This morning the arena thermostat read minus 11 and the wind chill to get there and back was -25 to -30. Brrr!

I worked with Zelador at liberty, then Zeloso.

With Zelador we’re developing a new game where I toss the cloth rings and race to them. He loves getting there before I do, picking the toy up and bringing it to me.

During Zeloso’s outing, he surprised me at one point. He’d been working around me and I called him in. I asked Zeloso to take a step or two backwards and he did, happily offering a few more backward steps. Then he stood still. I could tell he wanted me to do something specific, but I wasn’t sure what he had in mind. I thought about it, then went to his right side. I have asked him to move sideways from each side, but I haven’t set up a sequence of movements (first come to me, now step backwards, now go to the right…). As I was moving to his right side he began to cross his legs over to the left (moving sideways). I figured out from his body language that this is what he wanted me to do. We did this together. He stood still. Again, I knew there was something on his mind that he wanted to do. I went to his left side and he crossed his legs sideways to the right. Now THIS is the horse who comes in when called and at the first opportunity, whirls away! I have contemplated creating a dance sequence for the two of us. Obviously he’s decided it’s TIME to put this routine together!

Two days ago Bill was riding Zeloso while I was on Zelador. At one point I asked Zelador to take the right lead canter while we were approaching the long side of the arena, about ten metres from the short side. He picked up the lead effortlessly. Halfway through the short side I asked him to trot. He did.

We repeated this combination while continuing on the circle. For the first time EVER he stayed relaxed throughout every stride. Generally speaking when you establish a canter/trot/canter pattern he gets stronger and stronger, faster and faster showing me that he can do whatever I’m thinking and he can do it before I think!

What a joy to have him listening quietly for my aids.

Bill was impressed. I took a moment to watch him with Zeloso. A few strides after the canter/trot transition Zeloso would brace, raising his nose a few inches. Bill decided to NOT be a victim. On the subsequent canter/trot transitions he asked for an imperceptible widening of the circle (sort of a leg yield) and Zeloso listened quietly and remained soft, no more bracing.

At that point Zelador and I went to the left circle for trot/canter/trot transitions and the old Zelador surfaced. His left side is his stiff side. I went on to some quiet, relaxing exercises for many minutes. When he was soft, supple and listening I put him on a right circle and did two more canter/trot/canter transitions. He was perfect. I got off and took him back to the barn.

The next day I was riding alone in the arena and I went searching for the phenomenal transitions on the right circle. The first one was soft, the next couple were tight and fast. I dismounted and Zelador performed trot/canter/trot transitions at liberty. I got in the saddle and prepared him mentally and physically at the walk and trot. However the first canter transition was stiff and fast. I got off, again. Zelador performed beautifully at liberty. A few strides of canter, then trot, then canter. I told him he was wonderful. Back into the saddle. After several minutes of quiet walk work, followed by a soft trot I asked for the canter. He responded with all his fantastic energy AND remained soft and supple. I got off, told him he was the BEST horse in the world and took him back to the barn.

I did some thinking. When I’m presenting something to the horses when I’m on the ground I try to break the learning down into teeny, tiny steps. I ask for a simple thing. I praise when the horse gives the slightest try to do what I want. I do not repeat and repeat and REPEAT. I leave that teaching segment and go on to something the horse knows and understands. This approach is natural to me when I’m on the ground. The horse is totally free to do what it wants. I am not in a position to force the horse to learn. However, when I’m on a horse’s back I have a great deal of control over him (a lot more than I’m aware of). I need to remember to present things, allow a “try”, reward that “try” and move on to something that the horse enjoys doing and is very good at.

I recently read, “If a horse gives you what you want, give him what he wants.” The writer added something along the lines of, “and this means, get off the horse’s back.”