Friday, April 26, 2013

Rethinking the painted horse

I've been riding the painted horse a bit more often lately to get him ready for my husband to ride this summer. My goal is to ride him at least three times (preferably four) a week and hopefully, in about a month or two, he'll be ready to go. He learns quickly and I've stepped back and re-thought my training methods with him.

When we brought Montana home last summer he was definitely a challenge. You couldn't mount up without him trying to leave or rear, he didn't know how to turn, stop, go or respond at all. If your leg strayed from the girth, bumped around, strayed to his flank, or you reached around to touch his butt while mounted you were treated to bucking or bolting. Yay! Excitement! He was green as grass and turned out to be about two years younger than what he was sold as. We were told he was 7. The vet confirmed he had most likely just turned five when we had Coggins updated in February. I suck at telling age by teeth unless they are really young or very old, anything in between boggles me.

I had been working him regularly through the fall, but stopped in December when the weather turned ick and I didn't have time to ride two horses. Gabe got the riding time, Montana languished.

Anyway, I took him out on trails last weekend with a friend and he was a star. Walked through mud and water without hesitating, up and down hills and only startled once at a bird that took flight next to him and rustled the leaves. Our only issue was loading. He didn't want to get on the trailer very nicely, so, that's something to work on. He's a crappy traveler, too. He kicks the trailer and obviously doesn't like being on it, but, I think more miles and more time in the trailer will settle him.

When I first started working with him I trained him as a horse I would ride, not a horse a green rider would ride. Looking back, I realized that was a mistake. I like my horses to be very sensitive and respond to my seat before my hands. When I want forward movement, I use my seat first, then gently squeeze with calves if he doesn't respond to the seat. When I want a slower gait, I use my seat and abs first, then go to my hands as a backup. That's what I was training him to do. The stop, go, and turns were taught to respond to my body first, hands and legs second.

I later realized that was the wrong way to go when working a horse to respond to a green rider who will naturally go to hands first and not have the balance or knowledge to be able use his/her body and legs in a more refined manner.

This became obvious when a young friend rode him a couple of weeks ago. She is used to riding dead-headed/dead-sided horses who you need to kick to go. She kicked. He went straight from walk to canter. He responded the way he was trained to respond, like a fine-tuned Corvette, not a station wagon running on one-cylinder.

I need to work Montana as if I was training him to be a rent-by-the-hour trail horse. He needs to be used to unbalanced riders, unsteady legs, undisciplined hands and learn not over-react to any of that. So, now I'm forcing myself to ride like I'm drunk and have never ridden before. I'm flopping and sitting crooked and forcing myself to be less-refined in my aids. And so far, he's okay with it.

Our biggest issue so far is speed. When I'm unbalanced he trots faster faster faster. As soon as I'm balanced again, he slows down. But, I need to teach him to always trot slowly, no matter how unbalanced the rider is. So, I let him speed up, then pull him back down to a slow trot and release. I drop the reins and let him trot along at the pace I set. As soon as he speeds up again, I do it all over, staying purposely unbalanced (this is hard to force myself to do!). He's getting it. Slowly but surely, the lightbulb in his head is staying on.


  1. That does sound like a challenge. You sound like a good enough horseman to accomplish just about anything you set your mind to though...he'll come along. I only wish I had that kind of time to donate to even one horse. Once we get caught up on some of these infernal projects, then I want to relax and enjoy the summer. Dammit!

    1. That's the one thing about spring/summer I battle with every year...between all my projects and my goals with the horses, I seem to have very, very little time. I'm going to have to really discipline myself to get Montana's training done right as well as find the time to get my projects done, too!

  2. LOL I had a similar incident years ago. I would ride my horse to each jump, and move forward with her. When I tried to sell her, one of the potential buyers, being a bit uncertain about her, went forward two strides before the fence. My horse stopped each time, trying to figure out what was going on. Like you, I had to reschool her for different styles of riding.
    How smart of you to recognize the issue and deal with it. Good luck!

    1. It certainly makes you have a whole new respect for the trainers who do nothing but train horses for sale! Every rider is different and while horses are generally trained to know the same cues, it's the subtle differences in training that make a horse either an all-around good horse or one that can only be ridden by a few.