The article in Horse and Rider said that your horse decides in the first 5 minutes of a ride whether or not you're going to be able to keep him safe. If, during those five minutes, your horse tests you and you miss it, then you've signaled you are not the leader of this ride.
The article is on riding solo a barn sour/herd bound horse. And, as all these articles recommend, the advice is ground work.
It's been a long time since I took Cibolo to the round pen. I decided I needed to see where we were.
The answer was ugly. Several times he refused to turn until I really raised the pressure. His gaits were of his choosing initially.
This was a mess. But it was where we were.
I swallowed both my anger and pride and started with firm pressure. Every time he changed gaits without my signal, I turned him. At first he was snorting and getting aggravated. I remained calm and firm.
Turn. Walk. No, not trot. Turn. Walk. Walk. Now trot. No, not canter. Turn. Trot. Good.
After about 15 minutes he was responding as he should. We did some at liberty walking around the round pen.
Then I got on. Same thing again.
The article noted that in those first five minutes, your corrections should be strong and so should your relax signals. So as he went into a trot instead of staying in a walk, I pulled him back seven steps. Turn. Try again.
After a few minutes he settled into listening. So we went for a trail ride. Alone. It was getting darker, so I just went up the hill trails to see where we were.
Several times I caught my own anxiety rising and his, an answering echo. So I firmed up myself and we went on.
At one point he was getting anxious on his own and I was getting irritated. He was getting worse. I was flashing back to what I tried to do in Conception. One rein stop. Easy! Cut it out! Then I realized something.
You need me to relax, don't you?
So I did, but maintained firm aids. Leaders do not freak out, Winter. I took a relaxing breath and gave him clear signals to drop his head. And, slowly, he responded.
I got off at one point, not because it was needed, but just to do so.
And yes, we cantered, once. Just to check the box, to be honest.
There's a trail ride on tap for today. It'll be interesting.