Thursday, May 6, 2021

A Simple Rule

 Before I left with Tumbleweed, Sarah gave me some words of advice:

1. Always remember he's young, and be ready for anything. 

2. Always be able to get his head around and unlock his hips, just in case he does try to bolt or run. Constantly work on that, so it's there when you need it.

3. Never push him too far, but build on his successes.

4. Don't get into fights with him, as it will only escalate, but be firm and consistent in what you are asking and always enforce the boundaries.

5. Do something with him every day, even if it's just tying him up while I work around the barn.

But most important of all, and the most simple--

6. NEVER get on him unless I have his full attention.

I thought back to my work with Beautiful, and how well it was going, until the day of her blow up, and I remember very well it was windy, she'd had a week off, was amped and nervous away from the herd, and I did NOT have her attention.  For some reason, I made a conscious decision to work through it in saddle, probably because I'd just returned from auditing a Buck clinic, and I wanted to work on what I'd seen there before I forgot. I got into a fight with her that escalated, and I paid the price.

Another way you could put this is, are they in the trust side of their brain with you, or are they relying on fear and instinct? If the answer is fear and instinct, you are taking a major risk if you mount up.

When I think back, I remember all the clinics I've attended, and how, at the end of the day, I'm floating on cloud 9 with my horse. I think it's because we took so much time with them, and made sure we were tuned into each other, every step of the way. You get home with your horse, you have a million things to do, and only an hour to ride--you skip steps.

Yesterday was Tumbleweed's first day home, and he was nervous, agitated, and tuned into the herd. He had a hard time standing still for the farrier, and he whinnied all day for his buddies, who were out grazing. He was in the fear and instinct part of his brain. Since I haven't been working with him much these last two months, we are essentially starting over as a team. So, why would he trust me?

I had hoped to ride him at home the first day, but I remembered Sarah's words of caution, and decided just to saddle him, work him over obstacles, and do basic groundwork--then evaluate. I was able to get some of his attention, but not enough, so I ended it with that, and put him back in his stall. 

A little bit later, I decided to close the pasture gates and let him into the turnout with Leah for some exercise and slow introduction. He let loose!  There was running, bucking, whinnying, running, super fast running, crazy fast running, more whinnying--and basically, a little bit of tornado mixed into it all. 

Leah looked like, WHAT THE HELL?!?  Put me back in my stall! I opened her gate, and she ran right in.  Then I opened Tumbleweed's gate, and he ran right back in. So yeah, I made the right call about not riding him.

I've made a decision not to let him out with the herd this week because I want to work with him everyday, and I need to build a foundation before our next lesson. I told Sarah that plan before I left, and she thought it was a good idea to build my connection with him before I release him. Also, I don't want him sustaining any injuries. 

One thing I don't intend to do is NOT ride him. If it takes me hours and hours and hours and days and days to get his attention and trust, I will do it. I WILL get my boy's full attention. And I imagine, once he settles in again, it will come fast. I saw what he should be like when he was with Sarah, and I have that in my mind as the standard:

Soft eyes. Relaxed head. Respect. Trust.

That's what I'm going for.


  1. This is good advice. More than once, I've chosen not to climb up on Skeeter because her "head wasn't in it", and I used to feel guilty and disappointed in myself for being a wimp. But I'm a lot older now than when I first started riding, so I should be wiser. And sometimes wiser means know when *not* to mount up, even if we've done all the pre-ride work. Healing takes a lot longer, and it's far more fun (and safe) if we're both on board with the plan.

    1. Yes, it’s a simple rule, but true. The best trainers use it all the time, so we shouldn’t feel guilty. So, today I went out and used the exact same advice, but to my surprise, he was a completely different horse. I applied the same rule, but trusted it to mount and ride, and it was 💯 successful.

  2. Yes! To all of this! I don't worry so much about Carmen's energy anymore- I focus on her attention. And if I don't have it I don't get on. If I am on and I lose I work on getting it back (gently) and then building from there.

    1. That’s a good differentiation. I watched my trainer with T, and there were days he had a lot of energy on the line, before she mounted. He even bucked a bit. She didn’t care. She said that’s just him being a baby. She only cared about his attention, respect, and ability to disengage, back, etc.

    2. When I say he bucked a little, I mean on the line, not with her in saddle.

  3. Good advice from your trainer. It's really essential to have their brain focused on you and not outside stimuli. I won't get on if I don't have the horses attention anymore. I did when I was younger but I don't bounce as easily as I once did so I'm a little more cautious. Why get hurt if you don't have to, right? Sometimes you can get more achieved from the ground than you can in the saddle. Just always make it a good experience for the both of you.;)

    1. Very true. There are no short cuts, and the horse never lies. He gives you all the information you need, if you respect and look for it. I found out I don’t bounce the hard way, and it halted my riding with BG. I’m not interested in a repeat. I will stick like glue to the fundamentals. Riding is risky enough in the best circumstances.

  4. Your trainer has good advice. Working with the young ones is an adventure, but that bit about working with the horse you have at the moment and not the one you expect to have is what saves your hide. There's no shame in not riding if it doesn't feel right. I made that same call with Beamer's daughter, Sparkle- she never did connect with me as a yearling which is why I sold her in the first place, and when I got her back there still was no connection. Selling her back was a wise decision for me.
    Once Tumbleweed settles into your routine, you will progress. Maybe even not having him turned out with the herd at all this summer until you and he are really solid. He will look to you for leadership and exercise.

    1. I’m going to write an update on this today, because I had a 💯 different horse yesterday. He was tuned in, soft eyes, tried to do everything I asked perfect, and I decided to mount up, based on the same simple rule. I don’t know how he could have changed so quickly except that I put Little Joe into the stall next to him, and he probably got a reminder about manners. After our work I released him with Leah and Little Joe, and he just walked over calmly and joined up with them. I went to get him in the evening to go back in his stall, and he walked right over. It’s as if he hasn’t been gone at all, but somehow knows a lot of stuff! Crazy.

  5. Sage advice, all the more important with young minds. Good decision. I read your follow up post, and it payed off.


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