In my previous post, I mentioned that last week I took Bear and Shiloh over to a local training/boarding barn for another field trip. I thought I would share in this post about what I am working on with Shiloh when we ride.
The field trips allow me to work on several things at once including trailer loading/unloading, riding in a new location and using some different riding facilities to help us in our training goals. Not to mention I get to have someone to keep an eye on Bear, take photos and be some eyes on the ground to what I am feeling in the saddle. And it is fun!
When I brought Shiloh home (in August 2018), he had spent the previous five years as a pasture companion to other horses and had barely been ridden during that time. He was out of riding shape, both physically and mentally. A lot of my early work with him was getting him re-accustomed to being a riding horse again. Long Winters in my area and higher than usual rain fall the last couple of years really slowed down our progress. It wasn’t really until very recently that I felt like we were more on the same page.
He tends towards the pace, which puts his body in awkward and unhealthy postures, so I have been trying instead to encourage a four-beat walk and then a fox trot when he gaits (he is a Missouri Fox Trotter, but like most gaited horses, he can do several different gaits). This year we also added canter work (but only on a lunge-line not undersaddle yet). Obstacle work is part of most rides, both to add interest and variety as well as to work on certain skills. Even simple things like walking over a couple of ground poles help him practice lifting and placing his legs. Both help him with using his body more effectively (plus it is really hard to pace over ground poles without getting all tripped up so it encourages that four-beat walk).
Keep in mind that I am trying to do all this with Shiloh largely without an adequate place to ride at home (so we constantly have to work around the weather), without eyes on the ground (to help guide our work) and within my own physical riding abilities, mental fitness and conceptual understanding of riding principles (which are all admittedly limited). A horse can really only do as well as his rider can do. I am well aware that he may show more brillance/better self-carriage with someone else in the saddle. Figuring out how to carry myself better so he can carry himself better is a work in progress.
I enjoy working on all these kinds of riding details, but at the same time it is disappointing to always be riding with both arms tied behind my back with all the impediments in my way to my own self-improvement. But it is either work with what I’ve got or not ride at all, so I chose to ride. I feel like we are headed in the right direction. As long as Shiloh continues to humor me in allowing me to ride him, we will keep slowly marching forward. I’d like eventually do to with Shiloh all the things I was able to do with Bear like trail riding, attending clinics, working with cows, going swimming and competing in some fun/local shows.
My overall goal that underpins everything else is building a positive relationship with him. I want him to feel safe with me and trusting of me, to enjoy our time together. In many ways it is a more illusive goal than gaining his obedience. Sure, I would like him to go along with my ideas, but how he feels about those ideas and the ways in which we accomplish them are equally if not more important to me too. How can I shape his body and his mind in a way that is effective, fair and humane? These are the things that are constantly running through my mind as I work with him at home and as we go on little adventures off the property.