Inspired by my ride the other day, and also by my Animal Communicator client's claim that horses are worried about hurting their humans' feelings, I resolved that we should do more riding around here.
Cos I reallyreally like riding, and maybe they wouldn't mind indulging me.
Plus I have a Cashel Soft Saddle on loan to try, and I needed to give it a whirl.
Here's the thing - there's this fear associated with mounting up. Fear and a feeling of seizing control from the horse - of creating a disconnect between human and horse.
So that's what I wanted to work on.
I got Rose out and put the Cashel saddle on her. It has a Western cinch, which I'm not used to, but I figured it out; plus the stirrup leathers are set on low, so the stirrups are long, even on the shortest hole. But I got it sort of sorted out, and when I brought out the bridle to put on, she turned her head all the way around towards me, because she knows it's the bitless now - back when she was expecting a bitted bridle, she used to turn away.
Next, we headed over to the kitchen steps for the purposes of mounting.
I just wanted everything to be calm, and relaxed, and unforced. So I lead Rose into position, gave her a treat, and when she broke position, I peacefully lead her around in a circle back to the same spot. Once she started holding that position, I stepped up onto the bottom step and gave her another treat. When she moved off, I just lead her around again and re-positioned, keeping the reins loose.
After a few times she stayed put, so I advanced to suggesting that I put my foot into the stirrup, again keeping the reins loose. When she moved away, we just quietly walked around and back into position.
After another couple of times, she stood still and let me mount. Of course the treeless saddle slipped, and I had to tighten the cinch. But on the next attempt, everything worked fine, and there I was sitting on top of Rose with no sense of having had to hold her still or take control.
Rose is a horse who likes to take her time and say no at first. Allowing her to do that gives her confidence. I liked the feeling of being able to mount because she agreed to let me - not because I trained her to let me, but because I asked and she said yes.
We pottered around the yard a bit, sometimes Rose choosing where to go, sometimes me. I think she'd've opted to go down towards the road, but the dogs were out, and I didn't want them to follow. Rose is a very listening horse. The bitless bridle we're working with is a bit of a blunt instrument, but nonetheless I think we made a little progress in the short time I was riding.
The soft saddle was ok - I need to try it with shorter stirrups. I think it'll be a good addition to Rose's saddle wardrobe, but I expect that it won't work for Bridget as I was hoping, as because she is so very cylindrical, it'll probably just slip at the slightest provocation.
Then it was George's turn. It seems that being tied to a fence and having a saddle put on and a person climb aboard is less of an imposition than being asked to walk backwards at liberty for no particular reason. He totally didn't make his mean face or get grumpy even when I tightened the girth. We approached mounting the same way as with Rose. He didn't need as many re-positionings and let me climb up pretty quickly.
As with Rose, we just had a short ride pottering about the yard. I think George will be a good riding teacher, because as soon as my hands start to interfere at all, he pulls the reins out of my grip. But if I'm very careful, he stays connected and listening.
I'm looking forward to my next ride!