(10 points to your appropriate Hogwarts house if you identify that theme song…)
I wanted to be a teacher when I was in middle school/high school. Like, REALLY wanted to be one. I had some amazing, inspiring teachers who had held my hand when it needed to be held and I wanted to be that person for a kid like me. Many thought this was a lovely, admirable goal but I had a few very wise folks give me a side eye because they realized, long before I did, that I have no patience for people. I scoffed at them for awhile, before begrudgingly admitting that they were right: I had no patience for other people. However! I had unending patience with critters. It would totally translate into patience with people, when the time came, right?
Spoiler alert: it doesn’t. Found that out in college. I have no patience for other humans and want to smack most of them. Tiny humans I tend to be better with — they’re kind of like puppies and I like puppies so they’re okay — but anything older than 5 gets the hairy eyeball when they want me to teach them something. I don’t consider myself particularly intelligent, but I’m a relatively quick study and expect everyone to be equally as quick. I also expect everyone to not need a whole lot of guidance and to independently figure stuff out for themselves, because that’s what I do.
I’m sure you see the issue here. There’s a reason they quit giving me the new reps when I was still in customer service at Dover…and that reason was, plain and simple, I sucked at it.
Moral of the story is, teaching has never been my strong point…until you give me an animal.
Critters are different. I’ve always had quite a bit more patience for the furry ones, and I like watching creatures learn. I don’t feel the same frustration with the process, probably because my expectations from the start are so much different with animals than they are with people. I love seeing or feeling that lightbulb moment when said creature finally understands what I’ve been trying to communicate, they give it, and they get a reward. I love the eager student who then throws me this response every time I ask because they KNOW now, and because they know, everything is okay in their little world again. Some people hate training because it takes time and effort, but thankfully, I’m not one of them.
It’s not always smooth, though. There is one other thing about training critters that can sometimes trip me up: hitting the end of my knowledge. I hit a point where I’ve built everything I can from what I know and can teach successfully, and then have to figure out where to go from there. I am young, prideful, and sometimes overly independent, so 90% of the time, I try to muddle my way through by piecing together a MacGuyvered approach through reading, YouTube videos, and the occasional discussion with a friend. There comes a point, though, where there’s only so much you can glean from reading/YouTube. I’m just smart enough to know that pride and independence cannot get in the way of properly educating a horse to be a good citizen, which means that calling in outside help is usually a better option before you get in over your head.
I don’t feel “over my head” with Sirius. I did with Simba, to be honest. I was overwhelmed by his lack of try and didn’t know how to go about combating that. At the end of the day, we fed off of each other and his lack of try became my lack of try…and, well, we know how that ends. Sirius is eager, though. He wants to do the right thing, whatever that is, even if he doesn’t understand it. I was willing to blindly muddle my way through with Simba because I hit a point where “good enough” was, well, good enough. With Sirius, I don’t want “good enough”. I want us to be the very best, like no one ever was (aahahahaha I crack myself up). So, while I’m not feeling overwhelmed and like I’ve bitten off more than I can chew, I’m willing to throw everything I have at this horse to make the very best happen. “My everything” at this point means going out and finding someone to walk me through teaching him the things he needs to know, so I can be 100% sure it’s done correctly without me puzzle-piecing things together. Don’t get me wrong, I am an adequate rider. I can stay on through most stuff, have enough experience to know when to discipline and when to pick my battles, and am mostly confident working with and around horses…but, I have holes in my training. Give me a green horse and I can ride it, but don’t ask me to teach it anything outside of forward, backwards, left and right. The finessing stuff is just not something I’ve had a chance to explore with someone guiding me. Sure, I could probably puzzle it out…but I don’t want this horse being an experiment on my end. If I’m going to learn how to do this stuff, I want to have someone walking me through it.
As I said last time, I made the decision to ask J for some lessons after I realized that a ground person in general would be beneficial for me. It’s been over a year since I last had a horse I was actively, consistently working with and it’s been a little bit of a struggle to get into riding mode instead of pure passenger mode. I really needed a year of just playing with horses, and I’m eternally grateful that I got what I needed, but switching gears is taking more effort than I expected it would. Once I realized that, it made sense to reach out for a few lessons.
I chose J for a whole slew of reasons, some of which I’ve already detailed. She knows Sirius well and she has the skills and experience to help us get to where we need to be. Lastly, and maybe most importantly right now, I am as comfortable with J as I can get with another person. She is possibly one of the only people on the planet I don’t feel constant emotional and mental pressure from when I’m in her presence. I knew that, in itself, was going to be extremely beneficial because my general reaction to other humans is tension, which isn’t conducive to a productive learning environment.
In short, it made sense…and based on the past few weeks, it’s been a really, really good decision.
J came out first three weeks ago for a short session that was mostly an evaluation. Now, I’ve been riding WITH J for over a year now, but not UNDER J. She is very good about not injecting her opinion unless it’s asked for, so this was my first formal instruction from her. I was mildly nervous, per usual, but that quickly dissipated as our usual banter wove itself into her teaching style. She is very good at articulating her point and getting it across in a way that is both easy to understand and easy to visualize. I’m a pretty visual learner, so I usually have to have someone show me something before I really “get” it, but J only had to take Sirius from me once when I gave her a deer in the headlights look.
Sirius’ groundwork was remarkably good that day — he was consistent and soft on the lunge line, and willingly yielded both fore and hindquarters. It was his best groundwork to date at the time (first weekend in January) and even I was impressed with him. Sometimes it takes an outsider standing with you for you to really observe a horse, and he has come leaps and bounds with his pre-flight check groundwork stuff.
J only worked with us under saddle for maybe ten minutes before having to leave, but it was a really productive ten minutes. I got on, and Sirius immediately buzzed forward into fast and bracey. I, instinctively, tightened up on the reins and went to turn him in a tight circle. J called out to me to loosen my reins a few notches, and open one rein and turn him in the complete opposite direction…and then let him go straight. Er, okay. Sure. So, I did. He went through the turn, walked for half a stride, and then tried to gait. J had me immediate turn him in a wider circle in the other direction.
Lather, rinse, repeat…until he was walking on a loose rein. Granted, J didn’t get to see that part because she had to scoot, but but the end of 20 minutes under saddle, I had a nice, flatfoot walk. I could tell Sirius was mildly confused but also pleasantly surprised by the heaps of praise he was getting. I vaulted off after two laps around the front of the ring at the walk, and he happily toodled after me back into the barn for a good grooming.
The next weekend was a bit of the same, but we added some corto into the mix. This is where things got really, really cool.
Now, I’ve been riding for almost 20 years. I’ve ridden a whole slew of horses and have some really awesome stories about those horses. That being said, I don’t think I’ve ever ridden one like Sirius. I’ve ridden hot and sensitive, sure, but I’ve never ridden one who tried so hard to be in tune with his rider. He has his moments when his hot and sensitive nature overwhelms him, but when we both get it right? Magic.
Nearing the end of the lesson two Saturdays ago, J wanted to incorporate some corto into our walking now that Sirius kind of had the idea of what we wanted. We went up to the front of the ring and put ourselves on a smaller circle. J asked me to corto, and I clucked to move Sirius up into his gait. He gaited off nicely, per usual, from just my voice. After a few strides, J asked me to come down to the walk. I gently closed my hands on the reins, and he obliged.
J then asked me to try just using my seat to ask him to move forward. Now, my experience with using my seat for forward motion is with reiners — aka, up and out of the saddle for your fast circles and run downs, and then coming back into the saddle to slow down or cue for a stop. These are big, exaggerated movements that cause big, exaggerated responses. Sure, I’ve always used my seat to ask for a stop.”Sinking down” into my seatbones was drilled into my head as a youngster. I’ve never actively asked for incremental forward movement with my seat, though, so it was a new concept for me.
It took me a few minutes to figure out how to do what was being asked of me. It’s a bit hard for me to describe, but I literally just add the slightest amount of tension to my seat and just think “corto”. The second it happened, I’m 100% certain there was a big, dumb grin on my face…because not only did he corto, he cortoed quite calmly and slowly, instead of steamrolling himself forward at mach ten. Then, the smile stayed plastered on my face because I released that tension, and he dropped back to a walk. SO FREAKING COOL. I know this is elementary stuff for most folks, but I have many training holes and have been riding horses that were not mine/not sensitive enough to really help me understand what this level of riding could be about,
I did this a few more times before repeating my vault off of him and covering him in kisses. He’s so pleased with himself when he gets praise. He’s such a smush.
This past Saturday, I almost boogered out…the weather in the morning was total shit, and I spent half my day in the office because inventory was about to be upon us and I had a hundred things that needed doing. However, when I got out of the office, the sun was almost shining and it was warm enough to where the snow was squishy…so, I suited up, and shuffled over to the barn.
I’m super glad I did, because we had a really lovely ride. Just in three rides of “redirecting” him when he gets zoomy, he’s relaxed markedly under saddle. In fact, I was able to mount him from the mounting block with almost no issues for the first time. He has come SO FAR from the panicked mess he was not too long ago, and has learned the command “stand” almost perfectly. I also started leaving his rope halter on under his bridle, mostly because he is super comfortable and secure with cues from the halter if it gets to that point (it hasn’t, but it acts like a security blanket of sorts for him), and I switched him into a double jointed snaffle I had lying around. I’m treating this as an accelerated (and I only use that word because he learns so quickly and he DOES have a fair amount of training) re-starting, and wanted to go back to basics with what was in his mouth. Unfortunately, Chad the Vet had to reschedule for Wednesday the 27th, so I’ve been consistently checking his mouth for ouchies and have pretty much sworn off using the reins if I don’t have to right now until that gets checked out…but he has taken to the snaffle quite well. He’s heavy in it, but lightness will come later.
Anyway, we did more of the same redirecting when I first climbed into the saddle. Once he was quiet down by the front of the ring, I expanded our circle a bit. We had to repeat the redirecting a few times, because he gets rushy going back towards the barn (mild barn sourness, clearly), but he settled very quickly. So, after a few good laps, we went back up front where the footing was best and worked on our walk-corto-walk transitions.
Which were AWESOME. I pretty much just thought “corto” and off he went. It is such a neat feeling to have a horse that in tune with what you’re asking! I experimented with turns as well, and he was quick to pick up moving off of my seat for turning. This horse, you guys…he is just so. much. FUN.
I cut it short after that because he was being so good and we were both enjoying ourselves, and I don’t like pushing it. He enjoyed many scritches and cookies, and was happy to go back outside with his friends.
Sunday, we just lunged because the footing had re-frozen and I wasn’t about to risk it. The far end of the ring was crunchy enough, so after a rousing game of chase (*mutter*), I caught my naughty beast and he gleefully zoomed around me on the end of the lunge line, even through multiple changes of direction. When I finally stopped flying my kite of a horse and he settled down to listen, we got some nice transition on the lunge line, worked on sidepassing on the ground, and then played with the mounting block.
He is really almost 100% with the mounting block at this point. He stands stock still when I get on, and only gets antsy when I approach the block. He is VERY protective of his left side for some reason. Once I place him at the block and tell him to stand, he tries his damnedest to keep me from moving around to his left side, attempting to “block” me with his head. I know for a fact this horse has never been mistreated or abused, so his reluctance over having someone approach him from the side to step up onto a mounting block is very curious. Regardless, most of our work was just standing still while I stood on the block. He’s quit his frantic circling, but the second you move to climb up on the block, he shifts his hindquarters away so he’s facing you, again, blocking you from being on his left. So, I would correct him, and try again. It took maybe ten minutes of this before he stood and let me scratch him from up on the block. I repeated this a handful of times, before swinging on bareback. Perks of having a short horse? A three step mounting block is PLENTY tall enough to simply swing your leg over his back for a bareback ride!
Of course, he just had his rope halter on so I sat up there for a minute, sang his praises, and stepped back down. We did this a couple more times, before I shrugged and asked him to walk off. We did a few circles in each direction at the walk (I didn’t even have to redirect him once, which was FABULOUS), before I slid down again and gave him many kisses.
It is amazing how much this horse is teaching me, in such a short amount of time. It’s also blowing my mind how much I’m loving every single second of it. He is such a vibrant little horse with such a big heart that you can’t help but want to smush his face. I’m so, so proud of him already and am so grateful I get to call him mine. I sincerely hope we have many years of teaching each other things.
In unrelated news, I house sat this weekend where I had the Corgi Crew and got many Corgi kisses.
And I met Lindsey Stirling and her sister Brooke at their book signing!
Aaaaand Alan Rickman died and I cried. A lot. #pathetic
I’m not sure if there will be ride time this weekend because snowstorm and inventory (UGH). Here’s hoping we get just enough snow so maybe we can hit the trails Saturday or Sunday…!