This morning the temperature is nine degrees. A bit crisp. I had to dig out a turtleneck! I know it’ll warm up, but…!

During the heat wave last week there was a delightfully, unexpected bonus: Zelador was rideable at the canter! With a humidex of 34 he was similar to a horse on a windy, cool autumn day as opposed to his usual freight train attitude. Zeloso, on the other hand, seemed to be trotting with his hooves ten inches below the ground’s surface. He’s definitely NOT a hot-weather boy.

I decided to tax them mentally as opposed to physically and brought out the Working Equitation equipment. My bold move was swinging the huge wooden gate off the wall and into the arena. We haven’t used it for at least half a year. This monster is not forgiving, very dissimilar to the friendly beginner’s gate made out of horse polos.

Well, I took Zelador to it within sixty seconds of entering the arena. He was amazing. He listened to every tiny request I made and opened and closed it with no fuss.

Zeloso, on the other hand, stopped while I was opening the gate. Moved sideways away from it and pretty much messed up everything. I left the scene of the crime and we walked around the arena. We halted and I slowly, step by step, had him do a turn on the forehand (in both directions), then a turn on the haunches (again in both directions). I recently read a quote from Tom Dorrance, “If you think you’re going slow enough, go slower.” That’s exactly the approach I used with Zeloso. I asked for one step. He did it. We stopped. I praised him. Took a deep breath. Asked for another stop. Talk about “slow as molasses”.

We returned to the gate. Slowly we opened and closed the thing. Zeloso was perfection. He’s never done the gate so smoothly. He didn’t put a foot wrong, didn’t resist, was soft and willing. All this from my class clown!

Well, I had to stop and think. How could four simple maneuvers make such a difference? And then it hit me. The turns on the forehand and haunches put this horse “on the aids”.

I thought back on all of those warm-ups at dressage shows (ten years worth) with Sherlock. I heard people/instructors talking about “getting the horse on the aids” and thought I knew what they were talking about. Sure, I’d have Sherlock walking, trotting, cantering, turning. One time he even figured out that I was asking for a canter/piaffe transition. Sherlock and I did some wonderful things. I felt we were “in tune”, but now I realized that the connection we had is a fraction of the connection I have with the boys.

What Zeloso did with the gate was beyond “being on the aids”. That’s because I went VERY slowly (thank you, Tom Dorrance!) and the result was the aids weren’t just physical. Zeloso and I were connected mentally, emotionally and physically. Where did all of these components come from? You guessed it! They came from our liberty work and trick training. This horse is used to reading me from a distance and the leap to reading me from the saddle is not a big one WHEN I slow down, give him a chance to be himself, invite him to work with me (not just DO what I order, when I order it) and give him an opportunity to respond to each request I make BEFORE making an additional request. (Boy! That was a loaded sentence. It represents over twenty years of “horse” experience!)