To keep track of my work with Rocky, a six year old Standardbred, that has had very little time under the saddle (wasn't extremely clear on that until his owner was driving away), I plan to document my sessions with him. Rocky was apparently a harness (cart) racer from two on. I'm not sure exactly when he was retired, but he had apparently won some races. I have him for a month-long trial period and hopefully, with this documentation, it will be clear whether I have what it takes to keep him and bring him along.
Arrived December 1, 2011
After a 2 hour float (trailer) ride from the Hokianga, Rocky unloaded in good spirits. Owner has only had him since August 2011. He rode him initially, then Rocky sat in the pasture until the day before I got him when the owner saddled him and rode him again.
The owner and I saddled him up to check the fit of my Western saddle and the bridle and bit and I asked to watch the owner ride him. The owner is a farrier and very gentle spirited, but very knowledgeable. He floated his teeth in front of me. Rocky did pretty well for him, but was very spooked by some ornamental rocks. He got off him and we walked him to the areas he spooked and got him acquainted and it helped for the next pass. The owner wasn't in a hurry and I asked if I could ride him in front of him. He was afraid that I had been put off by the spooking incident and asked if I could handle if that happened. I laughed, "If only you'd seen what Ernie has put me through. That was nothing." He expressed his relief.
For me, Rocky was very slow to start and did a lot of sidewinding. He was very spooky, but the longer I rode him in an open pasture-ish area the more relaxed and responsive he became. I felt "okay," albeit a little disappointed that he was as green as he was. On the ground he was extremely calm and I felt that after being in a float for 2 hours that meant a lot.
Later that afternoon, after giving him a few hours with his new mate, Simba, I did a walk with him down to the beach at low tide and across to the island; it's about an hour's walk. The purpose of this was to familiarize him with the area and the ocean/beach which was new to him. He was very observant and did extremely well on the lead. No pushiness, no balking, a little spooky,
Session 2: December 2, 2011
I drove the car right down to the paddock entry. Rocky came easily enough. Stood great at the back of my car with the hatch up and all the grooming supplies and tack in my portable tack room. He stands so well he doesn't even need to be tied, I just put the rope up on the car hinge. He loves being groomed and I worked on the friendly game (Parelli) with him.
I entertained the idea of lungeing him, but he was SO just wanting to be by my side and since it was the first day I did not want to discourage that contact, so I didn't even attempt it. Mounting is not second nature for him and I worked with him rewarding him when he stood still and bringing him back to stand. Then adding weight from my arms and then my foot, eventually mounting without him walking. Unfortunately, he was afraid to go up the hill and out of that area to walk the road and farm park. Folks had their big boat and truck out and he was daunted by the look of it. I got off when it was MY idea.
We walked up to the top of that hill where the road and more open green is and I had to do the same exercise to mount him again. Then I just worked with getting him to move forward on the approximately two acre bit of land right there. He was very slow to start, spooking, going backward and side walking but after about 20 minutes was a different, relaxed horse. I would one rein stop alternating reins when he was getting out of control and he responded well to that and would even take to circling himself at times when he got worked up. We looped between houses and back on the road past the things that had scared him previously and although he balked and spooked he ended up doing it fine. We quit while we were ahead and when I would have plenty of time to give him a good groom, which he appeared to love.
Session #3 December 3, 2011
Again, was easy to catch. Really took my time with grooming and playing the friendly game. He is excellent at letting me touch him everywhere and seems to love it. Had a bunch of ticks on him so that took a while. He seemed to appreciate me getting them. Used the bag on the crop as a despooking friendly game and he did great with that and stood like a champ even with the wind blowing the bag around.
Still slow to accept a mount, but we worked patiently. I refuse to get on a walking horse if I can help it. I want him to be a safe mount for my kids so I will spend time with that. Today we were able to walk from the car up the hill and out into the neighborhood. Yay for crops! Didn't have it yesterday and it made a great difference just to give him a little nudge. He still needed a 15 or so minute warm up just to remember what to do. We then headed to the beach to catch low tide for an island trek if we were lucky. He was scared to death of a man or a leaf blower, but when it was turned off he suddenly started walking like, "quick, let's do it now while it's quiet." There were so many subtle signs like that telling me he was really trying hard.
I had to dismount to open one of the cattle gates (the road has the scary crevice crossings to keep the livestock- sheep- in when they are grazing each area; a remote opening would really come in handy. lol). We then had to start from square one to desensitize for the mount. Stephen and Atticus pulled up about then and I had Stephen hold him while I mounted to get on with business. We proceeded to go ahead like that, with Stephen opening two more gates for us.
We made it fine to the beach . . . again carefully checking out big things like boats . . . and then he did a major spook crossing a little stream that he went over fine the other day. It was cool and we went along the beach, then across to the island as the tide was coming in. He did SO well for a non-beach horse. Wide eyed, on alert, a bit skiddish at times but given his history: sweet as.
Above the beach area we took a break, unbridled him, tied loosely to a tree while we had a drink, he chomped some grass and we had a little rest. This was at a nice flat area so I lunged him before mounting him (again, with Stephen holding him-- I was happy to get help those two times so he could feel how quick mounting needs to be over). He trotted nicely and I voice cued him with "trot." He only cantered once for a short time . . . but it's there.
On the way back I was lucky to have a gate opener again and he gave me a little trot (it may have been pacing; it felt a little odd, but smooth-- I couldn't get a look at his legs in time) up a hill, but I am focusing on keeping a smooth and steady walk that he was really getting the hang of by the end of our time. Again, what a difference a little crop makes . . . and just a very light touch, with voice command and some leg squeeze.
He stood still for dismount and grooming and carrot nibbles as if he'd been doing this his whole life. Goes back into pasture and waits patiently while I take his halter off . . . while Simba is so happy to see her buddy and coming on to him.
I think I'm in love. It's okay, I think Stephen is too-- he won't let me trim his long sun-bleached bangs because he thinks they are cute (they remind him of one of the kids).
(I'm typing this at our beach, watching Stephen windsurf across the bay and Atticus play on the giant P [pottutakawa?sp] tree that will all be blooming red soon for Christmas. We are heading back up the house to grill some salmon, relax and spend a lovely Saturday evening looking at the view. THIS day was the fantasy and we appreciate every minute of it)