On Friday (October 3rd) I got on Hola for the 5th time, however, this was mark the first time that she was asked to move out under saddle. I keep telling myself that with Hola I have the luxury of time, I can go as slow as I want and give her all the time she needs to learn and accept this new stage in her life... but... I also have to be careful to not baby her and to make sure that I am asking her for enough that she learns to work and doesn't become bored and spoiled. I also really felt that I needed to give her time physically to adjust to my weight as she is still small for me and I don't want her to end up with a super sore back. When I looked back on the last ride in the round pen I realized that Hola was not stepping out as the footing in there is really rough and she wasn't confident enough to balance my weight when the wood was rolling under her foot. I knew I needed to get her out of that footing but to where? My options were a gravel paddock that is rock hard (Yikes!), a grass pasture that is slick footing (Eeek!) or a unfenced multi-acre hay field (Ehh!). I weighed all the variables and decided my best bet was to have L. pony me on Hola off of Ella in the hay field. It was time to pull up my big girl panties. Big time.
First, I established the same routine as in our previous rides. I brought Hola in, saddled her, and then tied to the wall for a good fifteen minutes. I then lunged her very briefly to get her focused and tied her back up while I set up my ride.
When I stepped n Hola in the hay field she didn't move or tense up. The idea of someone sitting up on her is NBD (no big deal). I asked Laurie to take a few slow steps forward... which was a great idea in theory. But Ella doesn't really know how to walk slowly. Hola has been ponied a lot. She knows the drill. As Ella stepped away from her she went to step forward and I felt her body go, "Eeek! Ella!! Hold up!! I got this crazy thing on my back! Ella, wait! Help!". And my body went, "Eeek! Ella! Hold up!! I 've got this crazy thing under me!! L, wait! Help!". For the first time I felt Hola's back hump up. I felt her bum scooch. Her neck scrunched up. Her poll tensed up. I thought, "Holy. Shit. She's gonna blow!" Before she could follow through with her threat I pulled my only defence....
I yelled at her. Well... I didn't yell so much as growl. One thing all my horses learn is that when I shout, "HHHHHAAAAIIIIRRRRR!!!!!" (yes, I said "Hair!") shit is gonna get real, fast. My good friend's Mom, Nancy, is a born and bred Wyoming cowgirl who would growl, "Haaaaaaair there mare" when any of their horses got naughty. I picked I up as a teen and have found it surprisingly effective. My quick growl stopped Hola in her tracks. She didn't relax and her back did not level out but she didn't blow. We did a small loop of the field. Every time Hola was able to walk beside Ella she relaxed a little and leveled out some but when she lagged behind at all I could feel her back start to hump up as she thought about having to trot to catch up. A few times, when she felt like she was ready to blow I would growl at her again and she would quit and I would ask L. to slow Ella up and allow us to catch up. I then asked Laurie to walk straight forward out into the field and to try to keep Ella at as slow of a walk as possible. We went a hundred yards or so and I felt Hola start to stretch out and relax. I asked L. to stop and we sat there for a moment. Hola yawned. Yawning is Hola's tell, she will yawn a dozen times in a row when she learns something new. So I sat for a minute, relaxed my whole body, pet on her a little and then got off. It felt like we had ridden for about ten minutes. In actuality it was less than four minutes. Four minutes wherein I did not get bucked off and my horse learned something. Success, no matter how small, is sweet.
I went to my sisters house to celebrate Thanksgiving over the weekend so wasn't able to do anything with Hola. This evening (Monday) I went to the farm and found Hola dripping wet with sweat. I had a moment of panic before B (a boarder) said that the horses had just finished ripping around the field and that Hola had been the ring leader. Sweet! She worked herself! I brought her in and let her cool out a little before tying her to the wall and tacking. I noticed that she is in season and acting pushy so I did school on her just a little on a lunge line to get her brain working. I planned on having L pony me in the hay field again but I really don't want her thinking that the horse in front of her is the one leading the show. Ponying was the safest way for me to get her moving but I didn't like that she was so sucked on to Ella and I was just a passenger. However, because there is no small area for me to ride in (with good footing) I don't feel confident enough yet to just get on and go... so I split the difference. I had L put me on the lunge line. This was the first time I have stepped on Hola from the ground (rather than a stool). No reaction. I sat on her for a moment. No reaction. None at all. I clucked to her to walk forward and she went. Not once did she hump up and she while she wasn't totally relaxed she felt pretty damn good. The only problem was that she was really wanting to cut in and suck up to L in the middle and stop. I was trying not to guide her at all but was trying to be in the one in charge of her forward movement. I rode her for maybe three minutes or so before her head dropped, her neck stretch out and I felt her relax. I stopped her, waited a minutes or two and sure enough she yawned again. I got off and dropped her cinch.
I feel like I am doing too little and yet Hola is clearly learning to accept a rider. I need to start guiding her some in my next ride... I just need to figure out where to ride her. I can make things work for now but eventually I need to get her in an arena with proper footing. If I think too far in the future I get stressed so I will continue to just focus on the tiniest of baby steps and take it one ride at a time.