On the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, I met Ellen at the barn. After we did our chores, we decided to work with Dante. Ellen is still a little nervous. She is used to riding more experienced horses than Dante. Dante hasn’t given her any reason to be nervous, though. She decided to ride him in the round pen, again. It is hard to be nervous in a round pen.
She had Dante walking and trotting very nicely. I love the way he trots. He was doing so well, that I suggested she ride him down to the river. She had been leading him down, and he has been doing well with that. I told her just to get dismount if she is anxious. To give her a greater sense of safety, we put his halter on over the bridle with a lead rope. I would lead her down.
We were both surprised that Dante was more excited than he had been when we led him on the hill. He was trying to prance and trot—and he wasn’t paying attention to us. Once Ellen saw the deer and then safely passed it, she had had enough. We made it about halfway down. She led him the rest of the way. It was a very chilly morning, so we didn’t’ want to mess with the river and get wet. He walked back up the hill better than he went down.
The next morning, Sunday, Ellen met me at the barn. After our chores, she decided to ride Dante in the indoor arena. The arena is a large and scary place compared to the round pen. She walked circles on the safe end. I urged her to trot, and she started trotting half circles. Finally, she trotted a full circle and had enough of that. It was time to go back to the round pen to get some real trotting in. There, they both did wonderfully.
The next step was the hill. She said that she had pondered the ride from the day before, and realized how stupid we were. We did it all wrong—it just wasn’t the way we do things. We don’t try to restrain a horse to have him go the speed we want, we convince him with positive reinforcement that he wants to go the speed we desire.
She gave me a bag of carrot slices, and we headed for the hill.
She mounted and walked a few steps. She clicked and treated. She hasn’t done much clicker work, so we weren’t sure how much it would help, but he did seem to know that the click meant a treat. A few more clicks, and he was walking like a champ. We did some head downs with the clicker—then he really started to focus on the game. She asked him to stop, clicked and treated. We had him now. Instead of getting off halfway, she rode down to the bottom, turned around and rode back up. It was a totally positive ride. We realized how ridiculous we were not to use the tools we have.
The next day, Monday, we started in the indoor arena, again. This time, Dante seemed at home in there. We are sure he thinks things over each day after the ride, because this happens all the time with him. Ellen did lots of trotting and had few problems. She then suggested doing the hill, again. I said, “What about me? Don’t I get to ride?” She smiled and told me to get my helmet.
Wow, he’s a nice horse to ride. It took him a minute or so to get used to me, and soon we were trotting circles, too. He is very smooth with long strides. I didn’t even try to post. He responded to my seat, which was great. She isn’t only going to enjoy him on the trail, but when she is stuck in the arena next winter, she will have fun, too.
Ellen then rode him down the hill. We still had the lead rope hooked up, but I told her I wasn’t going to use it. She was on her own, and I was just an emergency brake. I didn’t need it in the least. We gave him only a few carrots this time—though he earned a bushel. He just walked down the hill and back up like it was no big deal at all. He seems to enjoy himself on the trail. That is always a bonus when your horse likes to be out and about.
Next weekend, we will hopefully get them to the other side of the river and go on a real ride. We would have tried it this time, but it was still very cold. Neither one of us wanted to get our feet wet.
Ellen is very happy with Dante.
On each day, we also took Cole and Ranger on a trail ride, and they were great.