Labor Day Weekend is a great time for trail riding in Oklahoma. This year didn’t go as planned. There was a trail ride we planned to attend, but life came along. Oh well, it gave me a chance to give Chex a pop quiz. Monday morning, Chex was saddled just after dawn and we took a tour off the ranch. He did pretty well with a new rider, brush and weeds head high, and in new territory without any other horses.
The brush and weeds were a good opportunity to observe him riding without much vision. You could see the ground as we rode, but not much else. A snake or two wiggled underneath his feet, but nothing more for about 20 -30 minutes. Suddenly, a big doe jumped out and Chex jumped as well. Not far, and he shut down as the reins were pulled just enough to take up the slack. He went right “back to calm,” a term we use to describe when the horse returns to a relaxed mode and rides quiet. We continued until we found a road. Some cars went past. No worries for Chex, cars weren’t a bother.
Our little excursion went for three hours before we ended up back at the gate. Chex would have been okay stopping, but we still had our chores to get done. The fence has to be ridden every day. It’s a familiar 3 mile trek for Chex, but the horse flies are heavy this time of year. Some young horses get a little dancey and jittery when attacked. Not Chex, just part of the job. With several trees limbs placing pressure on the fence, it was a good time to test Chex’s willingness to ground tie. Each time the reins were dropped, he patiently waited even when limbs were tossed at his feet. If you haven’t given your horse this little quiz, you can find yourself enjoying a stroll back to the barn. Chex didn’t do that.
Until recently, Chex has been ridden by only one person. Part of our training program is designed to make the horse calm and responsive. Too many riders/trainers on a young horse can really frustrate the process. No two people use exactly the same cues or use them the same way. For a young horse, this can be extremely frustrating to be trying really hard to do what is expected, but confused about what is wanted.
You see the results when people take a horse to the trainer for 60 days and decide they aren’t satisfied. The horse goes to the next trainer for 30 – 60 days and spends most of it trying to figure out the new cues. The owner then gets the horse home and rides for 30 days with a new set of cues. Not happy, the owner goes to trainer #3 and starts all over again. It’s no surprise the horse doesn’t handle well and gets jumpy from all the different riders. In our program, there is only one rider until the horse has a chance to understand what is expected of him.
Typically, the second year other riders spend more time in the saddle with the horse learning that people speak with different dialects (slightly different cues). A new rider is like a new teacher at the beginning of the school year. The horse isn’t completely sure about it. Taking the horse away from what is familiar is like changing schools. Chex did well with a new rider and a new school at the same time. But, his test wasn’t quite finished.
An empty feed sack was grabbed from the barn and the next 20 minutes used to see if he would get excited while riding while waving the bag in his face and all around his body. It didn’t faze him.
The last part of the test was dragging some brush off. We had a few small trees that died and fell over. Chex got to drag them off. He patiently did the work without complaint. It was a relaxing time with Chex and a real pleasure seeing him developing into a wonderful trail horse.