I learned a lot from Simba, even if we kind of hated each other.
I learned that nothing happens immediately. I learned that uprooting a horse and changing everything about its surroundings means that you’re going to see the worst of it in the first 2-3 months as the horse adjusts and you get to know each other. I learned that no matter how awful something seems at first, it can and will get better if you put the time into it.
Thankfully, I actually really kinda sorta ADORE this horse…so, we’re already ten million steps ahead from where I was with Simba when I brought him home. I thought I liked Simba. I swear I thought I did. But then I started working with him and we made each other insane. I work with Sirius and it’s an entirely different feeling — even when things get crazy or something goes wrong, I still want to smush his face because he’s so smushable. In less “I am obsessed with my horse” wording, I also have a horse that is much more willing to work with me instead of fighting me tooth and nail. He’s also much more sensitive, MUCH hotter, and a lot more reactive than Simba was. So, while there are some similarities, mostly when it comes to holes in his training, there are some major differences that keep me on my toes.
I did jump on him the day after I moved him to A’s. Ill advised? Maybe, but he’s a horse with a busy brain who does MUCH better when he’s doing something. So, I went over there with the mindset of “if he lunges well and seems to be okay, I’ll get on.”
He lunged well. He stood for grooming and tacking up well. He was good for our pre-flight groundwork check. So, I climbed into the saddle.
He was attentive and as soft as he gets right now when I climbed up. He was his usual zoomy self, but it was fun to work in such a large ring with that. We did lots of circles and serpentines and changes of directions to keep him occupied until A joined us on Lexi. A and Lexi loped around on a loose rein (reiners! Man I miss riding reiners!) and watched us motor around the ring, laughing at Sirius’ funny way of moving. Shortly after, we were walking down the driveway to hit the trails!
Now, I was under the impression that I knew the trails in this area pretty damn well. WRONG. There is a whole freaking side of the forest I didn’t even know about. I am itching to get out there and start exploring, because that is my favorite thing to do!
A and I set out and wove through the back of her neighbor’s property. Sirius was happy and forward, with the occasional mild goofy spook over nothing. Lexi, bless her, cantered down the dirt roads to keep up with us at a gait. It was adorable. A is a really excellent horsewoman and a really competent, pretty rider. We’ve known each other for ten years (oh my CHRIST I am OLD) and I think that was the second time we’ve ever ridden together…and the first time was a glorified nose-to-tail trail ride so I don’t much count that.
We ended up pausing to chat with her friend once we hit the dirt roads before picking up the rail trail (squeeee!). A looked back at me and asked if it was okay to canter.
In my mind: YES YES YES CANTER YES YES YES YES YES
Verbally: *nonchalantly* “Yeah it’s okay.”
So, we cantered and it was glorious. Sirius was a little strong and a little more concerned with keeping up than anything else but it was not the day to pick that battle…especially because I was also preoccupied with watching Lexi have a BALL in front of us. She is such a lovely horse, and her version of “being naughty” is to swap her leads up front while cantering with the occasional sassy little hind end pop. Such a funny mare!
We headed back for home after that. I found out quickly that Sirius REALLY loves to goat-jump logs and steams (much to my chagrin…I’m sure the entire town of Mason, NH heard my pterodactyl screeches of terror), and quickly put that near the top of my list of things to school when given the chance because hell nah. ALL FOUR HOOFIES ON THE GROUND. MAMA DON’T JUMP.
The following weekend was amazing because I was actually house sitting at the barn. I spent all Friday evening gleefully running back and forth between the house and the barn to hug him like a lovestruck teenager. I even threw his rope halter on, wiggled onto his back, and had a nice little bareback ride under the stars. Then I plopped down in his stall and fussed on my phone for awhile while he napped. It was perfect.
The actual weekend, however, was a little bit scattered and frustrating for me under saddle. Saturday morning, I ran over to J’s and rode Sirius’ dam, Tica. That ran long, and then I was in a rush to meet up with D when I went back to the barn to ride Sirius. I ended up flustering both of us. There was a lot of spooking and a lot of him trying to blow through my hands while we rode over to D’s, including a full mental breakdown over a scary house. Our ride WITH D was good, and included some schooling over logs (he walked over every one) and a nice bit of gaiting in the woods. We leap-frogged who was leading and who wasn’t, and we both got to work with our respective mounts on being respectful even when there was a horse in front. My favorite part of that ride, though, was D’s comment from behind me after we boogied up a hill and mountain goat-ed our way through some rocky terrain: “It’s nice to hear you laughing on a horse again.”
That Sunday, I stuck to the ring. My back was cranky after riding Tica, Sirius, and tanking it HARD in the paddock losing my footing over loose hay, and I didn’t want to risk it. I was also a little annoyed at myself for not keeping my shit together and wanted to work on something “easy” for both of our sakes.
I just wanted to work on “stop”. Stop has gotten much better since I started riding Sirius, but I figured a little schooling couldn’t hurt. It went really well — like, stopping off of my seat and barely having to close my hands on the reins well! — for 3/4ths of the ring…except for one side, one direction. It was really, really strange. Going right, along one long side, he decided he just. couldn’t. I would ask him, and he would stop for a second, then throw his head up and threaten to rear. I’d spin him a few times and ask for it again, and he’d give it to me reluctantly. It took us maybe 20 minutes of this, interspersed with giving him the “easier” task of stopping somewhere else in the ring (where he was happy to do so) to not completely fry him. By the end of it, I got one stop out of him on that long side that he actually stood for instead of threatening to go off. The second he gave that to me, I practically vaulted off of him and gave him lots of pats. Whatever it was, he seems to be over it, because when I repeated the lesson (very, very briefly) in the ring this past weekend? No rearing.
Odd creature is odd.
I spent the following week analyzing the rides we had the previous weekend, and was determined to make some changes. Sirius is so sensitive, and it’s going to be an ongoing challenge for me to just be present and not succumb to my own crazy high anxiety. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: I needed to chill the fuck out. I went up Friday night after work to say hello, and spent the evening currying lazy circles into his coat and chattering at him. We did some minimal work on ground tying, which is hard for him because he really wants to be with you. He’s not pushy or in your space unless invited, but he is very much “locked on” when he’s working with you and has never been asked to just stay put. It took some repetition but he was standing quite nicely while I walked away from him by the end of a very short session.
Saturday was just…fun. I did some groundwork where we reinforced the “stand” command. I kept myself as light and quiet as possible, with LOTS of praise when he got it right. It was very interesting (and rewarding) to see the difference. He responds very, very well to touch and praise, which is something I’m very much not used to. You can almost see him swell up with excitement when he “gets” it, especially when it’s hard for him. We are still diligently working on the mounting block, and it’s a million billion times better. He had zero nervous circles around the mounting block on Saturday — he was not relaxed and there were wiggles, but none of his previous nervousness. I was able to swing on and have him stand until I cued him to move off, which was fabulous compared to his previous reaction of “your butt is in the saddle we go now byeeeee!”
We set off without a plan and, per usual, he was tense at the very beginning. I, however, expected this and was VERY conscious of my own reaction to it. I have a tendency to get tense when they get tense (imagine that!) and I’ve always had duller horses that did not feed off of my energy quite as much. Even if I forced myself to relax with Simba, he was still a ball of tension under me. Sirius, however, is so “in tune” with his rider that when I would relax, so would he. He boogered at stuff once or twice until I got into my own rhythm…and that was the end of it. If I felt him tense up over something, all I had to do was talk to him and run a hand down his neck. It was really heartening to have him relax so easily with just a few soft words and a gentle pat.
I ran into my coworker/house sitting client K and her family as we were blazing up the road at a good clip. By then, I had decided on the far side of Townsend State Forest, and was planning on picking it up down by my aunt’s. K, however, scoffed at me and pointed me to the back of her property where there was an entrance. Excellent! I didn’t have to travel on the roads for forever, and could hit the trails!
Except those trails were recently logged and went off in a million directions…we explored for awhile before I gave up trying to find a familiar landmark and headed back towards the roads. We did get to school streams, though, which he DESPERATELY wanted to throw himself over and was all kinds of mad that I wouldn’t let him. He took these ridiculous, tiny steps through the water and made me howl with laughter, which was not conducive to keeping him from jumping said streams. He did not catapult us over anything but it took some doing each time to convince him to just WALK through them. Doofus!
We ended back on the dirt roads, and I rode down to the bottom of the hill just for good measure. We turned back around to come back up, and neither of us could help ourselves. We kept it at a civilized largo for a minute or two, before I gave him a fraction of rein and he was off. We scared the snot out of some folks working in their front yard and the wind made my eyes water and it was glorious. We slowed down to a gentle corto long before we had to, and we moseyed back home, with matching gleeful grins.
Then I got back to the barn and locked myself out of my car. BECAUSE I’M AWESOME.
I didn’t ride Sunday — instead, a whole crew of us hauled out to the Plaistow, NH Dover Saddlery store where I got to play customer service rep for my aunt and A for various things. I had a blast but I was TOAST by the time we left and desperately needed to unpeople for awhile.
So, tomorrow brings another unseasonably warm but exciting weekend full of pony things. All of my anxiety aside about trying to make sure I don’t entirely fuck this horse up…I am enjoying him. Even with all of the stuff that I knew would happen — relocation adjustment periods, “getting to know you” mishaps, re-wiring my brain to work with HIM and not any other horse I’ve worked with, so on and so forth — I’m enjoying this process of figuring out what does and doesn’t work, and I’m really enjoying when I get it right and things fall into place. It’s really something to have a horse respond to you the way he has started responding to me, with just a touch or a word. I have always loved this breed, but never fully understood what other Paso people meant when they said that once you begin a partnership with one, you have a partner for life. I haven’t even had this horse very long and he’s already showing me bits and pieces of what that could be like.
So, onward! Oh, and be prepared…it’s the holiday season, and at this point, I’m well known for dressing my horses up for any reason I see fit.
Christmas seems like a good reason.