Today, while I was riding a young horse, I had one of those lightbulb moments- a moment that reinforced what I have learned and what I know to be true about riding horses. Those can happen daily if we listen and are in a learning frame of mind each and every time we are in the presence of our horse. The horse is always willing to teach us.
It’s been raining a lot lately, and because of all the rain, our normally dry creek beds all have a lot of water running through them. And we don’t have creek beds like the rest of the US here- we have ground referred to as Gumbo. If you’re unfamiliar with what Gumbo is, it’s a sticky, black, clay-like soil that will either suck the shoes off of you, and your horse, or make both of you walk like you’re wearing stilts. It just depends.
So these creek bottoms are sticky, deep, and scary for a horse that isn’t used to them. Add to that the fact that I’d like the horse to walk through the creek, not take a flying leap. I can ride a flying leap, but often the folks we train for, or who will buy our horses can’t, or don’t want to, and if a horse can learn to walk through the water, and not balk at where we want them to go, then they’re all the better for it.
Now, back to the aforementioned young horse. In order to get her to the cow herd today, we really didn’t have a choice but to go through the creek. We set off from the barn at a lovely walk, and made our way to one of several crossings that are set up just right to help a horse learn to walk across a creek. If a crossing forces you down a hill to the bottom and straight up the other side, it’s not the most conducive place to be successful at teaching your horse to walk through the water; I’m not saying it can’t be done. I’m just saying it’s would be easier at a flatter crossing.
We approach the first place we can cross and when I asked her to cross, back onto her hind end she went. So instead of making a big deal out of the fact that she felt like she couldn’t cross, I simply picked up one rein and asked her to disengage her hips one way, and then the other. I then asked her to walk toward the water again. This time, however, I let her rest there, so long as she was looking across. Before I felt her get ready to tune me out, I turned her to my left and sent her trotting down the cow trail, parallel to the creek. When we got to the second of three places we could easilywalk through I asked her to look across and let her rest. Again, before she lost interest, we trotted to our right, back to the original place we’d tried to cross and let her rest there. It took several trotting/loping trips between these two spots (and I’d have spent all day if that’s what it would have taken), but with each trip, in the places she could get closer to the water, she did. I let her rest at each crossing, so long as she was paying attention or showing interest in the water. Finally, I took her to the third spot and let her rest. This time she showed great interest in the water, reached down to smell it, took a drink, and then walked across, calmly and quietly as if she’d been doing it her whole life.
We went on our ride through the cows, and on the return trip, went back to the same place she crossed in the first place. She walked right to it, smelled it, took a drink and walked across.
The point of sharing this, is that when we can get our horses focused on what we want, without obsessing on it, or punishing them for not doing what we want immediately (or even several hours after we began), we build rapport and trust with them. Further, we add try to their resume, because horses really want only to please us, and if, when they try to do what we want, there’s a release (in this case rest) they’ll try all the harder for us.
Smile and Ride-