My little asshole, who has grown and developed so well, who is aging gracefully and fully appreciates his senior feed and twenty-four hours in a pasture, has taught me to be the rider that he needs. Sure, some horses would be perfectly happy in a field, never ridden. And some horses want to come in to work, but also want to try you and test you, and strengthen you. My guy has work ethic and an attitude. And he needed a rider who would tell him to go fuck himself when he felt assholish. I wasn't that rider, but I became that rider. What was I going to do otherwise? Have a horse I couldn't ride, who begged to be ridden, who I wouldn't let others ride, either? Or just risk that giant fear of eating dirt and work through it?
On Sunday, I watched a new boarder attempt to get her ornery mare to move two steps forward without kicking out or bucking. It wasn't going well and she eventually returned to the round pen to exorcise (exercise!) a few more demons. Somewhere, at some point, she had mentioned to me that she didn't feel up to the challenge that this horse presented. Too much inconsistent riding time to feel secure in addressing the problems the mare had.
So I offered to ride her.
I don't often see a horse and die to ride it. I am so satisfied with the horse I've got, with his movement, brain and abilities, that not much inspires me to long for another saddle. Including this mare. Nothing about her made me turn my head. And yet I could taste the challenge she presented and I wanted to try. In desperation, her owner traded mounts with me and hand-walked Archie, a confused and hot Archie, in circles, following the path that the mare and I made.
One time, I pulled out an old Clinton Anderson trick that some Western riders taught me. It's never been something I needed with Archie, but it sat in the back of my mind, dormant. The mare stopped, did her kick/buck thing, and when I asked her to move forward, started to back. So I kept her backing for approximately half of the short side (10 feet?) and when I asked her to move forward again, she willingly stepped off. No backing again after that!
I asked her owner how long it had been since she'd trotted under saddle. She said that they picked up a trot the last week, but that her behavior was a 180 and that she was compliant and willing. Canter? No idea.
Transitioning her to the trot, she slammed on the brakes one more time and that was the last one, pretty much. The mare admitted defeat, and willingly trotted both directions in large serpentines. She was responsive to my leg, a little slow to bend, but willing to take contact. Also, her QH trot was like butter.
During all this, inbetween trying to keep my seat and trying to keep her forward, I gave her owner my impressions. That the mare needed consistent, short work. That every ride needed to end on a good note. That she had to fight through these battles, because dismounting only taught the mare to act up and be lazy. That mom needed to come with a crop. We talked briefly about me riding the mare more and the owner riding her with me there as encouragement. I completely understand and appreciate how much it means to have someone on the ground, focused on you, even if all they say is, "Keep going."
And I would not be the rider wanting to step in and assist, confident in my knowledge and skills, if Archie hadn't been my partner for the past eight years. Whatever rider I am, it's because of him.