Yesterday I almost fell off my horse.
This is Captain.
He is a Morgan, about 15 hands, liver chestnut.
He's well-trained in dressage and will try his heart out for me. He's also anxious, always on the lookout for changes in his environment. He's taught me to ride in a zen state--very calm and relaxed, no extra movements, while still being the leader.
Up until now, I’ve ridden horses that needed a little extra motivation. I carried a whip and tapped them forward.
Not this guy. If you get a whip within 10 feet of him, he gets suspicious and his feet start to dance.
Yesterday we were working in a field and as we got closer to the woods, he got spooky. He wasn't paying attention to me as leader. It was obvious something was in the woods and he wasn't going to like going there.
I checked my position--I knew this might be a bumpy ride--I got deeper in the saddle, made sure my feet were secure in the stirrups then confidently asked him to go through the woods into the meadow despite his fear. He walked forward, eyeballs popping out of his head like he's watching a horror movie, ready for the next scary thing to leap out at him.
We both saw the deer at the same time. On other days we've walked within 10 feet of a deer or two, calmly taking in the scene. Not today. He was in Freak Out Mode. I could feel him gather himself up to bolt.
It was a sketchy 10 seconds that felt like a year!
His feet started moving sideways and his head was high, but he trusted me enough to come back down to earth. We rode by the deer a few minutes later, with Captain snorting and looking fearful.
Today I rehashed the scene with my riding coach. I wanted to learn some more tools.
What I heard was:
Tell him when he’s doing it right
Give him a job that requires brain power, like circling, leg yielding
Approach the scary thing from another direction
It seems he's always teaching me something.
Hey, this reminds me of parenting…