I talk a lot about my horse, I know. You guys have been receiving regular progress reports, but most of you, the Farm Parents excepted, don't really know what he was like to start with, except for snippets that I've shared.
Well, when we started, he wouldn't give to the bit, he was nervous and kickey, he'd sling his head around, he'd wheel, and he'd try to stomp on my feet when I mounted. He didn't bend, he didn't move out, or he'd try to have a runaway. His ears were perpetually forward, or pinned back, he didn't respect me, or anyone, and he never stood still. He was so gate sour that he'd try to buck every time I took him by it, just to see if I would come off so he could try to go back to the barn. He was a little nervous about his stall for the first few days, being a small enclosed space.
Now, he respects me more every day, he listens for my voice for the vocal cues I've been teaching him, he's lighter on the bit than ever before. He doesn't kick at me, although he's taken a couple of shots at other horses that have come too close to his hindquarters, he bends and moves out for me with little pressure, and while he's still a little gate sour, we don't have a rodeo every time we go by. He goes willingly into his stall, and if there isn't a lot of activity around I'll pull his halter just at the door of the stall, leave the lead rope wrapped around his neck, ask him to go on in, and just let the lead pull off his neck as he reaches the back of the stall.
We still occasionally have the attempts to go faster than what I want him to, but he listens when I ask him to slow down. Tuesday we spent an hour just walking and slow trotting, which he hates, but he did really good, considering I didn't put him in the round pen and work off some of that energy before I got on him.
What most of my class mates aren't understanding is that he's four, he's still green, and he's used to being in a pasture where he can run and jump and kick and play all day. He's getting more food for less work, so he's got a lot of extra energy, and he's putting on the pounds. Which isn't a bad thing, he was a little skinny when we got him, and he got enough exercise in the pasture that while he filled out to an acceptable weight, he didn't get fat and sleek. Now he's getting nice and sleek, filling out nicely. His shoulders are still a little weak but that slow trot is good for that, it'll work his shoulders and build up that muscle.
He still looks like he might be a smallish thoroughbred, with his narrow shoulders and developed hindquarters, but his shoulders will fill out and he'll look like a proper quarter horse in time. He's just never used his shoulders that much, he uses his hindquarters for drive, and his front end is just for steering and stabilization. But we're changing that. He's learning to use his front end for drive too, and he's starting to like the challenges that I give him.
He's smart. That's why he was such a butt to start with, and why we still have a few issues on occasion. He gets bored, and he doesn't want to do the same things over and over again. If we do something completely new, he gets a little confused at first, but if we add new things to what he already knows gradually, he picks them up in a hurry.
Yesterday, we added the bigger round pen, and the lunge whip. He already knew what I expected of him in the round pen, so the larger one was just a matter of curiosity. The lunge whip was a little bit more intimidating for him. I sent him around a few times in each direction at the trot, and then asked him to whoa, and went to walk up to him, and he saw the long whistly thing in my hand, and didn't want any of it. I had to put it down, go to him, tell him he was a good boy, and then work some more. He was more relaxed after that, and at the end of the session, when I went to take him back to the hitching rail and saddle him up, I let him smell the whip, and inspect it, which he did, and then he tried to eat it.
I don't use a whip as a means to correct the horse... the lunge whip is just an extension of my arm, much as the lead rope was in the smaller pens. I just needed a longer extension for the bigger pens. It just tells him where I want him to go, and if he starts to lag before I ask him to slow down, I'll make it whistle, to signal him that that's not what I want. It never touches the horse while he's moving, or in a way that will frighten him.
He's learning. He's learning to trust me, to look to me for instruction, guidance, and support. He's becoming more affectionate with me all the time, and he's learning that it's easier and more fun to do what I ask him to than to fight me.
And, I'm learning too. I'm learning how to communicate more clearly with him about what I want, and I'm learning how to be supportive of him, even while I'm being firm with him. He's teaching me more about horse psychology than I knew before.
I'm also learning that some of my class mates want the challenge, while some of them want the pretty, docile nag.
Me, I want the horse with a personality. One that will keep me interested, and give me as many challenges as I give him. Eventually, Bubbah and I will be a team, and eventually, I'll be able to hand him off to another rider, and they'll be a team too. It's yet to be seen if Bubbah will work for anyone else the way he does with me, or if we'll have to go through a couple of times of letting a new rider earn his respect and trust all over again, before he grasps that I'm not going to let someone he can't trust ride him, but that's all in the future.
And from here, the future looks good.