I took Tessa out for a ride this afternoon. We are sticking to the gravel road as it is the only place free of ice and I was a bit apprehensive about her feet. I trimmed them this morning and took quite a bit of hoof off, but she actually felt better today than she did on our last little jaunt. If I can gradually increase her work over hard surfaces without making her sore, her feet will toughen up. We are both woefully out of shape and my joints are going to need to work up to riding again, but I am hoping to get a lot more time in the saddle this year.
Tessa was definitely feeling like Spring today, excited to be out and barn sour all at once. There were lots of starts and stops, charging forward then wanting to spin around and race home to her donkeys.
It was a good ride regardless. Rather than fight with her, I opted to make a conscious effort to accept whatever she offered and channel it into something constructive. When she got fast and really wanted to motor on, I said, "no problem as long as you stay in gait". It takes a lot of propulsion and collection for a horse to gait well. It is something we have had to work on, mostly because I have never trained a walking horse before and we have both had to to figure it out as we go. She knows what's wanted now, but it takes effort to maintain. Channeling all her nervous energy into that got us a nicely energized running walk.
When we hit the T intersection, she wanted to duck sideways and head for home and with her first sideways step, I asked for a sidepass. It is a new concept for Tessa, but as that was what she was giving me, that was what I asked for. We did about ten feet of the most beautiful sidepass and somewhere in the middle of it, it turned into my idea rather than hers. The next time around I asked for a sidepass before she could try it and, while what I got wasn't beautiful, she had grasped the concept. The next time I ask, she will at least know what I am talking about. We got a lovely bit of shoulder-in that way as well. Her sudden stops were turned into backups and swerves off course became serpentines.
We were out for about an hour and it feels like a good start to getting both of us back to work. By the time we rode up to the barn, Tessa was listening well and relaxed. Perhaps just a bit perplexed as well, certainly she was thinking hard by then. What could have turned into a fight ended up being an excellent training exercise.
When I was young, I was always taught to "never let the horse win" and I rode that way for a long time. I still hear that phrase any time I am around other horse people. I have certainly gotten into my fair share of fights with horses over the years. I can't think of a single instance where it accomplished anything. The trouble with the "never let 'em win" attitude is that it presupposes an adversarial relationship. As soon as there are "winners", there have to be "losers". Regardless who "wins", something in the relationship is lost. Better, I think, to ride out and accept whatever the horse can give that day. Channel it into something good and you both get to come home winners.