by Laura Crum
Sometimes when I talk to others or read blogs, I get a bit overwhelmed by all I’m NOT doing with my horses. Because currently all I am doing is short trail rides, light riding in the arena and gathering cattle from a small pasture. Not very exciting or challenging, though I enjoy it. So the other day I saddled Sunny up and decided to see what I can actually get done with him.
(An aside here—I saddled Sunny up on the one day in the last week that it was neither raining nor very muddy as a result of rain—in June! If I sound a bit bitter here, its because I am. But I digress.)
Here’s my list of what we can do. Walk, trot, lope on cue (within one stride), though I have to work at it to get the right hand lead. Sustain each of these gaits for several circles as asked in a calm, collected frame. Halt within a stride from any gait in a balanced frame. Back reasonably freely for several strides. Extend, or at least speed up, all three gaits without getting excited or breaking gait or losing the good frame. Walk calmly over small obstacles as I direct. Open and close a gate, involving whatever sidepassing is needed. All of this with a minimum of resistance—though sometimes there is a little resistance. But no head tossing, tail swishing, attempts to push through the bridle, or anything like that. All cues were given with my soft (ugg) boots, no spurs or crop. I have to be pretty strong with my legs sometimes, and in order to keep Sunny collected and correctly bent into the circle at the trot and lope, I must be on top of my game and using my hands effectively as well as my legs, sometimes using two hands rather than one. But he will maintain a correct frame if I do this, and on very light contact. He does not lean on my hands and most of the time there is a tiny bit of slack in the reins.
I didn’t try any more exercises, such as serpentines…etc, because both he and I were pretty much done with this formal stuff after the above work, and went on to amble around the property for a short ride, which is what we both enjoy most. But it made me feel good to realize we could execute at least a version of “work”—though I’m not sure it would impress anyone else.
So, I’m curious. How would you guys evaluate my baseline “test”? Does this sound like a reasonably broke horse to you (considering we are just going out on the trails, not doing reining patterns or dressage), or do you think I need to work on other exercises? I do realize that its simply a matter of what each individual rider finds acceptable in a riding horse, and that the only thing that really counts is if I’m happy. Still, I wonder what level of “broke” others like to have before they feel a horse is well trained. And Terri, if you read this, I have no aspirations toward a fourth level dressage horse, and, in fact, am not sure I could execute a flying change any more (!)
Sunny remained calm and confident throughout the twenty minutes or so I devoted to our test, though I could feel in his body (at times) his usual resistance/resentment at this sort of work. His former owner tried to use him for dressage and he came to me with the comment, “He likes the trails; he doesn’t like arena work,” which I have found to be true. Nonetheless, he does what I ask.
Considering that I, too, like the trails and don’t like arena work, I have just let the arena work slide, to tell you the truth. I did the “test” because I was wondering if we actually COULD execute simple arena work exercises any more. And now I’d love to get some feedback. Given the circumstances, what do you think? Should I try to do more? Or continue to be a slacker?
And here’s another question for you. I was looking through my files trying to find an author photo for my upcoming book, and I stumbled upon this one. Does it look like my little yellow mule is a horse with an opinion or what? And can you tell he only tolerates being “snuggled?” He doesn’t actually like it. He does like me to be near him, he just doesn’t like me to fuss with him, which I think the photo shows. What do you think? Good author photo or should I look for another one?