Yesterday was really hot and humid. And the big horse flies were out. At 4:30 I put on my riding boots and went outside with the intention of getting Zola and riding her. Got to the gate and realized it was still too hot, I was tired from just that short walk! Of course that was the humidity. Went back inside.
At 6:00 I tried again. Went to get Zola and was hurt that she avoided me! Nothing drastic, but horses are subtle really. She just veered off and went about 12 feet. Then she stopped and waited for me. But it was clear the idea of being ridden was not one she embraced. I considered not riding her, but as fast a learner as she is, I felt it would be a mistake to set that precedent.
I tacked her up and confess slight concern at how she’d be to ride, given her feelings about it. Led her out to the field to the mounting block. Got her to stand still while I got on, and stand still for a while afterwards. I decided, since I myself felt totally blah and without motivation, to just ride about a quarter of the way around the track and come back and be done. Just to show Zola that she could do it and it wouldn’t be that hard.
Got on the track and Zola was fine. No balking. We walked along for a while and when I asked her to stop so we could turn around and go back, I found out Zola has lost her great whoa. She used to stop on a dime if I said whoa. Now I couldn’t stop her with the reins, she just kept walking. Turned her in a circle and got her to stop, but only for a second. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat . . .
I realized this was not disobedience, but a normal part of horse training. Zola had gotten the message that we were to go forward. She had apparently also deduced on her own that ALL stopping was bad. We worked on a few stops. She improved and we called it a day.
Horses don’t always learn what we think we’re teaching. And Zola’s loss of her whoa – except after going around the track all the way – shows how much horses try to do the right thing. I know Zola likes to stop, but in her mind stopping has become undesirable. Our next ride will be working on stopping and going.
I have ridden horses (not mine) who had no whoa. They knew to stop after they’d gone around the track, but it was impossible to stop them, or even slow them down, mid-ride. At the time, I just thought they were hard mouthed. Now I wonder if it was just that once they learned that forward was what was wanted, no one ever bothered to teach them that stopping was okay – and perhaps desirable. I have no doubt that if I were to skip re-teaching Zola to whoa, she would be just like those horses.
Didn’t ride Chance, and after turning Zola loose with Chance and Bettina, it dawned on me that it must be a new moon. I don’t know why, but they have a huge effect on me. Making me loose my natural optimism, and sapping my energy. Sure enough, I checked the lunar phase on my phone – and there it was, new moon.
I’m always telling people that if they treat their horses as though they are truly intelligent (they are!) and give them some freedom to demonstrate that, they’ll be surprised. I’m also always telling people they need to see how my horses behave to really understand what I’m talking about.
I don’t carry my cell phone outside with the horses. I’m afraid it will get broken. But today I was just watching the horses eat their grain, resting from weed whacking, and it actually occurred to me to go get my phone.
A little background on the photos. At 5:45 or so, I let 8 horses loose in the big field. The other 3 are put in another field of about 2 acres – the ones I don’t yet trust loose. The horses all graze while I pick up manure, eat breakfast, and weed whack or whatever. Around 9 they come over to the yard for their grain – the ones who get grain, Beauty, Tina, Chance, and Zola. When I see them I go out and make up their food. They each get 2 quarts of sweet feed with a teaspoon of copper. I mix the food in the back of my trailer which has become my feed room, and the horses wait more or less patiently. I then put out the buckets and they eat.
Below are the photos I took this morning. Grain time. There is no fighting at grain time. Everyone eats right next to someone. And there is sharing of grain. This is 4 Thoroughbreds, of which 3 are mares, and Chance of course is a gelding. Bettina is the horse sharing with Zola. She is 24. Chance looks like a blimp in the photo below, but if you click to enlarge the next one, his ribs are actually visible.
Evidence that if you have expectations of good behavior you get good behavior. Treat your horses with true respect and know they are intelligent and they will demonstrate their intelligence and cooperation. Remember – these horses are totally free – there is no fence preventing them from leaving the farm.
CAUTION: Do not try this at home! This is not where to start a new relationship with your horse. Start small.