Baby dinosaur’s big “Under Saddle” adventures are just beginning. Wiley is not quite 3, but I go so slow, that he will actually be 3 by the time he is ridden for more than a couple of minutes. I just couldn’t wait. As of today, Wiley has 4 rides under his belt. He is proving to be a pretty good little dinosaur. My entire goal is to keep each ride under the stress threshold, so Wiley is relaxed enough to do some good learning. Here’s how they went:
Ride 1: I just planned on refreshing Wiley’s memory on mounting and let him walk a bit. Unfortunately, it didn’t go as planned. He was fine as I mounted, and we walked around. But then, someone’s horse got loose and it ran right by the arena, dragging its lead rope behind him. Oops. Not a good way to stay under the “stress threshold.” Wiley spooked, turned and faced the horse, but that was it. He didn’t run, jump or do any dumb baby horse stuff. How great is that? Of course he had his head up in full giraffe mode. I rubbed his neck and gave him the “head down” command. He just stood quietly. I was so proud of him. He was a bit nervous after that and no good learning was going to take place, so we walked a bit and I rewarded him. Then I got off while on a good note. Not exactly the way I wanted to start him.
Ride 2: My plan was just to repeat Ride 1 but with a relaxed horse. All went well. Wiley was good. Starting to move forward off my leg and doing a bit of turning.
Ride 3: I finally remembered to bring a clicker for this ride, to reinforce the “walk on” leg command. Worked like a charm. Wiley was walking off a tactile leg cue only (no pressure needed). We walked in figure 8’s, backed a few steps and stopped to chat with a friend. Wiley was so relaxed, you would have thought he was an old trail horse. He just stood quietly while I chatted. No fussing whatsoever. I am starting to really LOVE this horse! The picture below is immediately following this ride. What you are seeing is pure relaxation. He worked for all of about 5 minutes entirely at the walk, so he isn’t tired, and he didn’t have to pee. He was just THAT relaxed (this is normal behavior for a clicker trained gelding . They are so relaxed, they almost look drugged). I just got off, tossed the reins over the fence and took the picture. This is the “look” I want to see before moving on to the next lesson.
Ride 4: Today is trot day. I like to start the trotting (or cantering) part really slowly. This is where “stuff” can happen. The added speed can sometimes stress a horse. I tacked Wiley up and put him on the lunge line. After a quick warm up, it was time to bring in my friend Amy. Amy has a great seat, and I trust she won’t lock up on Wiley if he should get nervous. Since Wiley is well trained on the lunge, the only added variable will be a rider on his back. He doesn’t have to think about much except carrying some extra weight. Amy used a tactile leg cue to ask Wiley to walk. I supported her with the lunge whip. Trotting went the same way. Amy pre-cued with a tactile leg aid and a voice command. Then, I supported her aids, by bringing the whip up to horizontal position (Wiley’s cue to trot). He trotted immediately. I clicked as soon as he transitioned. I gave Wiley a reward and repeated the process. After a few transitions, I waited longer before the click, eventually having Wiley trot the entire 20 meter circle. Wiley was perfect. No fuss. His body was relaxed. Most people would never know it was Wiley’s first ever trot under saddle. But I could tell Wiley’s mind was “processing” the lesson because he wanted to chew on the bit and reins when we were done. This is how he shows his mild anxiety. We will stay with this lesson until Wiley has fully processed it, and I start to get the “look.” It could take awhile, but Wiley will let me know when he is ready to move on.