I wanted to do something special on my special day. I didn’t tell anybody, just in case I changed my mind. The conditions had to be right. It needed to be quiet at the barn, MerryLegs had to be in the right frame of mind and my gut had to say it was right.
I saddled and bridled the little guy and took him into the indoor arena. I led him about and did some lounging. He seemed quiet and was mostly attentive. I took a deep breath, handed the rope to Ellen, my assistant in all these adventures, and told her, “It’s time.” She didn’t understand, at first, but then it dawned on her. I went back into the barn to put my boots on and grab my helmet.
Part of our last few sessions was spent tugging at the stirrup, bouncing by his side and flopping over the saddle. I clicked him for quiet behavior. A few times, he did lean backwards when I was leaning over the saddle, but the rest of it he took in stride. I led MerryLegs to the mounting block and gave Ellen the leadrope. I would have reins.
I really didn’t know what to expect from him. He was ridden at the trainer’s back in the fall of 2012, but that was the last time. I also knew that they just did walking and trotting in the round pen, for the most part. Since he has been acting like everything I have asked him was a new experience –at least in the beginning, I decided to treat him like this was his first time. I trained Cruiser, Mingo and Cole for saddle, so this wasn’t a new experience for me, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t exciting. In fact, riding a horse for the first time is one of the most exciting things I have ever done in my life.
I swung my leg over the saddle and tucked my foot in the stirrup. I felt MerryLegs start to step backwards. (What a surprise—that is always what he does when I try something new.) I didn’t like where things might be going, so I told Ellen to give him treats. That changed his mind. He stood still and ate. I touched him all around and gently swung my legs on his sides. When I clicked, Ellen treated. He seemed more and more relaxed with me on his back.
I squeezed my legs to ask him to go forward—he didn’t remember what that meant. He started to back up. I told Ellen to back away from his head and try to lure him forward. I continued to squeeze. When he took a forward step, I released and clicked. Ellen treated. We did this for a few minutes. I think he started to understand, but I’m not sure—he may have just been following Ellen.
We tried a little with Ellen walking next to him instead of in front of him, and that was a bit of struggle. By now, all he wanted was to get treats, and he was crowding Ellen instead of walking straight. At least he was going forwards.
Finally, I decided we had had enough and dismounted. I don’t think I was in the saddle for more than 10 minutes. Honestly, I am surprised on how little he seemed to remember of his training, but that has been the pattern from the beginning. He felt like he had never been ridden in his life. My other horses felt more experienced and confidant than him. Hopefully, it will come back to him, and he will progress quickly—I want to get him on the trail!
We then took him for a walk down the hill to the river. His behavior was just perfect. The river was too high for me to lead him across. That will have to wait for another day. It wasn’t too high for Ellen and I to ride across, though, so we went back, got Cole and Dante and went on a terrific birthday ride.
The rest of my birthday went just as nicely as the start, and I will always look back on the day I turned 50 with fondness.