Sweet 16 Ride!

For Wiley’s 16th ever ride under saddle, Kelsey (13) took the reins. Wiley is already 16.3 and Kelsey is just at 5 feet, so they made an interesting pair. I just let them walk around, and Wiley was a perfect gentleman. I was so proud of them both!

Although this was a fun thing to do for Wiley’s Sweet 16 Ride, there really is a reason why I did it. I wanted to start generalizing Wiley’s under saddle training. I don’t want Wiley thinking that I am the only one that can ride him. He needs to learn that it is OK for others to get on him. I start slow, and feather in other riders occasionally. Everyone gives aids a bit differently. Wiley needs to understand that all of that is OK. He passed his first test with flying colors!

Wiley has gotten to the point that if I told a competent rider he was an old, un-tuned lesson horse, they would get on and ride thinking nothing of it. His steering is a bit jerky at the walk and trot.  And at the canter, his steering is still a work in progress, but he rides like a kid’s lesson horse. He knows the basic aids, it  just takes him a bit of extra time to process them.  Wiley’s transitions are decent. He only trots a few steps before the canter. He picks up his correct leads most of the time and he keeps a consistent pace. He can trot serpentines, and he can back, turn on the haunches and forehand relatively decently. He just needs time in the saddle and his response times will get better. I started riding him outside the arena as well. So far, so good, but of course, I am taking it sloooooow!

Transferring Aids – Ground Work to Under Saddle Cues

Wiley has been ridden a total of about 2 hours in his lifetime. In this video, I am beginning the process of transferring some of Wiley’s aids from ground work to under saddle. Wiley is clicker trained, so he is rewarded after each correct effort.

The lateral aids I used on the ground for turn on the forehand and haunches are close to the aids under saddle. With very little ride time, Wiley is already starting to understand these movements. He can delineate between an aid slightly in front of the girth (move the shoulder) from an aid behind the girth (move the haunches). Backing while giving at the poll was just a straight pick up from ground work.

At this point in Wiley’s training, most  cues are very light tactile aids. I can use one finger on the reins or a touch of the stirrup for Wiley to understand what I want. Notice on the backing aids, however, that Wiley makes a big “give” while backing. That is not from pressure. That is from his training to give while backing.  He is just making a big effort here. Wiley can back with one finger on the reins. The one thing Wiley isn’t very good at yet is turning while moving forward. He is just learning to control his body. For now, sometimes he over turns, and sometimes he under turns. Sometimes he doesn’t turn at all and sometimes his body doesn’t follow his nose, and he pops a shoulder out. Since I am not yet using leg aids to control his body while riding (I am working on getting the forward cues solid), I use a dressage whip to touch his shoulder and remind him to keep it in line. Works perfectly. The turning thing just takes time for him to understand just how much turn I want. It will come with experience.

Wiley is also learning to canter. This video is of his third time ever cantering under saddle. Although you can’t hear it because of wind noise, I am using a verbal canter cue to help Wiley understand what I want. When he first transitions to the canter, I reward him so he knows he is doing the right thing. The second time I ask, I let him canter a few circles before the reward. Even though his canter is very smooth and rhythmic, I can tell he is still very unsure of himself. I will keep his catnering very short until he gains confidence and balance.

First Canter Steps Under Saddle!

Wiley is growing up fast! With a few trotting rides under his belt, it was time to try canter.

Just like when I first asked Wiley to trot under saddle, Wiley was put on the longe line. This way Wiley can focus on 1 variable of change-carrying a rider under saddle.  He doesn’t have to think about too much. I am in the middle giving cues and supporting him the whole time. Once again I chose Amy for the first canter ride because she is a quiet rider that won’t lock up if Wiley should pull a baby horse stunt.

Of course Wiley has no clue about canter aids under saddle, so Amy’s aids are only a pre-cue. Wiley is taking his commands from me. I just like him to get used to the idea of the under saddle aids. Eventually, he will start cantering off the pre-cue alone. Amy will only use her legs for transition to the canter and then take them off completely (no steering with them…that comes later). Her only steering is through the reins.

When Wiley first transitions into the canter, I click him after only 2-3 strides. This lets him know that the transition was correct. It also gives him a reward before he thinks too much about what is going on. After rewarding him for the transition twice, I go ahead and let him canter a full circle or so before a reward. In his 4th canter transition under saddle, I let him canter 3 full circles before giving him a  jackpot reward and ended it there. That is plenty for Wiley to think about day 1.

Caution: Baby Dinosaur Under Saddle!

For those of you that asked….Here’s the Video of Wiley learning to be a real horse!

I was working on Wiley’s upward transitions in the video (both walk and trot). I am using the voice commands that Wiley already knows from ground school to help transition him to tactile leg aids under saddle. You can hear me click after the first couple of transitions to tell Wiley he is on the right path. Wiley was super good. You can probably hear the tractor in the video. It was dumping garbage into the dumpster. It didn’t bother Wiley a bit. There were also 2 workers with string trimmers whacking the weeds. Wiley looked a few times, but it didn’t bother him too much. I guess when you are a dinosaur, nothing much bothers you!

You will also notice that Wiley is throwing his shoulder in at the trot. Since this lesson is about transitions and learning to carry a rider at the trot, I am purposely ignoring the shoulder. When Wiley is more comfortable with the forward aids, I will go back and add lateral controls. He already knows them. I just need to translate the ground school aids to leg aids. I skip the lateral aids in the beginning so that the lesson is really obvious.

Also notice that Wiley can already perform a basic back up. That is something that needs no translation from ground school to under saddle. Wiley’s ground school lessons have paid off nicely.


Time to Ride That Crazy 3 Year Old Horse!

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.

Wiley's 3rd ride. Clicker training for the walk transition.  5 minutes of work and Wiley is TOTALLY relaxed!
Wiley’s 3rd ride. Clicker training for the walk transition. 5 minutes of work and Wiley is TOTALLY relaxed!

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.


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