On Friday I met with Stephanie and Brandon in the morning to discuss the plans for the day. We decided that Friday was a day for horses. I would play with the new Choctaw pony and any other horses that I had time for and would go for a trail ride with Mas and with Brandon, who would ride Pete. While we were discussing the day, Noel and Suzanne Dodge arrived with the riding mower that they were donating to The Center. We were so excited to receive this donation!
My plan with Mas was to work on my feel and timing of release. Pat Parelli talks about having hands that close slowly and open fast. He says that this ability goes against our predatory nature and takes practice before it becomes second nature for humans. For horses, though, it’s an excellent way to get them to respond and to understand what we are asking.
For instance, if you want your horse to lower his head you would first pet the poll area of the head; then you would pause and then apply a fly-like amount of pressure with your fingertips. If you do not receive a response, increase the pressure to a mosquito. Still no response? Increase the pressure to a bird. If the response still is not there you would increase to an eagle. Once the horse responds to any pressure you would quickly release your hand (the pressure) which enables the horse to understand that you asked him to lower his head.
If the horse started drifting his head around while you were applying pressure, but did not lower his head, you would not want to release the pressure because that would tell the horse that moving his head around (but not lowering it) is what you were asking for. Instead you would drift with the horse until he gave you a try and began to lower his head. As he began understanding what you were asking for, you would ask for a little more each time until you could ask him to lower his head all the way down.
Mas is getting pretty good at the lowering his head game; it seems to relax him and also helps him to think and pay attention to me rather than constantly worrying about the herd. He gets quite upset when we leave the pasture and begin hanging out together, but after a few minutes playing the Seven Games he starts to use his brain and becomes more engaged with me.
Prior to our trail ride, I played the Seven Games with The Center’s new Choctaw pony who is yet to be named. The Center had a name game going for him, where for a five dollar donation you could submit your name suggestion.
After catching him and walking him up the hill to the sandy area where the caboose (office) used to be parked, I played the Friendly Game, getting him used to the end of the carrot stick and having the savvy string run across his back. He seemed a bit skeptical and not very relaxed. We played all Seven Games, with a lot of Friendly Games in between, and because he was doing so well, I decided to stop while we were ahead, to finish on a good note. We played together for about an hour.
When I brought Mas to the Big Top (the new arena) he was very animated and whinnying like crazy (he has the loudest whinny of any horse I have met to date!). I took him into a small pasture and asked him to lower his head a few times before deciding to release him in the neighboring small pasture while I ate my lunch. I chowed on a turkey, lettuce, and cheese sandwich and slugged a Vitamin water while watching him pace the fenceline. Back and forth he went, whinnying, grabbing a bite of hay, trotting around, until eventually he calmed a bit and was able to eat some hay while standing in one place.
After lunch I caught him again and took him to the Big Top where we played the circling game and worked on disengaging the hindquarters. Then I tested his bend to make sure that I could stop him while riding using a one rein stop. Linda Parelli talks about a horse’s bend and says that if you can’t stop your horse by bending his neck you shouldn’t walk, if you can’t do it at the walk you shouldn’t trot, and if you can’t do it at the trot you shouldn’t canter. Mas did very well with the bend and I felt confident that it was time for us to hit the trail.
After rigging up a saddle in the caboose (which functions as the office and tack room) I carried it and the horse blanket into the arena. Instead of quickly placing the saddle on Mas, I asked permission by first playing the Friendly Game with the saddle pad and then by letting him smell the saddle before simulating placing it on his back a few times. He gave me the go ahead so I saddled him. Before I got on I tightened the cinch in three stages, playing the Circling and Squeeze Games in between the tightening.
Finally, with all systems a “Go”, we were off. No sooner had we started our ride than the clouds parted and the sky dropped buckets of rain. We were soaked in less than a minute. Brandon and I laughed and agreed that it didn’t matter, we were going riding either way. We rode up to the top of the hill before heading into the woods and beginning our decent down a slippery slope. I was a bit nervous due to the mud but Mas handled the footing well.
We rode on old logging roads before the woods opened up into small meadow filled with junk. To Mas’s and Pete’s delight, the grass in this area was quite high. It took a bit of incentive for the horses to continue on down the trail. After crossing a couple of small creeks an navigating a washed out section of trail, we entered the Johnson State College campus. From here we rode through campus before hanging a right on the gravel road to head back to The Center.
Mas did excellent on our first trail ride together. I do feel like I need to work on being more light with my hands while we ride—something to practice in the arena next time. It sure was nice to get out and spend some QT riding time with Mas.