This year I felt there was a huge break through with Arumi. For those that don’t know Arumi, he was a horse I took on a couple of years ago as a ten year old warmblood stallion that had not been started under saddle. Basically quiet in nature, he could still be difficult to handle when he became interested in mares. He initially very easily accepted being ridden, I was actually extremely surprised how easy he was in the initial rides. He had no fear or unconfidence about having a human on his back or accepting a saddle and girth or even being directed and guided while riding. Incredible I thought for a 10 year old stallion as most young horses even with plenty of previous handling were not nearly that easy. However after one occasion where I didn’t have enough feel in a ground work session and tried to hurry him to do something that he was not confident to do (placing his front feet on a concrete block – a simple task in my mind) he changed his mind. He did not want to be ridden any more. Even though it was a ground work activity where the issue arose, he had changed his mind about riding. When I mounted him which he didn’t want me to, he tried to quite aggressively grab hold of my leg and I felt strongly that his intention was to pull me off. He was making it very clear that he was not happy. He had once before been aggressive towards me early on in our time together when he was confused about something and he ran in directly towards me with ears flat back, eyes glaring and very strong intent. I had needed to be quite assertive toward him to stay safe and let him know that behaviour was absolutely not acceptable, however I was also sure to let him know that he could express his frustration in a milder form and he would be listened to. In this incident with me on him I could feel the same intensity of his communication and knew that if I didn’t listen to his very clear communication he would follow through with his intention. I felt pretty vulnerable up there and knew I had better get off. I also knew why it was happening and that it was my fault as I had been unfair.
On the other occasions where I had to be quite strongly assertive with him there had been no repercussions or resentment because I had been fair. On those other occasions I had been centered and without judgement or emotion attached to my actions. With the incident with the concrete block, the physical pressure or how I was communicating with him physically was nothing compared to the physical pressure needed on other occasions where he had been out of control or aggressive but he felt I was unfair this time, which I had been. He felt my impatience and the emotion underneath my actions and he rightly so, was not happy with that. That is one thing about stallions, they will carry resentment if they feel unfairly treated much more than geldings or mares would. Sometimes that resentment would be bottled for years before eventually coming out.
It was a great lesson for me about not forcing even in more subtle ways. The incident with the concrete block was not forceful in most people’s eyes. There was no pressure from sticks or ropes. I didn’t even have a stick. There was just a forceful pressure in my mind and in the feel in my fingertips (even though it was subtle).
It took a long time after that to convince him that riding might be a good idea and for him to allow it and then for him to completely turn loose and accept riding and enjoy it again. Because of that experience where he lost trust in me, everything I did with him but especially the riding, was tainted with the memory. That incident probably happened close to two years ago. I learnt that I had to go slow with him, really listen to him and not push him but allow things to take the time they needed and get rid of all time lines.
Arumi is actually gelded now because after deciding that I didn’t want to breed anymore horses I knew it would be a much happier life for him to be living in a herd as a gelding. This year we have had some beautiful break throughs. His first canters where amazingly balanced and calm, he is jumping confidently on line and just starting jumping under saddle, his first ride outside alone was very calm and confident. Most importantly he is so willing and tries so hard with what I am doing with the riding. He is truly enjoying it. There are still occasions where some emotion comes up, usually in the form of a lack of confidence about things, but in general he is very happy and enjoying working together with me. He put me and my principles to the test. The break through that I feel excited about is that by trusting the process, going slow, listening to the horse and letting go of time lines, the project of taking on a ten year old stallion to start (a daunting project for most) has resulted in having an amazingly happy and willing partner with an elastic, supple and athletic body who enjoys the process of learning and interacting with me, is open and expressive and is a pleasure to be around. I couldn’t be happier with him and will continue to work together with him in the time frame he needs and that I can offer with my busy schedule, to see how far we can go together.
Another big highlight for me was the progress with Matriarch. Matriarch has been on and off unsound for nearly two years and then even when she looked sound she didn’t want to get ridden. Every time for quite a while when I tried to mount her the ears would go back and she would try to bite me. As hard as it was sometimes, I had to honour how she felt and give her time. Towards the end of this year she felt ready to be ridden. She quickly progressed and then started showing a lot of talent in jumping cross country. She really enjoyed it, sometimes getting a little over excited, but on the whole she felt amazing. It is so much fun to have horses happy, willing, confident and moving athletically and especially to jump them with those qualities. Fun, fun and more fun !!!