Friday, May 4th, 2012
I didn't get out to the farm last weekend, so Cherokee has had a few days rest. Or so I thought. I went there today thinking to let him work on his ditch crossing for a bit. As I was pulling in, I met the owner at the head of an outbound convoy of horse trailers. We stopped to exchange a few words before he pulled out. He said "If you're looking for that little mountain horse, we've got him in the trailer." We've been riding him, and he is awesome!" Then they headed out for a three day ride in the Carolina mountains. So, now my once naive little pupil is out in the big wide world, earning his own keep.
Before he left, the boss pointed out a big, brown, pinto walking horse. He said "That one has been giving his rider some trouble. Get him out, and see what you think." Hawk is tall, muscular, and alert. I'd never ridden him, and didn't know his personality. He has performed well, but now he is not holding his gait. I gave him a good brushing down, and began to saddle up. He shied away from the saddle pad, which surprised me a bit. I got the feeling that it was an act. The riders at this barn are mostly beginners, with a few intermediate level folks, and a couple or three experienced riders. The horses are chosen carefully to match that. I knew Hawk to be a veteran trail horse, with no major behavior issues. I spoke to him firmly, and continued the chore. He settled down, but nipped at me as I tightened up the girth. I don't tolerate any behavior that can hurt a human, especially on the ground. I spoke sharply, and thumped his nose with my finger. He didn't need any more than that. With the saddle screwed down tight, we went into the arena to do some work. He continued trying to buffalo me as I mounted. Nothing aggressive, he just tried to crowd me while I tried to get my left foot into the stirrup. I kept the off side rein tight to keep him straight, while I repeated the command, whoa. Once I was in the stirrup, and committed, he stopped his antics.
Hawk is not a mean horse, he was testing me. After I was in the saddle, he waited for me to get settled and give him the command to move out. When we started working, I quickly realized his problem. He was anxious to move, and move out fast. He wasn't concerned with holding the smooth, fast, and comfortable racking gait that walking horses are famous for. He only wanted to go fast, at any gait whatsoever. It was also difficult to get him to move in the direction I wanted. Not that he didn't know what I wanted. Now he was trying to bully me into letting him be in charge.
One of the things I've noticed in recreational trail riders and horses is the tendency to simply go with the herd. If someone up front decides to move out at a faster pace, all the horses in the group want to do the same. Many, many riders seem content to let the horse make the decisions for them in this situation. The result is often that an intelligent, and strong willed horse, like Hawk, decides he no longer needs to take direction from his rider. I only worked him for about an hour. Just long enough to make an assessment. This seems more of a case for training the rider, rather than the horse. Although, Hawk will need some work to get him to return to his natural walking horse gait.