So, as some of you may know, finding a saddle to fit Stella has been a bit problematic. The first time my coach, Wylie, and I went to see her together, we took my Schleese JES Elite. I was hoping against hope that it would fit. Sadly it did not. So now, three saddles later, I finally have what I feel is the perfect solution, and yesterday, although I’ve now sat on her about a half dozen times, I felt like I had my first “real” ride on Stella.
But that’s a whole ‘nother blog post. Til then, let me catch you up on what we’ve been doing in between the day she came home, and now.
The cool thing about Stella is that she came with all kinds of neat tricks already installed. For example, she free-lunges like nobody’s business. Even a rank round-pen-beginner like me can get her to go, whoa and turn just using my body language.
The first time I asked her to canter in the round pen was the moment I realized just how tuned in to me she really was. She didn’t really seem to know the voice command, so I just kind of started to “canter” myself, and she mirrored me right away. Everything I did, she did, including trot-canter transitions.
So it wasn’t too much of a stretch for her to learn to stick with me on the leadline too. When I stop, she stops. When I trot, she trots. She’s even mastered turn on the forehand, and ground tying (for the most part. Unless she’s distracted. This one’s tricky for her because her first instinct is to follow me wherever I go). But she’s getting there.
So after all these fun & games for the first couple of weeks, I figured it was time to get to some real work. I still didn’t have a saddle that worked for her, but I had a lunge line and a surcingle, and that would have to do. Here’s where things got hilarious.
Now, the thing about buying a new horse, especially a green horse, and especially a smart green horse, is that you don’t really know what they don’t know. Do they have trouble with something because they’ve never learned it? Or because they learned it but never really mastered it? Or because they learned it, mastered it, don’t like doing it, and are now taking great delight in convincing their new owner that they never knew how to do it in the first place? This is where I feel you have no choice but to give them the benefit of the doubt.
Stella’s “maybe she was never taught this” moment came the second I sent her out on the lunge line and asked her to walk on. She gave me her very best “I have no idea what you’re talking about” look and continued to trot around as though I (and the lunge line) didn’t exist. I tried a few things. I thought about it for a minute. I tried a few more things. And still, I had a horse that would only do two things on the lunge line. Trot, and whoa. It’s like walking on the lunge didn’t exist. I scratched my head, and decided to start at ground zero.
I gathered up my lunge line, went out to Stella’s head, and gave her a brisk “walk on!” as I started to walk. Of course she did too, because I was right beside her, and she’d done this about a hundred times on the lead line already. I gave her a quiet “whooaaaa”, and she stopped. Again, no big deal. She does this all the time. Because we had spent so much time playing “stick with me” on the lead line, I feel like I had set her up for success. For about fifteen minutes we played this game, with me moving farther and farther away from her. Finally, I was standing in the middle of the round pen, with her out at the end of the lunge line, doing walk-halt-walk and walk-trot-walk like a pro.
Did she already know how to do this? Maybe. Was she trying to trick me into thinking she didn’t because she’d rather play than work? She is a pony, so that’s entirely possible. But maybe not. Either way, it taught me something. If you’re not sure why your horse is having trouble with something, you have to give them the benefit of the doubt. Go back to the last thing you know for sure they really can do, call that ground zero for the day, and build them up from there. The amount of trust and respect you will garner on the way back up will be worth the extra time you took. And isn’t trust and respect what this journey is all about?