Back in the spring, I posted an ad on Kijiji, hoping to get some extra riding time in for free on a horse or two this season. I knew money would be too tight for a part-board situation, and I thought riding a second horse outside my lessons would help me to broaden my skills. It seemed like a long shot, but I thought to myself, I'm an okay enough rider that surely I could be useful to someone who wants their horse kept in better shape, as long as that horse is sufficiently sane.
I didn't expect to receive any response, really, but I wound up having so many that I had to take the ad down after just a couple of days.
Of the free riding opportunities, the one I've stuck with through the year has been on a horse named Syd. Syd is a big boy. Not tall, but THICK. He's a paint horse, and has been ridden Western for the majority of his life. He's... different.
He's a different personality nearly every time I ride him. Some weeks he's a saint, and does everything nicely and well. Other weeks he's grumpy, tosses his head, blows off what I ask him to do.
I'll go into more detail in another post, though, as I really just want to sum up this most recent ride, for my own later reference.
Syd's canter, with me, has generally been pretty terrible. He THROWS himself into it, then sorts of BOUNDS around, head up, not going anywhere near straight. I dislike the feel of it, and it feels out of control, so I usually only go a very short distance with him. I get into this vicious cycle of holding him tightly with everything -- reins, legs, seat -- to try to control him, which just makes him more UP and more prone to over-bend and drift off to one side. Apparently, for other riders, he's quite smooth. Hmmmmm. He also only ever picks up one lead with me (except for one day early in the season when he was being Mr. Perfect). But I'm told that he'll pick up the correct lead to run barrels, and even do a flying change. Hmmmmmm again.
This week, I decided to try the opposite of what I'd been doing at the canter with him. I decided to just get him into the canter and... do nothing. Just be an inert passenger. He's not normally Mr. Speed Demon, so I figured he'd probably just put in a few strides and then peter out again, and I'd let him, so that hopefully he'd relax and realize cantering with me didn't need to mean a fight. I would get him into it, then let my reins go slack, take my leg off, and hover in a light seat so that NOTHING I was doing was interfering.
Well, it was a sound philosophy, I think, on any other day. Because this was the day Syd decided to be HOT HOT HOT. I don't know what his deal was. Apparently he'd been running barrels a couple of days previously, which is not his usual deal, but he does have this reputation as a slowpoke (though to be honest I've never found this to be the case). But WOW. He would NOT relax. He would NOT slow down.
Prior to riding him, I tacked him up, then brought him into the round pen, unsnapped his reins, and free-lunged him, which is what I always do. He was perfectly fine in there. I also had him go over a tiny jump a few times -- this time with a guide rail leading into it so he wouldn't run out like he did the last time I tried. Much higher success rate! Part of me wonders if the jumping prior to riding him worked him up at all, but I don't think so.I suppose it's a possibility, but it just doesn't seem too likely. Even when he's a bit silly in these warm-ups, throwing in the odd buck and sudden rollback, it doesn't usually translate into the ride afterwards.
Anyhow, the ride: FAST. He trotted FAST. He cantered FAST. He was trying to blow off my slow-down aids, so I tried some things. We circled a lot at the trot, but it didn't help. I tried doing some nice wide arcs using minimal turning aids to see if he was paying attention, and on a loose contact to encourage him to drop his head and relax, and he did turn well, but he still wouldn't relax or slow. I decided I was still going to go ahead with the canter plan, thinking, I don't want this attitude from him to lead to him getting out of working harder. Also, I thought he might relax if I stopped holding him so tightly -- I was really trying, the whole ride, not to react to the extra zip from him by tensing and holding. I was still pretty confident that he was not going to tear off.
So, I tried the canter strategy. Mainly on the rail, but also in some large "going somewhere" arcs to see if that would affect his way of going. I don't think he ever gave me the right lead -- always left -- but I tried not to focus on that overly, and just on trying to have it be relaxed and nice. Well... he would launch into it, and go way too quickly, then either die out or I'd have to bring him back to trot myself. He was trying to blow off my requests for him to slow to trot, so I started to pick a point in the ring where the downwards transition was going to happen, whether he liked it or not, so that I would know how firm I had to be at a given time instead of him deciding when it was going to happen. So: if he wanted to slow down to trot at any time before that point, he could do that on his own, but once we got close to that point, I would ask, and if he didn't slow by that point, I would ask HARD. Normally I wouldn't encourage a horse to decide on his own when to drop down to trot, but this was the slow-down game, this day, so slowing down was GOOD. Plus I would like him to learn to take some leg during canter without freaking out, but that's a longer term goal. I DID have to fight with him to get some of the downward transitions, but it wasn't tooo bad or scary. Still slightly nerve-racking. After enough tries, I changed down to trot-to-halt transitions, which he did start listening to better, then called it a night and walked him out in the paddock.
Another note: he wasn't sweaty at all when I first got on him, despite a pretty vigorous time in the round pen being lunged, but by the time I hopped off him he was DRENCHED. Again, it was disproportionate to how much work he actually did. He gets some SERIOUS mental sweats when I ride him, at least half the time.
His owner thought perhaps his strange SUPER MANIC state could have been caused by the barrel racing a few days prior, or that he could smell a freshly butchered deer carcass that they had buried in the manure pile a day or two prior, and it might have been putting him on edge. There was also a new dog on the property, though the dog was tied up far from where we were riding.
Syd continues to be a puzzle. I wonder which personality I'll get from him next time. Chilled out and actually listening to me would be a pleasant change!
Edited to add: While I've been very game to do No Stirrups November so far, this was the ONE ride all month where I kept them the entire time. Just too stressful and I didn't entirely trust him. I'm normally pretty game to go without, I swear!