Tue 3 Feb 2009
A while ago, one of our friends got engaged. Since she was going to be married, she could no longer keep her two horses. They were both Arabians, although only the mare had official papers. The mare was seventeen and cute, with a coat that was long and soft even during the summer. She was also very “filled out.” The other horse was a gelding, about four. He was black with a light build and a beautiful head. We gave the owner $500 for each and took them home.
I let the gelding take a few weeks to settle in before training began. Although I had some previous experience with horses, those had been tolerant of my mistakes. This horse was different; he would take no nonsense. I can’t remember exactly what facet of training I began with, but I recall teaching him to lead. I didn’t know much about training a horse and I thought that the best thing for conveying that I wanted him to move his feet was trying to pull his neck off with the lead rope. That didn’t work. At all.
I went in to my mom, discouraged and upset. She told me that horses responded to pressure and release, and that if I wanted to teach the horse to lead, I had to pull on the rope with a firm steady pull until he took a step. Then I was to release the pressure I exerted on the rope and in this way he would learn that whenever he took a step, I would stop pulling on the lead rope. I taught him to lead using this method, and finally, he followed behind me without any pressure at all.
Many triumphs (and failures) followed this breakthrough. Through trial and error, I taught him to accept a saddle with all of its strange weight and hanging leather. He allowed me to handle his feet and tie him up without too much trouble. I even named him. Eventually, I realized that Sable was ready to ride, but I was too scared to get into the saddle. I had heard of horses that bucked when first ridden.
We had a friend over and were saddling our other horses and preparing to ride, I put my saddle on my gelding. Sable stood for the saddling, and, since I had worked previously on a little weight in the stirrups, I faced him toward a fence and mounted him. My sister was nearby and she led him around with me sitting proudly in my new saddle (I had bought it not long before) on my new saddle horse.
As soon as I had taken the first short ride, I dismounted and ran up to the house to tell my parents. I was so proud. There was only one thing that dampened my spirits a little. The next day we were leaving for a two week trip to my grandparents’ house.
When I returned from the trip I found a strange horse waiting for me. This horse looked like my little gelding, but he was pushy on the end of a lead rope and spooked. He was nothing like the horse I had left behind. I don’t know if I cried, but now that I think about it, I am pretty sure that I must have. I had a miserable day with him.
I began to look for a way to improve my horse.
I heard about round-penning techniques and one day, I tried them. I worked the him in a corral, running him around and around. I watched for the signs of submission, like licking his lips or dropping his head until it hovered a few inches above the dust. I waited. Eventually, and to my great relief, I saw the things I wanted to see. I turned my back to him and let him stop. Soon, I had him coming to me when my back was turned, and soon after, he was following me around the corral.
Since this was my first horse that I had trained, I didn’t understand the gravity of working with him nearly every day. I worked with him when I felt like it. Because of this short-coming, I made slow progress. Whatever things that I taught him one session were soon forgotten.
One day, long after I rode him the first time, I got up the courage to put a foot in the stirrup once again. He shifted his weight to stay under me, but other than that, he stayed where he was, held by my dad. I mounted him all of the way, throwing my leg across his back. Then Dad led him around with me on him. We repeated this procedure fairly often, but still not every day.
Then disaster struck.
Sable suddenly got it into his head that he didn’t want me on his back. He would jump away when I tried to mount, and began to crow-hop a little. I decided that it was time for a do-over. I began to educate him with the saddle over again.
About this time, although I don’t know what possessed me, I began to shop around for another horse. I wanted a Quarter Horse, big enough for jobs that required more than endurance. A local rancher raised some very nice stock, so Dad and I went down there to see what he had. He had a young filly, three years old. She was built solid as a rock, with near perfect conformation. She was shy of people, having never been around them much. We brought her home. I nearly had my heart set on a Palomino, but she was a bay. I didn’t like her at first; my initial plan was to sell her after I had her broke and finished. I don’t think that will work out now…she really grew on me.
Dad and I had agreed that I would work with the horse at least five days a week. He helped me build a corral in our barn for working the critters, since it was winter and cold, and I started. Since the filly wasn’t broke to lead (you could hardly touch her), I would lead Sable in and the filly would follow along. Then, quickly, I would take the Sable out and tie him outside the barn where the other horse couldn’t see him.
It went very well. Really, there isn’t much left to this story, since this is where I am right now. I am beginning to like working with them almost every day, and they have already made amazing progress. Sable is becoming more and more comfortable with the saddle, and the filly is trusting me enough to let me touch her.
I realize now that although I thought I was teaching the horses, they really were giving back all that they took. I have learned a lot just working with them both. I enjoy working with my two horses, and I am thankful to God and my parents for giving me so much help with them both.
Anyway, look for more posts and pictures on this blog soon. I haven’t totally figured the software out yet, hence the lack of photos. I hope to have some up soon!