The first week of December, Simone and I tried something new – our ponies would get pretty upset if one or the other left their pen to go down to the barn, as demonstrated by my fraught solo outing with Raven the previous week. So, we decided to help both of them gain confidence and introduce them to the barn and new things together.
We met at the barn early in the mornings before work, cleaning out the horses’ paddocks. Then Simone and I would take Raven and Ryker down to the indoor arena and turn them out together for some play time. We would remove their halters and let them run around together, bucking and galloping, and stopping for a roll in the soft arena footing. Sometimes when they were done letting loose, we would each take our own horse to opposite sides of the arena and do a little of the Parelli groundwork techniques with them. We were both starting to build trust and a new relationship with our ponies, and it was nice to have a friend who was going through the same kind of situation to bounce ideas off of or discuss any issues we ran into.
We still worked with them separately in their own pens, but a couple of times a week we would bring them out and let them loose together in the indoor arena. Soon after we began this ritual, I received an early Christmas present from my sister – a gift card to one of my favorite new online equine tack stores, Two Horse Tack. They had a material called beta biothane that held up better than leather, and they made their custom tack with it in a rainbow of colors. I knew that my black pony would look amazing in their turquoise bridle, but I wanted a bitless bridle – one of my goals being that I wanted Raven and I to ride without a metal bit in her mouth, but just with subtle pressure from the “sidepull” or glorified halter with rings on the sides of the noseband to attach reins to. So when I received my gift card, I immediately ordered Raven a turquoise bitless bridle with matching reins. They were delivered a week before Christmas, and I couldn’t wait to try them with Raven.
One day when we had our ponies turned out, I got the new bridle and put it on Raven. I did some practice turns with the reins on the ground to see how she would listen to the rein cues, and she was pretty responsive to just a little directive energy from the reins, both left and right, and backing up. I thought it was time to finally try to climb on board Raven. She stood still while I (awkwardly) got on her bareback from the mounting block in the arena; I hadn’t ridden a horse in several months. She seemed calm and unworried about having me sit on her. But when I asked her to walk forward with a small squeeze from my calves and clucking to her, she wouldn’t move. She was stuck in place.
I bumped her sides a little more with my legs and clucked, but she wouldn’t put a single foot forward. I wasn’t sure if she just felt funny with me sitting on her without a saddle, if she was “being stubborn” and refusing, or if she really didn’t know what I was asking. Simone came to the rescue and hooked a lead rope to the bridle and led her forward while I gave leg cues and encouraged her. She walked forward then with someone leading her, but wouldn’t go on her own. I tried some gentle turns with the reins, and she was responsive and moved her body in the direction I asked, but wasn’t so sure about the whole idea of moving her feet forward. I didn’t know how to take what she was presenting me with – she wasn’t acting upset or angry with what I was asking her. Her body just felt like I was sitting on a solid wall – I could feel the blocked energy.
In all it was pretty good for a first try, so I didn’t push it further. I dismounted and was happy with the fact that I had just sat on my new horse, and felt hopeful about progressing from there. Even though I had been taking our training slowly and hadn’t even tried to ride until I’d had her home for almost two months, I didn’t realize that I had certain expectations about her and what we could do. I thought in the back of my mind that since she had been ridden in a video at the feedlot, she already had enough training for me to just jump on and start riding. The horses I had owned in the past had come with years of training and could already do things like jumping and more skilled flatwork in the arena and at shows. But I had never owned a green horse before; one who maybe had some basic under saddle training but had not had consistent enough work that she knew exactly what leg and rein cues from her rider meant.
And that day, she was already trying to tell me what she knew and didn’t know, and how she felt about it. I had no information about her background, training, or what had been done with her, but Raven would tell me all I needed to know. The new year was approaching, and 2019 would be a year where she would present me with more challenges than I had ever dealt with in my life with horses, testing my determination and the old ways that I had been trained in to work with horses that were “out of control.” I was in for an education.