need to just keep the silly phone zipped up in my pocket and focus on riding away from the barn!
Another moment on the last ride- I know some people will think this is anthropomorphizing, but I swear to you that she pretended
to have to scratch her nose to try to snatch the reins and turn for home. She is not a horse that has a problem with an itchy face (e.g., the Gypsy Vanner gelding I ride every now and then at the barn has a massive, hairy face and needs itch breaks when he starts sweating under his bridle). But she tried it a couple of times- she would act like she was in distress and just had
to reach down to scratch, so when I took pity on her, she'd give her nose one swipe across the knee and then quickly try to snatch the reins. To me- that is thinking
. It didn't work- and I think it's important it doesn't- but she had plans in that little horsey brain of hers!!
But I don't want to give the impression I only think horses are thinking when they're being "disobedient." A lot of times on our rides, I give her the option of what speed to take. There are a few parts of our ride where she's been conditioned that we might move out and have a good canter. When we get to those spots, I usually ask her "what do you want to do?" and she answers- either she steps out faster and gets ready to launch into a canter (a beautiful walk-canter transition, no trouble with the correct lead :)) or she just stretches her head down and continues walking. I'm happy to go along with either. And we seem to have an agreement that we will go to a certain point and then go back to walking. I think that's why I got irritated with her the other day, because she wasn't willing to stop at our "agreed upon" spot, she was super tense and kept trying to jump ahead.
Ultimately, I am not a brave enough rider to enjoy a horse that gets that coiled up feeling underneath you- and that's definitely how she felt this weekend. I love reading about gottatrot's or phantomhorse's rides so much because I know that I wouldn't be able to ride those kinds of horses. It sounds like so much fun, if you have the stomach for it. But I literally feel butterflies in my stomach when Isabel hits the verge of "out of control." I do all the techniques you're supposed to do- I sing, I talk to her, I exhale deeply, I take my knees and calves off the saddle so I'm not gripping and inadvertently asking to go faster when I don't mean it...but the butterflies in my stomach don't lie, I know she can still feel and feed off my nerves. And, I have the terrible habit of not trusting her enough to let her keep a long rein. I know
, intellectually, that it's counterproductive to tighten the reins on her when she gets tense- @Bondre
, I was even thinking of something you wrote awhile back, which was that you can teach a horse that a tighter rein actually means "go faster," when that's the exact opposite of what you want in that situation. But I am telling myself (sometimes, literally out loud!
) "don't shorten the reins, figure out another way to slow her down
" but those butterflies in my stomach won't let me trust that it will work. So that's why on Sunday, I decided to just point her for home, because I knew she would walk once she was assured we were going back. And once she stopped that tense prancing, I could trust her enough to lengthen the reins, which helped calm us both.
A year ago, I often went out on our trail loop totally focused on me-
what would it take to safely execute the ride and get back to the barn still astride the horse? But now, I head out on our ride thinking about both of us- what messages is she sending me, how is she moving and how do I influence that, where can we test our limits and be braver than we were last time (e.g., galloping on the wide, grassy road shoulder, riding a trail that cuts close to a house with scary outdoor patio furniture, being a steady teacher for nervous younger horses). I can complete relate to what @bsms
writes about wanting to have a horse to ride out in partnership. So that makes it even less
fun when you have a day where your partner has tuned you out and is just focused on getting back home as quickly as possible.