It’s just another one of those “do as I say, not as I do” moments …
Countless times I’ve told other people with new horses, fretting over this or that, that it takes a year to get to know a horse.
It’s been two months since we picked up a new horse in South Carolina. Iggy, as I’ve been calling him, is an 11 year old Arabian who did a 50 mile ride and a couple of shorter rides several years ago, but has been for the most part unemployed for the past few years.
He belonged to a friend of a friend who wanted him to go to someone who would take good care of him, keep him for life and see what he could do in the sport.
When I met him he was a teensy bit in need of a few pounds, but he mostly lacked muscle, over his topline or anywhere else for that matter. I tried to picture him fit and buff in my mind’s eye, at fighting weight. I liked his bone structure.
As it was, I bought him for his brain. Unflappable on trail, quiet, happy to go along, and clearly in need of a J.O.B.
Two months ago he came home, and I started experimenting. Saddles, pads, bits, bridles. He got his first set of shoes, ever. We toodled around our home trails, up and down our big hills, muddy as they were from an endlessly rainy spring. Iggy let me know that he wasn’t too thrilled about mud, he wasn’t crazy about creek crossings, he didn’t think much of me nagging him with my leg, and he really hated our slightly ADHD border collie mix running up under his nose and barking at a frequency that I believe tickled the edge of the frequency considered audible to humans.
He likes to eat, get groomed, loves cookies (to the point of distraction and thus an ineffective training tool), climb hills and go back to the barn. Yes, Iggy is a wee bit barn sour.
I’m a big believer in making the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult, so I’d nag him along (with a whip, which he preferred to my heels) out on trail, and if he was just a bit too happy to get back to the barn, we’d head to the ring for 15 minutes of brain work, or back out the driveway to ride up and down the road a bit.
Sometimes he would just suck back, occasionally he’d stop and turn around, on a few occasions he thought he’d take me down into a ditch or some other unpleasant place that would make me say, “oh you’re right, let’s just go home!”
No such luck. I quietly ignored the pouting. Sent him forward, left him alone.
Seeking to improve his topline a bit and establish some ground rules about forward and the joy of being in school even though it was raining and the trails were a quagmire, I bought a Pessoa system. Just a surcingle and breeching and a series of bungees, all of which I set loosely to encourage Iggy to work long and low and with his hocks underneath him, rather than trailing out behind.
He seemed to enjoy this work, although he’d occasionally go inverted, hit the bungees, have a small temper tantrum (head whirl, fling, buck, leap, mini-bolt then cantercantercanter, as I’d originally requested). I would actually say aloud, “work it out, buddy.”
No scolding, no chasing.
When he is good, I leave him alone. Legs off, seat quiet, just lots of “good boy!” and a scratch on the neck. He has told me he’s not a horse who likes to be nagged. (In reality, what horse do any of us know who does?)
But I wondered. Does this horse have a work ethic? Am I going to have to push him along 25 or 50, or heaven forbid, 100 miles of trail? I wouldn’t say I had buyer’s remorse but I did have a case of “Uhoh, is this a mismatch?”
For the first time yesterday, we were able to haul off the farm to condition, heading to our local rails-to-trails camping area, meeting a friend, and just hitting the flat cindered path.
The place was packed. Horses, kids, campfires, tents, and all manner of activity. Iggy marched right out, ears up, in the biggest walk I’d experienced since the day I tried him out.
He trotted, he cantered, he led, he followed, he looked askance at a railroad tie or two but he was in his element, happy and forward. His throttle had a feather touch and more than once I had to say, okay buddy, slow down a bit.
I was elated.
Our friend’s horse took a few bad steps, so we walked the five miles back to the trailer. Iggy led the whole way with a horse that usually walks away from our boys, neck outstretched, marchingmarchingmarching.
Tomorrow we hit the hilly trails of Allegany with another friend, a bigger challenge, but I look forward to seeing how he meets it.
What’s next? Maybe a slow LD in a few weeks, perhaps a slow 50 at Vermont?
One ride at a time. It’s really up to Iggy …