Reluctant Cowgirl

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The Easy Horse

I have a second horse. I came by him by accident or serendipity, depending on your point of view. When I swung my leg over his back it was the first time I’d been on a horse in years. He was stubborn and did not want to leave the herd, but I inherently trusted him. Maybe because he is old and reminded me of the horses of my youth, maybe because he is small…but I didn’t focus on the fact that he is a 900-pound animal capable of inflicting damage – I focused on the ride. And sometimes that’s just what one needs.

So I rode Rube today. Not with any grand intention nor having planned to do so. I walked both horses into a pasture they hadn’t had access too since before the snow fell. I forgot that there were a couple stumps over there. The idea struck me and I put the halter on him, led him over, and mounted up, cowboy style. My ribs and belly met his back and in one confident following motion my leg went over and I was upright. I think we were both a little surprised.

I used a wide inside rein and asked him to go away from his buddy, back toward the barn. I kept my legs on him and used them to urge him in the direction I was asking for. I was persistent and clear. I did not freak out and dismount when he tossed his head and fought me. I stood my ground, and he listened.

We walked back through the two gates and into the paddock. He started to get anxious about being so far from Henry, who was still taking his time browsing where we’d left him. I asked him to relax. I told him I was with him and we got this. He finally said OK.

I swung my leg back over him and landed in the mud. When I took the halter off he didn’t even run to Henry, he just blew and took a few steps toward the gate with me. I smiled. I had ridden a horse well, even for a few minutes. I felt like I knew what I was doing and got my point across. I know that I’m not supposed to use terms like “battle” with natural horsemanship methods, but I was a winner nonetheless. Maybe the point is we both won.

I got the old horse as a confidence builder, because I trusted him and we both needed a little rescuing. He’s not particularly pretty or responsive or talented. He is old and crotchety and stubborn and has a case of buddy sour that you wouldn’t believe. But he balances out a green-as-spring mustang pretty damn well.


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I can’t recall if I ever ground drove a horse prior to when my current instructor handed me the reins in her ring a few months ago. The mustang was on the other end, and seemed to know exactly what he was doing. I did not. (It’s part of a theme.)

After that one mostly-successful lesson, I bought a surcingle and cotton long lines that are about 20 feet longer than anyone could ever need. (Honestly, what is up with 30-foot lines? What role could they possibly play in a training regimen? Do you drive a horse from across the arena?) We haven’t trailered all winter, which means the only lessons I get are from Youtube.

Some videos I watched included horses being ground driven in round pens. I don’t have a round pen at present, and if I did it would still have three feet of snow. We made do with the outrageous arena, and tried small circles at a walk and changing direction.

The problem I have experienced with Mustang Henry is an unwillingness to go forward. He balks (sets back) when tied, he balks in hand, he balks under saddle. The internet tells me this is a lack of respect. I get it. I am wary of the line between moving his feet enough to get him to honor my wishes and having him fear me. This thing in natural horsemanship or whatever you want to call enlightened horse handling where you balance on the head of a pin called ‘feel’ takes time to develop. Time and consistency.

I like the feeling of being at the end of a pair of long lines. With running shoes on, we can both burn calories heading up hills on the dirt road, and with more practice I’m sure we can come to terms on the proper signal for going forward at different speeds, and that rein pressure means ‘turn the direction my aid is asking you to go,’ not ‘turn in circles trying to face me as I spin around you and we both look like a couple of raving lunatics.’

img_0696A thing I am realizing in re-starting horsemanship lessons while approaching middle-age is that humor and patience are key. Onward!

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The Weight of Winter

The winter has been long. Snow started in November and didn’t let up til January. During that same timeframe the temperature barely snuck its head above the freezing mark, maybe twice. It averaged around 10 degrees F, with many nights below zero and several plummeting all the way down to the negative 20s.

The horses got more hay than they needed because I didn’t need that kind of guilt. There was no sign of ribs anywhere on either of them, but they were extra eager at every feeding time and seemed to know that it would be a very long wait for grass. I bought senior grain for the old one, fed a mixture of oats and sunflower seeds to the mustang, both mixed with soaked forage cubes, plus almost all the mixed grass alfalfa hay they could take. I overdid it because I was inexperienced and too afraid to underdo it. I gave up on the internet searches and just went with my own hungry winter gut.

It’s February now and the cold has broken on more than a handful of occasions. We can finally believe in spring and green grass, though it’ll still be awhile before we see any. The path to the arena is a frozen, uneven mess, and each time I go up there I swear I won’t do it again until the footing is better. But spring is coming, and I have fat horses, one of them always teetering on the edge of wild, so we persist in finding ways to burn calories and maintain a bond.

And everybody is on a serious diet.