A Year In A Life With . . . Shiloh

Reading Time: 5 minutes, 13 seconds (plus a couple of short videos to watch)

Before we get too far into 2022, I want to summarize my horse life for 2021. I am doing this by writing three separate posts, one regarding each of my horses. The posts will come in three installments, each titled “a year in a life with. . .”. Today I begin by writing about Shiloh, my Missouri Fox Trotter gelding. In addition to describing some of what we did together in 2021, I throw in background information for those of you not familiar with his story.

What can I say about this sweet horse wrapped up in a flashy package? Mostly that I am enjoying Shiloh in a way I did not expect when I purchased him in the Fall of 2018. At that time, he had spent the previous five years mostly at pasture. He enjoyed his days as a companion to his previous owner’s other horses. But when the last one passed away, Shiloh was put up for sale. I brought him home as a companion to my senior horse, Bear, who was at that point also an only horse.

As two lonely horses coming together, they immediately got along well. In addition to having Shiloh as a trusty companion for Bear, I hoped to enjoy Shiloh as a riding horse. But I had my doubts. Five years is a long time to be out of commission. And I am no professional horse trainer.

We started a little rocky. Shiloh was dull, tuned out, unenthusiastic. He paced (instead of gaiting as his breed would ideally dictate). He tripped. He seemed exhausted after 10 whole minutes of riding at the walk.

I had trouble doing seemingly simple things with him. Like bringing him to a halt from a walk under saddle! I suppose technically he was running away with me, but luckily I rode well enough to stay with him at his slow shuffle.

I constantly questioned myself, struggling to figure out the best way to communicate with him. I was all the while nervous about working with this “new to me” horse.

In the back of my mind loomed the incident that resulted in his spending the previous five years at pasture. His owner lost confidence in him after a riding accident. An accident that led to an ER visit and a hospital stay. A freak accident, just one of those things that could likely happen to any rider. But because it happened with this particular horse, I unhelpfully thought about it almost every time I rode him.

Somehow, out of all of that, we started building a positive foundation together. He stopped tripping. Stopped pacing. Started holding himself under saddle in a much healthier posture than the inverted and strung-out way in which he started.

I also get the sense Shiloh likes me now. He sometimes comes up to me in the pasture when I’m doing chores just to hang out, relaxing in my company. And he’s almost always up for a good scratch.

Much to my delight, he appears more enthusiastic about our work together. In 2021, I first noticed that he was offering more to me without my asking. Sure, I need to ride each step to support him, but I don’t constantly have to hold him together. And while he will never be a speed demon, he is much more forward than he used to be.

His tendency to be slow used to drive me bonkers. Every step, it felt like he was pulling his legs out of a vat of gooey molasses. But his lack of speed gave me a gift. I realized this year that I can feel things on him that I can’t seem to feel on other horses. I can better process what he’s doing with his body because he is not so quick. I can sense his responses to my aids in a way I have not with other horses.

Due to this better sense of feel, I’ve had more success in influencing his way of going this year. Certainly more so than with any other horse from my past. It gives me a refreshing insight into riding that is exciting.

In reviewing my 2021 calendar, I see that we completed 68 rides and eight trailer trips together. Not bad, but I sure would like to get out and do more with him.

I had imagined by this time having a few clinics, trail rides and a couple of local horse shows under our belts.

But our only successful field trips were to the nearby boarding barn. We rode multiple times around both their indoor arena and outdoor track since 2019. But my attempt at attending a clinic earlier this year did not go well. Nor did my two attempts at taking him trail riding with a friend.

For all our field trips, I brought along my now-retired horse Bear. I didn’t want to leave him home alone. At the boarding barn, Bear has rarely been fussy, but at the clinic and my friend’s property, Bear was a nervous mess. Bear fretted and hollered. Bounced around the stalls.

Bear’s energy upset Shiloh to the point where he also fretted, hollered, and bounced while I tried to do groundwork and ride. We were all miserable.

The situation is disappointing, of course, but I can’t blame the horses. It’s a horsemanship issue on my part. Keeping a horse’s focus and attention, when the chips are down, is a long-standing struggle for me. When a lot is going on, I can get nervous, lose my confidence, and then can’t do what I need to do to get the horse back on track.

With the addition of a third horse to my herd last Fall, I was hoping to start taking Shiloh on trips without Bear. But a very rainy and then cold Fall season squashed those plans. I am hopeful we can give it a go in 2022.

I’ll wrap things up by sharing a couple of Shiloh videos with you.

The first is of us crossing a series of four ground poles together. While to some this may not seem impressive, I am positively thrilled. I remember the first time I asked him to cross one ground pole a few years ago. I’m pretty sure he ticked it with all four hooves. He ended up tripping over it so badly that it frightened me. I didn’t try crossing another ground pole for months after. So Shiloh being able to cross four ground poles in a row without hitting any of them? That’s miracle territory right there. And I have it on tape.

The next video is of us working on tipping a cone over with a front hoof. Since taking that video, we’ve graduated to tipping it over AND back up. That happened on our last ride of the year on an unusually warm December 31st day. It is a bummer that no one was with me to capture that event. But for this video taken earlier this Summer, my husband was taping the ride. Cracks me up how both of us are verbally cheering Shiloh on like he’s a baby taking his first steps. That kind of verbal tone can grate on the nerves (for both people and horses), but for Shiloh, I think he prefers it. Good boy, Shiloh!