After a cool (50 degrees - don't hate me) morning at Guadalupe State Park (the place where I'm practically infamous for losing my horses ) with the kids, husband, and dogs, I was released from parenting and sent into the wild for an afternoon with my horse.
Our BO/trainer was available and has been determined to help me work with Cibolo and my confidence level. One of her long time friends joined us on a lovely Paint/QH, Zuni.
When I arrived, Cibolo was already in his stall and he seemed... off. The last few times he's been so glad to see me, but this time his BFF, Arab-Amigo was already out and getting warmed up by the trainer.
I pulled him out and started brushing, but something was still odd. He was calm, quiet, but I got the sense that he was distracted internally. I brushed him over to see if there was a tender spot anywhere. Nada. I did a bit of clicker oriented targeting, but he didn't seem to even get what I was talking about.
Happens with dogs, too. They'll seem to learn everything in a flash, then be clueless, then suddenly they are a black belt at shaking hands.
When I picked Cibolo's feet, I found a rock wedged in tightly in his left front. It was stuck and took some work, but I finally eased it out. He hadn't been limping or anything, but he sighed when he stood on that hoof. His jaw loosened and he seemed to brighten just a bit.
With the other horses around, he had no interest in earning carrots. We worked in the round pen and he was slow going at first, but after a circle I picked up the lunge whip to focus us both and he quickly got responsive. I dropped it and we did the basics. He followed me and did all I asked. Today just wasn't a clicker training day.
Today was trail day.
First the trainer worked with me to see how he was bending and responding in the saddle. He was perfect. We talked about trying to see how soft I could get with him. She wanted me to back him just with my seat. Then she showed me a new way to back that I hadn't tried - sort of leaning back a bit with my feet forward, like a water skier. Okay, not that far back, but you get the idea.
And he backed up with only my seat! I felt it. Cibolo immediately licked and chewed, no doubt relieved that I was finally speaking to him in a language he understood. This is just like learning to post. I got it once and then couldn't quite get it, but know what to practice now.
We headed out on the trail which winds through the "neighborhood." I felt so different on this ride than I have before. I was confident that we could work through issues. I was with riders who were there to be supportive so if I did have problems, they'd help, not just watch.
Which is what I need. I don't need to be hand carried, but I need deciphering assistance at times.
We got at one place on the trail, a steep down hill on asphalt with a steep up hill and little room on the shoulder. That was it. It seemed to be too much for Cibolo. He started to refuse.
But it was pretty calm. Yes he wouldn't go forward. He turned. But he was just reluctant, not wigging out.
And I was dead calm. I wasn't scared, more puzzled. I'd turn him, but could get forward motion out of him. I urged him forward, didn't whack him because it was a steep hill and I needed a walk, not a lunge.
The trainer came back around and used her horse to help push him through.
Then there was the place where Cibolo JUMPED. Twice. Tiny, tiny jumps, really, each of which would be fine if I had a clue what to do as a rider if your horse jumps something. I took a bit of horn in the gut, lost my stirrups on the second jump, but stayed on, which, in my book is all that maters the first couple times you do something like that.
A quarter horse that likes to jump? oh dear.
We had some trotting, took turns leading and following, and just had a great time in general. Two little spooks in place, one refusal we worked through, and one place where he just fourwheeled through some brush when we all got a little disconnected from each other. Got that under control and we vowed to come back out with machetes.
The trainer and her friend told me stories about being thrown into cactus, falling horses and horses that have run off (been there, done that!). It's always nice to hear about those stories, because it's easy to be intimidated riding with women who have ridden so much more. Since I've gotten back into horses, I feel like I ended my horse time as a kindergarten rider when I hear people talk about showing, trail riding through the rockies, jumping, and working cattle for 15 years. I'd never even picked a horse's hoof three years ago!
All in all it was stunning. The sky was blue, the horses were great, the hill country was green from all our rain and the streams and ponds were full. I didn't take a single picture because I was too busy smiling like a maniac.
It was, simply, wonderful.
Back at the barn I thanked the trainer and said this is exactly what I need - lessons that help me push through problems when they come up. I've found a way to be calm, I'm more confident, I'm quieting my hands, using my seat, practicing my cues, but there are just some things I need more experience handling. Like a horse on a steep street, refusing to go forward. I still want to work on the basics, on seat, body position, hands, rhythm, but to have a lesson on the trail ... it's just what the doctor ordered
She also told me she has seen a change in Cibolo and me. He's wanting that bond. He's far softer in his bending when we ride, he's responding to my cues promptly under saddle. Something is happening. I'm cueing better, he's listening and respectful, all of it is coming s l o w l y together.
We have a long way to go. But today was a great way to start a journey.