I have quite an interesting job at the moment at a lady’s yard. She has a collection of horses and has called me in to help her groom back the three year old and to give the groom a bit of guidance with the ex racer that she rides, and then help her bring a mare back into work. So I go over once a week, or twice if necessary, and ride the ex racers so that they get the idea of working over their backs in a long and low frame before teaching the groom how to do it so she can practice during the week. They’re coming along well.
It’s the three year old who’s interesting!
On my first visit there I was introduced to the 17hh three year old warmblood gelding. He is well handled, as the groom has put a lot of effort into this aspect of his life, so I wasted no time and suggested we put the tack on to see how he reacted.
He took it all in his stride, chewing away on the snaffle bit while the saddle was put on and slowly girthed up. Then we took him for a walk with the lunge line attached to the head collar underneath the bridle. I had no idea how much progress we would make, but as long as he accepted each step I would keep walking.
The big horse was perfectly happy walking in his tack, so I backed away until he was almost lunging. Having me move back took his safety net away and he had to be brave. Then I asked for a bit of trot. Now, I don’t want to fully lunge this three year old as its strenuous on his joints and muscles, but I wanted him to learn about the feel of the saddle moving as he moved.
He was not impressed! His back shot up to twenty hands, and his head hit the floor. Just encouraging him to keep moving, I let him wriggle, buck, accelerate and then emergency stop, so he learnt that the saddle wouldn’t go away and just allow him to work it all out.
I spent the next few minutes doing short bursts of trot on both reins and lots of walk, so that he stopped turning and coming towards me and stopped lifting his back in the trot. Their homework for that week was to continue putting the tack on and lunging him predominantly in walk, but with the odd trot.
The week flew by and on my second visit I was impressed with his lunging. There was no silliness in the trot work and he wasn’t turning in all the time. It was time to long rein him!
The groom held him whilst I stood behind (not too close, obviously) holding the lunge lines, which ran through the stirrup irons to the bit. Then the groom walked the gelding on with me behind, giving verbal cues and beginning to get him used to the movement against his sides and his handler being behind him.
Once the gelding was walking forwards the groom backed away, as we had on the lunge. Unfortunately he had other ideas.
He stopped and turned around to face me. Slightly taken by surprise, I let the lunge lines through my hands. So we turned him around and started again. However, he had learnt a trick.
As soon as the groom left his side he spun around, and kept spinning whilst I held as tight to the lunge lines as he wrapped them around his legs, before stopping and looking puzzled at me.
We untangled him and tried again, this time the groom came straight to me to help pull the lunge lines straight before the horse tied himself up again. This started to work, and the gelding stopped turning, but then he decided to try rearing. This wasn’t good news, so we persevered at keeping him straight and stop him spinning whilst at the same time encouraging him to move forwards.
After about twenty minutes the gelding began to get the idea and walked forwards without turning on the long reins, but it was fragile so it was decided I’d go back in two days time to keep the momentum going.
The next visit was better, and within ten minutes I was long reining the gelding alone, but standing to the right of him so he could clearly see me. I tried changing sides but he had a tantrum and stopped, tried to spin and then reared. I went back to the right and kept to that for the moment.
With young horses I like to keep the work short but sweet, and end on a positive note, so you can imagine our frustration when we were long reining past the gate and planned to halt and finish, and the gelding started having a tantrum and throwing his weight around. So we had to continue until he settled again.
Between that visit and this week’s visit the groom lunged him with double reins. This exercise seemed to help as this week I started long reining whilst standing on the horse’s right, but the gelding started trotting a large circle, obviously assuming I wanted to lunge him. This didn’t matter to me, I let him trot a couple of laps before asking him to walk and then slowly manoeuvring myself so I wasn’t as close to his side, and started steering him off the circle.
This seemed to work well and we were soon changing the rein, I swapped sides, and moving in different areas of the field. However, the gelding had a new trick. He kept stopping, and striking out with his forefoot, stamping like a stroppy teenager.
The first time he reared as well when I asked him to walk on, but the second time he stomped I ignored him, didn’t hassle him, but let him work through the tantrum. When he was still, he happily walked forwards again. There were a couple more hoof striking episodes, but each one was shorter than previously and ignoring him really seemed to work.
This week’s session was short with the youngster as he worked well from the beginning, and the groom can now long rein him on her own. She’s also starting to jump up and down next to him, pat the saddle, and wobble the flaps and stirrups so that we can desensitise the gelding to things on his back and around his sides. He didn’t seem bothered when I tried it all, so hopefully he accepts this step readily.
We will keep long reining the gelding though until he is perfectly happy with this, but we can start to introduce weight and teach him to stand by the mounting block, as this will be important given his size!
I’ll keep you updated on his progress, but he’s certainly an interesting project.