“Gee Susan, He’s REALLY Testing You!”
“My, JR is being ORNERY Tonight!”
There’s nothing like a young horse to make one humble. I was foolishly
thinking I had gotten pretty skilled in natural horsemanship principles. I
remember riding Velvet in many workshops thinking, “Gee, I wish I had a young
horse so I could experience all those early training experiences again with a
young horse. I’ll be so much better this time.” Ha!
Jenny uttered the two statements that make up the title during the latest
Thursday nite group lesson. This might give you a hint of what JR and I went
JR had 30 days of training with Tony and Jenny. Jenny rode him most of the time.
This was our second ride. Our first ride group lesson, JR and I got to
spend quite a bit of time walking a circle around Jenny. We only
participated out on the wall at the tail end of the lesson. Although JR did
canter with me during that lesson without permission, I lived through it and was a better woman for it!
Before the lesson, I tried very hard to “image” me riding JR I asked
myself, “Why are you nervous?” I had no answer. As I mounted JR, I
was nervous and strove to relax tense muscles. I tried to breathe normally!
The lesson started and we took to the wall at a walk. Nooo! Internal
screaming! BANG, here goes JR and I at a canter! I was carrying a carrot stick and managed to stop him with that. We cantered down one long side of the arena.
We were pulled into the center of the arena where we practiced stepping over
with the hindquarters while walking forward. This time I remembered to use
my body position, then legs, and last, reins. I tried to be very very soft
with the reins, so as not to build a brace in JR.
When it appeared that JR was listening to my body and legs, we got to return
to the rail again. Our theme of the month is the point to point pattern.
We go at a fast clips, trot or canter. The person looks straight ahead at a
specific spot at the next corner. You don’t get to use your leg aides or
touch the reins unless the horse turns. We ride into the corner and let the
wall stop us. We relax for a while, back and go at a fast clip to the next
corner. It doesn’t take long for the horse to learn to stay “on the wall.”
This game makes the horse happy, as they know they get the comfort to stand
still and do nothing for a while.
Jenny told JR and I to try to stay at a flat foot walk. JR likes to fox
trot. We managed a few steps here and there at the flat foot walk. Jenny
complimented us every time we hit the flat foot walk.
I thought since JR was a young horse that he would just get to stop somewhere
close to the spot that I focused on. Nope, Jenny asked me if JR was straight
to my spot. By that time he had moved his rear end 180 degrees. We had to
get to my spot and straighten up. No slack for the young! How PICKY!
We were doing pretty good at this. I almost forgot about being nervous. JR
and I were getting to know one another. Jenny mumbled something about a word
beginning with “C”. I asked a woman onlooker if Jenny had said the “C” word.
The woman said, “She said canter!” ”CANTER!” I exclaimed. JR and I are
just new! Surely she doesn’t want us to canter right now at almost the very
start of the lesson. (About a half hour had gone by!) Jenny explained to me
that I was to tell JR to canter when it “felt right”.
All right! We left our corner going straight down the wall at a fast clip.
I shifted my body and squeezed my legs. Zip, we went into a smooth canter
with the correct lead! By this time JR knew we were going to stop in the
corner, so he was almost ready. We managed to stop.
Coming back towards the front of the arena was a lot more fun. JR knows the
front of the arena is the place to be, so he speeds up quite a bit! I was
heartened by the stop. We didn’t slam into the fence, although we came
I was very surprised that I didn’t have to shift my body very much for JR to
start off in a canter. That was very pleasant. By this time, I had only
some residual nervousness left! I had to concentrate too much to remember to
be nervous! I think we made it alive going twice around the arena. I
remember looking at the woman onlooker to see if she thought we were going to
slam into the railing at her corner. She didn’t appear to be too concerned.
Then the dreaded sidepass exercise started. Sidepassing is most difficult
game on the ground and mounted. Here’s where my memory starts to fade
because of the extreme embarrassment. This is where Jenny said those two
title statements, “He’s really testing you. He’s really being ornery”
I’m to lightly tell him to sidepass with my body position and legs. I’m not
to grab the rein and pull his head back where it was when we started to side
pass. Fine, I let that rein go and he took off down the wall. I grab the
rein and pull his head back. Jenny discusses with me how bad it is to do
this. We manage a step at the sidepass, and we are free to go until the next
corner. I ask him to sidepass; JR squirts off down the wall, I pull his head
back and Jenny discusses how I’m going to start building brace. Brace is a
dirty word! In desparation, Jenny tells me to ask JR to sidepass like I ask Velvet. Well, sure. I put my body in position and give some light leg pressure if she doesn’t respond. I do the same for JR, and he starts to try and run down the wall. I believe this is where Jenny said,
“Wow! He’s really testing you tonight!”
I feel worse than a beginner. I’ve seen people do better than this the first
time they ever ride a horse! Jenny discusses how I am to use the rein to
keep his head from squirting down the rail. She again tells me to ask JR
like I do Velvet. I asked, JR squirts and Predator Susan grabs the rein and
pull his head back. The slogan is, “Slow hands ask and quick hands release.”
My predator hands are doing the opposite!
Now, Jenny is walking with JR and I. We are ignoring the other two people in
the class. They don’t exist. Jenny, JR and I are in a private sidepass hell.
Finally, I manage to do something right, although I was too far-gone to know
what. We quit sidepassing. The lesson ends. Jenny brightly tells me, “You
did really well tonight.” I was sunk in despair. However, as I am a great
actress, I smile and brightly say, “Thanks!”
That evening while tossing and turning in bed, I suddenly decide that JR will
be softer than Velvet, as long as I don’t ride him! I half seriously told
this to Jenny several days later. Again, she brightened up and said that she
was pleased at how well I had done. What a nice trainer she is! I almost