Over the last couple of months I have found so much joy in working with a special Quarab (Arabian/Quarter Horse Cross) mare on the property named Riddle. It has been a long and heartwarming journey watching her overcome severe anxiety to become a trusting and thoughtful partner. While she still has areas that we can continue to hone in her training, she has turned a complete 360° and I am incredibly proud of the progress she has made thus far.
As we discussed in our last training article, Riddle’s schooling before CHR was only fueling her intense anxiety. Until I could develop trust, pushing Riddle more in our sessions would only further unhinge her. Only through clear and fair groundwork was I able to slowly gain her attention and trust. Seemingly in no time at all, I was on her back and ready to go. From the very first ride it was clear she had all-around experience, though her steering was rusty and she was apprehensive about going faster than a trot – something essentially unheard of for an Arabian cross. With each riding session, Riddle’s confidence grew by leaps and bounds.
Riddle moved quickly through her basic riding skills, and we could soon advance to more complicated maneuvers other than simple walk, trot, canter, and steering. From the get go it was obvious that she was lacking balance in her movement. She would let her shoulders drop during turns and struggle to find collection. We have been focusing heavily on developing this stability. This will make her safer to ride (less prone to tripping) and develop the proper core muscles for her strength. This all makes her more competitive for her future owner if they choose to show.
The most fair way to achieve balance is to break down all of the steps into small, understandable asks. First, I needed to simply teach Riddle not to pull on my hands at a stop or walk. One of the biggest reasons that horses learn to be “hard in the mouth” or pull on our hands is actually because their riders continually pull on their mouths, not loosening the reins when the horse performs the desired task. In this way horses quickly become dull to the pressure, and may even try to fight it because they believe that they have to endure it no matter what. They may even try to pull harder in order to force the rider to let go.
Ideally, the rider should keep the pressure of the reins steady until the horse makes an effort to stop pulling. Then quickly release all of the pressure. The horse will begin to soften in her mouth more and more as she seeks that release of pressure. She will know that she doesn’t need to pull anymore in order to find the release of pressure. At the end of the day, that is all most horses want – peace from pressure! With this method, Riddle has learned how to be soft in her face and patient for directions from her rider.
Riddle is quickly becoming quite the star in her training. With her mind much more quiet and trusting, I have been able to develop a wonderful relationship with this beautiful horse. She is a joy to work with and ride and I am eager to see just how far she can go!