Tom Dorrance once said that a horse cannot be expected to trust its environment, if it didn’t trust its handler (or rider) in the fist place. In the light of this, my horse Dandy gave me a great gift today. The gift of trust. Since we had a pretty good and useful riding session yesterday, I thought today would be a perfect opportunity to have our first outting on the trail… in hand. I don’t have enough controlled established in the saddle yet that I feel safe just hitting the road, riding him, and I certainly don’t want to set either of us up for anything but success, so taking a little stroll with him, on the ground, sounded like a pretty smart option. Of course I had in mind get him acquainted to a trail that we would later *ride* but my friend Jean-Michel told me “Go up in the woods behind his pasture, it’s about 12.5 acres and pretty untamed, he’ll have stuff to go across.
My boy after yesterday’s lesson, during which he surprised me very positively by ignoring a horse whose rider had him lope kind of uncarefully close to us, on several occasions…. He’s starting to look like a little horse in training, too !
So I went to pick up my boy from his pasture (he’s always superbly mannered and helpful about it) and instead of going left towards the barn and arena, we went right and deep into the woods. The path goes up, following the pasture (and his buddy, Picasso, was walking alongside us and calling a good deal of the time) and then we were at the entrance of the woods, thick, dark and steep. I made sure I had good footing (didn’t want to end up with a 900 lbs colt on my shoulders) and went up. Dandy went up after me, never taking the slack out of the rope. We had to navigate between a lot of thin trees, branches whipping both of us, pick our feet up real high to walk over fallen trees, do down through wide ditches, and even jump over a few trunks. The colt was cucumber cool the whole time, just happily plodding along and not batting an eye at anything. I was pleased to say the least !
We stopped for a little break and he started investigating the area, here he actually picked that big branch in his mouth !
When we were in better cleared patches, we worked yielding the hindquarters and the shoulders, and laterally flexing the neck, as well as backing-up. Once he was a little “up” due to that, I tossed the rope over his back and within a few seconds he came right back “down”, lowering his neck and breathing deeply. Then we found a flat place with a few small trees on the ground and I did some sending left and right, as you can see in THIS VIDEO. It is totally unedited and my friend and mentor Daniel, of Dauphin Horsemanship advised me to be a little more lenient with Dandy after he’d done something good, referring to the moment I chose to back him up (and he chose to protest about it) after he’d come a little closer without being asked. While I am very big on respect and personal space with this youngster, considering where he comes from in terms of pushiness, I do get Daniel’s point that no real offense happened, and that I was being a little anal about it, which probably caused Dandy’s protesting response in the first place. We worked on that soft back-up again later on during the walk and ended up on a good note 😉
Overall I was thrilled with my colt’s quiet and willing response in this totally new environment, he didn’t spook or even look twice at *anything* went down then back up in ditches when asked, respecting my space the whole time, wading through thick brush, going and coming on request, etc. Tomorrow we’ll fine tune our steering in the arena again, and may try some real “trails” later in the week. Stay tuned for our next report !