Today I did a peculiar thing. I went for a ride.
The thing is, my daughter likes to go for a trail ride with George and, understandably, doesn't want to go alone. She used to ride around the farm on Kelsey, just the two of them. But Kelsey was a grand old lady, who would always take care of things, while George, on the other hand, needs to be taken care of. He's pretty laid back, but he's inexperienced, and you never know.
I'm not even going into whether or not my daughter and George ought to be riding around the farm in the first place. As I said before, I'm leaving the two of them pretty much to their own devices. However, today I decided to try and accompany them so they could get out of the arena and enjoy a change of scenery. I say "try", because one never knows if Gus will agree to come along when you show up with a halter. Today when I arrived, however, he was in his stall, which always bodes well for an affirmative answer to an invitation.
He readily accompanied me out of his stall and half way down the drive to the boarding barn. Then things slowed down. With Gus you never know if you've entered "Gus Time," which is a zone where time slows to a glacial pace, or if he just feels like hanging out and having some snacks. Whichever it was, I cajoled, wheedled, flattered and bribed; and as Gus is at heart a Really Good Guy, he came along.
Having ruled out bareback, not fancying much for my chances out in the wide world without a saddle if Gus jumped suddenly, I put his saddle on. However, today was the day to break out the bitless bridle.
Up on Gus's back, the first thing we have to do is Eat (well, Gus does). Then when he lifts his head up, I suggest forward locomotion. Yes! He agrees, and sets off into the sand area. I can immediately tell that the bitless bridle is a big improvement. When I first started riding him, he was very heavy on his forehand. He has improved a great deal, but with this bridle, there was a palpable difference straight away. I guess removing the discomfort, and the anticipation of even greater discomfort, produces a relaxation which translates into lightness.
A couple of Cloverleaf Maneuvers (interspersed with turns around the arena) later, Gus decides to leave the arena and find something to eat outside. Fortunately my daughter and George are ready to hit the trail. So off we go.
This is all new territory now. I used to be In Charge - tactfully so, I hope, responsively so .... but now I'm trying to be democratic. Of course, it's bit disingenuous because I'm not really going to let him go home. So I guess you could say I kindasorta split the difference. I'm giving in to Gus as much as possible, but still expecting him to come on the ride even if he changes his mind and wants to leave. (Of course George is ahead of us, and Gus isn't going to go off and leave him.) Anyway, whenever he wants to stop, we stop. I try to let him pick the pace. And with the bitless bridle, he's going rather nicely with minimal input from me. There was no moment when we directly disagreed.
A funny thing happened when we were almost home. We strayed into the edge of some luscious half-grown hay, bright green, about 12 inches tall. I let Gus have a bite or two.
Then - and I hadn't asked him to do anything - he suddenly got annoyed and started walking backwards, as if in rebellion at being asked to walk forwards. Which I hadn't asked. He must have been having an internal battle between the Gus who thought we should keep going after George and the Gus who wanted to stay and eat delicious grass. All I had to do was sit there while the struggle between Gus and his Conscience enacted itself, until he shrugged his shoulders, turned, and headed for home.
Later, after Gus and George were turned out again, I went to see Bridget and Chloe, feeling awfully guilty at having used up all my time without taking them out. I gave them treats and scratched them a bit. Bridget was ok, but Chloe I think is very mad at me.
My daughter's riding has improved so much in the months since she has had George. Under her care and tutelage, he has made great strides too. The challenge of working with a green horse has made her focused and conscious in a new way. It's ironic that this should happen at a time when I am ambivalent about the whole riding project. I am not going to let my ambivalence cloud her achievement, however. She deserves praise and encouragement, and I intend to give it. Just because I'm heading off in some weird new direction doesn't mean that she is required to be on the same track. Today, though, when George was showing a little reluctance to go through a narrow passage between some trees, I said, "Remember Janosch and Hempfling! Don't insist on him going through - ask him to stay in position and wait for him to decide to go on his own! It'll be a bonding experience!" I don't believe her response was entirely gracious - but maybe she listened.
So, yeah, riding .... we'll see.