Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Rider's Wednesday -- Stealing Rides

On occasion this summer, I’ve been helping a friend of mine work with her two young PMU horses. One, a three-year old gelding, is skittish, unpredictable, and very flighty. The other, a four-year old mare, is less uppity – though certainly not without her own quirks.

Earlier this month, I went over on a Friday afternoon, which was to be the first of three days of concentrated training with the mare. She free-lunges pretty well in the round pen, and does passably well with groundwork exercises. The time had come, my friend decided, to get on and ride.

The older I get, the less inclined I am toward the cowboy mentality of getting on a green horse and riding it out. I prefer to be able to place a hefty wager on the probability of no bucking occurring during my time astride. We got the mare tacked up, lunged her a bit to warm her up, and my friend prepared to climb aboard.

“She’s had someone on her before,” she assured me. “Last year. She walked and trotted.”

I didn’t take as much comfort in that as one might think. I asked if she’d done much desensitizing with the mare while she was saddled. No – she hadn’t wanted to “scare” the horse. (I, on the other hand, don’t want to be on a horse that will scare… I prefer to take care of that before committing to the ride.)

We put some empty jugs of laundry detergent on the saddle to clunk along as the mare moved – to get her used to distractions and things that go “bump” in the night. (Clinton likes to use big boat buoys for this part of the training. They don’t damage easily, and they can’t hurt the horse. In my experience, empty jugs of laundry detergent work equally well.)

Predictably, the horse pitched an ugly fit.

“Maybe we won’t be riding her today,” was my friend’s assessment of the situation.

I told her that no amount of money would get me on the horse’s back. While it’s true that we might have been able to climb aboard, sit quietly, maybe even walk a bit, and get off without the mare making a scene, we would have been doing nothing more than stealing rides. When you get on a horse, you should not feel as if you are taking your life in your hands – even if the horse is green.

With a green animal, it’s in your best interests to make sure you prepare it as completely as possible for what is in store when you get on. It should be comfortable with something banging around on its barrel, with the sensation of a flank cinch (if you ride Western), and with movement above its back – where your body will be.

If you have to get on, freeze, and remain as motionless as possible when riding, praying fervently all the while that the equestrian gods will smile upon you and nothing will startle your horse or distract it, your horse isn’t readily accepting you on it’s back. It’s tolerating you – that’s completely different. And much more dangerous.

Take the extra time to desensitize your horse to distractions. Teach it not to be afraid of movement, noise, or weight. Then, when you get on, you’re able to work together as a team, instead of approaching like a thief and stealing rides the horse is not yet ready to give.

Update on "The Rider's Back Book"

The major edit on the book is finished! Yay! Today, I'll work on finishing up the photo edits and making the final decisions on illustrations. With luck, that won't take long. Then all that's left is for a line-by-line "look for the commas" edit, Dr. Warson's approval, compiling the whole shebang, and sending it to the publisher. Exciting stuff!