I love going for a ride. I really do. Of course hanging out with the horses on the ground is fun and satisfying too. But I do love riding, and there it is.
I wasn't sure I'd be able to do much riding anymore. It's not always obvious whether the horse is 100% behind the project or if you're projecting your own wishes onto the situation. Several years ago I decided that if it's not what the horse would freely choose, then it wasn't worth insisting on. Because what's the point otherwise? I want a friend who enjoys our activities together and not a servant who conforms to my wishes.
So how do you KNOW whether the horse is really on board?
Well, how about if you put the horse into the round pen and he/she goes over to where the saddle is hanging on the rail and tries to pick it up?
Works for me.
Bridget has been doing very well on the trail, and I decided that the time had come to see if she and George would enjoy riding out together. So the plan was for Claire-the-barn-manager and I to give it a try.
As often is the case, either the two of them had read my mind or they were the ones whose idea it was all along - because when Claire and I arrive at the pasture, George and Bridget come marching over side by side (they who never walk together), while Rose stays away. We lead them up to the barn and turn them loose together in the round pen. As they are often very rude to each other (and George can be extremely threatening to Bridget), my plan was, if necessary, to enforce good mutual manners in the round pen by means of the lunge whip. But they both seem to have decided that the usual laws of nature do not apply inside the round pen. They converse together amicably, and even stand close to each other without twitching, kicking, squealing, lunging, or otherwise tweaking out. I've never seen them act like this before. Amazing.
Then they both make beelines for their saddles.
Still at liberty, they're tacked up, each free to walk away as often as they like in the middle of the process. (Occupational hazard = occasionally saddle may fall on ground; but that doesn't happen today.) I've finally (FINALLY) gotten into my head that George does not wish to be "trained" nor is it necessary to train him. It's ok to ask, and it's ok to ask more than once, as long as each time you accept "No" for an answer. If he's free to leave in the middle of being saddled, he stays benign throughout - no ear pinning, no stink eye, no grinding of teeth. Just a happy George. Even fastening the second side of the girth elicits no negative reaction or emotion.
Once the saddle's in place, I feel a surge of energy from him. Happy energy. So I ask if he'd like to go around the pen - yes, he would. I sense a canter coming on, so I ask if he'd like to run. He doesn't need to be asked twice, and off he goes, cantering and bucking around the circle. It's a joyful movement - playful and exuberant - and his face is soft. Claire saw him bucking in the field earlier today. I've never seen him buck in the round pen before, and it's very rare for him to buck in the pasture. I point this out to show the confluence of human decision and horse mood/response. You never know which causes which, or if it's one thing.
Clare mounts Bridget, and I climb up on George in the way which currently works for us, i.e. I place the mounting block beside him and step up, he walks off, I reposition the block and step up again, he walks off, etc. - maybe five or six times. No attempt to do anything different - just reposition, try again - no recriminations, no clever techniques, just keep asking politely. He remains sweet and calm, and then magically on the next attempt, he stays put, and up I get.
A happy trail ride ensues. What bliss.