When I first started riding 4 1/2 years ago, I met a fantastic lady named Heidi, who quickly became a fantastic riding partner and one of my closest friends. Heidi and I are close in age and her riding experience is vast. From English to Western, jumping and trail riding, you name it, she’s done it. She offered and still continues to offer advice, hugs when I need it and she is my BIGGEST cheerleader.
When Heidi and I moved our horses to our barn, her and her horse Cayman were just in the beginning stages of their partnership. At this point she had only owned him for about 2 months. When you first meet your horse, whether you own them or simply ride them on a regular basis, it’s like dating. There is a courting period, a flirtatious period, an infatuation period, a major crush phase, and an instantaneous “I’m in love” phase. The length of these phases varies. This is the “newlywed phase.”
The honeymoon ends once the “fluff” is gone and it’s time for your horse to test their boundaries with you – and they will test you.
We had been at our barn for 2 weeks when we decided to go on a trail ride with another rider. Alfie was a trail master but neither Heidi or I were really sure about Cayman’s trail abilities. We head out and we get about 2 minutes in and Cayman gets spooked. Our ride ended there, we turned around and came back to the barn. That was in April 2019.
Fast forward to July 2020. Our barn is under new management headed by a lovely and extremely experienced horse rider – Regina. Regina has a lot of experience with riding different skilled horses, super rock steady would never spook horses as well as the ones that do spook. She took an immediate interest in Cayman because she realized how much Heidi missed being able to trail ride and she wanted to help.
So, Regina worked with Cayman for the last few weeks, and after 3 or so rides, she asks me if I would mind riding Alfie while she rode Cayman out on the trails. I of course said YES. Today was Cayman’s 1st attempt at the trail since his spook over a year ago.
Let’s talk briefly about the weather today…it was the first day in about 2 1/2 months that the temperature wasn’t in the 80s. It was chilly, around 66 and damp. When there is a temperature change like that, the horses can get frisky, and they did. As I pulled into the driveway, I saw Cayman, Alfie, Ziggy & Texas running, rearing, bucking and having a grand ole time. Not bad for a paddock full of senior horses. Weather change, frisky horses, Cayman’s first day out on a trail…hmm…I will admit, I was nervous for Regina.
I get Alfie tacked up and we make our way to the mounting block. He stands still but then decides while I was getting on he was gonna move, but it didn’t matter, I was already on lol. We get into the arena, I fix my seat and we start our warmup. The new bit is working great, we worked on our circles, crossing the diagonal to change direction, even got in some nice trotting down the long sides of the arena. Cayman and Regina joined us in the arena to warm up.
After our warmups were done, off we went. Heidi was walking next to Cayman and Jenna, Regina’s wife was walking next to Alfie.
Immediately there is pep in Alfie’s walk when he realizes his heading on the trail. Cayman is in front and takes a really long lead. He’s not rushing or speed walking but his strides are much bigger than Alfie’s. There were several times during the ride Regina stopped Cayman so we could catch up.
As I watched Regina beautifully ride Cayman, and Alfie happily following I couldn’t help but smile with such happiness. In a matter of weeks, Regina had worked out the kinks with Cayman to be able to do this ride. Seeing my friend so happy with the progress her horse made in such a short time, let’s just say there were some happy tears today.
As we approached the end of the trail and turned around, Alfie and I led the way back. It was the first time he led a trail ride so willingly and easily. I was stunned. His confidence, his trust in me has really shown these last 2 weekends.
Regina had a good distance between us, but I kept checking to see how close they were getting to us. After about half way back, Alfie and I pulled over to let them pass us, and we then continued our leisurely stroll. During our ride, I practiced my leg yielding and getting him to round his position. My trainers voice echoing in my head, chest out, shoulders back, head tall like you are wearing a crown, hands in small fists just above the the withers, elbows at my side, heels down, toes pointing forward, knees forward…yes it’s a lot to remember!! But I did my best to remember it all.
We ended our ride with both horses happy and relaxed. Cayman was outstanding. Alfie was brave.
Horses are complex creatures, that’s a fact. There isn’t anything textbook about any of them except their anatomy. Personalities, temperaments, likes, dislikes, all vary. They don’t come with a manual. And they all don’t respond the same way to people. But show them kindness, love, consistency and they will start to earn your trust. Once that’s been established and your foundation in your relationship is strong, it won’t matter that the “honeymoon” phase might be over, what you are left with is so much better.❤️🐴