Let me put it this way, I do not think I will have to “train” Tercel to elevate his forehand.
Nothing bad happened, I had a good ride. But when I got to the stable Debbie was upset from seeing a medical treatment of her mother-in-law. Fortunately the lady recovered, but she is very old and frail. Debbie’s husband, as is proper, is at his mother’s side and everyone else has more work mucking, feeding, watering, and turn out, and everyone at the stable is sort of stressed out.
Of course Tercel picked this up, Debbie is literally Tercel’s savior, and Tercel looks to Debbie as a model of appropriate responses to situations. He was not bad, not at all, but he was decidedly more anxious than last week. Once groomed and tacked up Tercel proved on the way to the ring that he can move like an Arab, a very fast walk (I suspect Tercel may be able to get up to 5 to 6 mph at the walk), and a complete unwillingness to slow down and act like a reasonable horse, high headed, arched neck, snorting and all. Debbie was leading him, she used the occasion to remind him that he is supposed to walk at human speed, and he settled down some.
I had no problems mounting other than my usual clumsiness. It was a very bright day and Tercel was busy looking around for things to spook at, so I repeatedly stopped him and let him get a good look while I counted to ten out loud, then I told him to walk. We stopped to look at horses running in the pasture, we stopped to look a jump that had been moved, we stopped to look at the variety of ducks and the heron in the neighboring pond. Luckily by the time the shaving truck arrived Tercel had decided nothing was going to attack and kill him, he just shrugged that particular fire breathing dragon off (whew!) I kept Tercel at the walk, aiming for a nice boring calm walk at a steady speed. Tercel kept accelerating, and can that horse walk! I think I even felt a few strides of a running walk. Of course he kept trying to break into a trot (definitely elevating his forehand) but he came back to my hand aids peacefully each time, and I had to be really careful about the strength of my leg aids! Tercel wanted to MOVE.
In between his imitations of a freight train Tercel showed me that he is figuring out my particular language of the aids. A few times I got frustrated, the Spirit Bitless Bridle is a marvelous bitless bridle, but there were a few times where I could have gotten my message over a lot faster if I had contact with his tongue through a bit. I just repeated my hand aids, not making them much stronger, and by the third time he realized that I was giving him a valid aid and he obeyed promptly. Good horse!
Why did I not let him go faster? Tercel is showing at the walk the normal head set of a green horse who is not yet strong enough to carry his head up at all times. This is easily curable, all it takes is riding time and a patient rider, when his back gets stronger he will voluntarily carry his head like the Arab he is instead of like a Western Pleasure horse. My treeless saddle moves the rider further to the rear of the horse’s back than the jumping saddles, and Tercel is adapting to this and needs a chance to let his back muscles adapt and get stronger. If I was steadier in the saddle short trots would not hurt (he raises his head fine at the trot) but I can’t guarantee that I would be steady enough to keep up with him as he explodes into an expressive Arab floating trot. Having me slam down onto his back would not do Tercel any good at this stage of his training (oh I wish I was thirty years younger when I could rely on my stability in the saddle!)
Twenty-five minutes into my ride I KNEW that Tercel wanted to trot, he needed to trot, that he just had to get the feeling of MOVING AWAY from what was bothering him. I looked at Debbie who, still somewhat upset, obviously needed to ride some. I rode up to her, told her I was tired, suggested that she spend the rest of my lesson up on Tercel and lent her my riding helmet. Debbie mounted, Tercel got to trot, Debbie got happier, and I could get a good look at Tercel.
Tercel, quite simply, has the best conformation and movement of ANY Arab I have ever seen. Front legs-straight, shoulder-good slope, elbow-free from his sides, and no winging or paddling as his legs go straight forward and back. His hind legs are properly angulated and from the rear they are straight, and his hind legs also move forward and back with no deviations to the side. His hind quarters look a little wimpy now but when he finally gets regular riding they should fill out with muscle. When we get Tercel fitter he is going to be a HUNK of a horse!
But we MUST BE CAREFUL not to let all this marvelous conformation coupled with a true desire to move forward blind us to the fact that Tercel, at this point, is not fit enough to do higher equitation. The potential is there, but this potential must be treasured, sanely developed, patiently encouraged, and gradually led to where it is easy for Tercel to move under saddle at whatever height he holds his head. This is why I am waiting to re-introduce the bit until Tercel is strong enough to carry his head like an Arab at a walk. When he reliably carries his head so his poll is higher than his withers with the bitless bridle, he will be strong enough for self-carriage, which means I will be able to re-introduce contact with the bit with minimal difficulties. Then, and only then, will Tercel be able to react correctly to the bit without spraining his poll, neck or back muscles, or picking up bad habits like using the bit as his “fifth leg.” Too many people ruin horses with great natural talent because they are unwilling to give the horse the time he needs to get fit enough to meet their demands. I am guilty of this too, I obviously backed Tercel up one too many times during my ride, and he was slinging his head some when Debbie rode him, both on contact and with completely loose reins. Debbie thought he might also be protesting having to carry two different people in one ride, that when I got off he thought he was through for the day. This is something he will have to get used to because it will happen a lot more in his future.
To get Tercel fitter he will have to be ridden more than just 30 minutes a week (plus 24/7 turnout.) So I got a bright idea, I ride Mia on Fridays, I could bring out my treeless saddle and let Debbie use it to ride Tercel while my son and I groom Mia, trim her hooves, tack her up and walk slowly to the ring. I called up Debbie, suggested that she could put this weekly ride in her appointment book, and Debbie reacted enthusiastically. If I did not need the EZ-Fit treeless saddle to ride Cider, who has a super wide back, I’d just lend it to Debbie, but it is the only saddle I have available that fits Cider (everyone else rides Cider with a bareback pad.) Too bad it is the only saddle both Debbie and I have that fits Tercel at all, until Debbie sells one of her saddles so she can buy Tercel a treed saddle that fits him. This arrangement can only last a little while, at some point my son will finally get his degree and hopefully find a job, probably moving far away. But if Debbie can ride Tercel for an hour most Fridays he will get 1 ½ hours of mounted exercise a week instead of just 30 minutes. And he will get fitter a lot faster.
To be absolutely blunt about it Tercel is probably too much horse for me considering my handicaps. However I have been riding horses that are too much for me ever since I got my first horse. I just concentrate on getting the horse to give me a good, relaxed, and long strided walk on loose reins, standing with loose reins, and plenty of turns and gentle transitions between the walk and the halt. Once he has this foundation he will be a lot less anxious about me riding him.
At the end of our rides I was standing next to Tercel. The shavings truck had finally finished unloading and was belching its way out of the paddock. Tercel turned his head, put it right next to my nose (I felt his whiskers), and we stood there for a minute. Then he looked away at the truck, and then put his nose next to mine again. I breathed into his nostrils a few times and this seemed to satisfy him. He was not rude, his movements were not sudden or violent, he was just looking for reassurance from me instead of Debbie. Good. If this nose to nose continues we will have a very quiet discussion soon about appropriate manners. The way I see it is if he sees me as a valid protector he will be much more likely to forgive my many riding faults and take care of me. I’m not going to punish him for looking to me for security as long as he is polite about it.
And when I finally get Tercel’s total trust I will be able to confidently ride this horse who is really to much horse for me.
Have a great ride!