Slowly, but Surely
Lyric has been saddled and bridled at the tree four or five times now and pretty much takes everything in stride. Every time I've saddled her, I have reinforced that I expect her to stand still while I'm working ...unless I ask her to move, she shouldn't move. Those of you who've had to try and dress a squirming toddler will appreciate the concept. A toddler who won't be still and cooperate with getting dressed is frustrating. But a 1000-pound horse that won't stand still and cooperate with being saddled can go from frustrating to dangerous in a heartbeat. So it's a lesson we're rehearsing every time she's saddled.
Sometimes doing the same old thing but in a new place will make horses a little antsy. A change of scenery, a change in the routine, even a change in the weather can affect their mood. Changing things up on purpose early in the training process can help a young horse learn to take change in stride. So today, I decided to change things up a little for Lyric. While the horses were still eating, I put the saddle and blanket she'd been wearing up in the front paddock at the round pen. When they were finished, I got Lacy and Lyric and brought them to the tree, just like we've done for the past three weeks. But this time, I saddled and bridled Lacy and then led her around the house to the round pen. I left her up there and went back to walk Lyric up.
Once inside the round pen, I draped Lyric's lead rope over the rail next to Lacy and started brushing Lyric down for the saddle. This was routine and she didn't fidget much until two teenagers on a four wheeler came down the road and turned around in the driveway. Lyric had to look at what all the racket was, but the only thing she moved was her head so that's okay. I got her saddled up in no time and walked her a few steps before tightening the cinch all the way. As a precaution, I pulled it a notch tighter than usual tonight because I intended to turn her loose in the round pen. If a cinch is too loose and a horse gets too rambunctious, the saddle can roll under the horse's belly. That makes for a really scary experience for a young and can be really hard on a good saddle so I wanted to make sure it was snug. But she didn't act up at all which is great.
I unsnapped her lead rope and left it on the rail. She was loose but didn't seem to realize it at first. After a minute or two, she dropped her head to sniff the ground, but still just stood there. I petted on her for a few more minutes and then turned to walk out of the round pen. She followed me as if still tethered by a lead rope. When I went out the gate and closed it before she could follow me, she looked a little surprised but not upset. I walked down the rail on the outside to get Lacy and Lyric just followed along. While I was adjusting Lacy's saddle and attaching her reins, Lyric decided we were boring and wandered off to the center of the pen to nibble grass. So I got on Lacy and started riding around the outside of the round pen hoping to get Lyric interested in following us again. She ignored us. So I moved Lacy inside the round pen and we rode all around Lyric. I ignored Lyric unless she was in the way of whatever maneuver we were working on and, when that happened, I just rode Lacy through her as if she wasn't there. If I had been riding any horse but Lyric's own mama, she might have taken offense at being pushed ...she tends to have a rather high opinion of herself. But I was pretty sure she would be submissive to her own mama and, even if she got uppity, I knew I could move her mama quick and easy enough to avoid a wreck.
I was only in the saddle on Lacy for 30 minutes and Lyric probably only wore her saddle for 45 minutes. Neither of them worked up a sweat but it was still a very good session all the way around. It was good for Lyric to wear the saddle while she was free to move around and good for Lacy to answer up to my cues regardless of whether Lyric was in our way. When I was done, I got off of Lacy, unsaddled her and left her on the outside of the round pen. Then I went back, snapped the lead rope on Lyric and walked her over to where Lacy was standing so I could unsaddle her too. Until tonight, I've been slow and deliberate when unsaddling Lyric, always mindful not to let stirrups or straps flop against her and startle her. But tonight, I decided to quit coddling her so much. I unfastened the cinch and let it fall behind her front legs while I folded the strap up in a 'necktie' through the ring on the saddle. Then I moved to her right side and secured the dangling cinch to the tab on that side of the saddle and pulled the saddle and blanket off from the right side. I carried them around behind Lyric and tucked them through the rail on the pen. She stood quietly through the whole process like like she'd done this all her life.
I didn't really have a set timetable in mind when I started this training process and lots of things have kept me from working with Lyric three times a week as I'd planned. But even the unplanned slack time is good because it hasn't seemed to affect Lyric's progress. She learns quickly and retains what she's learned even if there are long gaps between sessions. That reassures me that she's going to be one of those horses that can be out in the pasture for months at a time and still remember all her manners and maneuvers when you saddle her up. It's a good thing because tomorrow I am leaving town for four days due to work. Yeoldfurt is going to have his hands full just keeping up with all the chores that I normally handle when I'm here. I doubt he'll have time to mess with Lyric until I get back. But I know on Saturday when we have our next lesson in the round pen, Lyric will pick up right where we left off.