Thursday, June 1, 2023

The Convoluted Journey of Getting to Trust

 (A walk on the trails.)

Hello again! After yesterday's post, I thought it was better to write an actual post, so as not to leave it out there hanging. I'm going to do my best to give you a general picture of what has been happening, rather than going day by day by day.

I was making good progress with Tweed this spring, working with my trainer a couple of times, and spending a lot of time at the equestrian park working on obstacles, arena, and trails. I think last I left off in the posts, the plan was to make the arena hard and the trails fun.

Well, all that training came to a screeching halt due to a trip we made to Texas, and then a number of other events and family gatherings, bad weather, and LIFE. Tweed went 2 1/2 weeks being a pasture ornament with his little mare herd. He got fat. He got lazy. And, he developed a preference for spending his days grazing.

Insert me into that idyllic picture. Come on, Tweed, jump in the trailer and let's go work and play! Tweed, being the sucker that he is, trusted me, jumped into the trailer, and loaded happily to the park.

I started our training with easy days, lots of wins. When Tweed did everything I asked of him, and remained relaxed and willing, we didn't waste much time going home and letting him graze again. All was good.

I decided to meet a friend for a longer day at the park. My plan was to work with Tweed, rest, work, rest, work--all day, and get him used to being away from home for longer again.

The first half of that day went pretty well, but Tweed wasn't as soft as usual. There was definitely some resistance. It wasn't bad, but it was definitely there. He was making an effort to go along with everything we were doing. He was also playing off the other horse. All in all, I would have considered that morning a success. Obstacles, arena work, cone patterns ...all good.

We had lunch, the horses rested tied to the trailers, and then I made a decision to start the second half the day.

Well, that started off a bit more rough. Three new horses came into the picture, and Tweed used that as an opportunity to be very distracted and worked up. As we made our way through it, he worked up quite a sweat. It was hot, humid, and he was done. But I took him into the arena again to stand and watch my friend do another pattern. 

As we stood there, he began to toss his head and root around the reins and act like he wanted to roll. I turned him in circles, kicked him forward, and kept him busy. It escalated. Pretty soon, he wasn't going to stay up, and I felt his front knees buckle. I jumped right off and he popped back up, surprised, and I worked him on a circle from the ground.

Well, now I'd gotten into it and had to stay at the park to work it through. My friend had to go home, so there I was at the park, alone with Tweed again, in a battle of the wills. And then it started to thunder, huge, loud booms--a storm was on its way. We loaded as quick as we could and got home. The storm came through and lasted a couple of days. It turned out that some of my friends had trouble with their horses, too. Lots of bucking, rearing, and refusals. I felt lucky not to have had any of that. 

Since that day I have made a few changes to my work with Tweed :

1. Be careful NOT to push him to the point where he shuts down, and / or be more sensitive to the signs that he has shutdown.  For example, that day, since all I was doing was standing watching my friend on the cones, I could have dismounted and watched from the ground. 

In fact, I had a breakthrough this week that that is one way to reward Tweed. He loves to see me and get praise from the ground for a job well done. As a green horse, he isn't as rewarded when I do it from the saddle yet. I have made a big change in our work to take advantage of that. I divide our time into blocks, and when each block is finished, I dismount, praise Tweed, and spend some time with him from the ground. When we're ready for the next block, I remount (it's easy to get off and on him) and do the same thing over again. 

2. More attention to BIG rewards! I discovered Tweed likes to be rewarded from the ground, but he also likes to be rewarded with food. I ran into some young ladies at the park who are working with their own horses, and we have joined together to help each other with trail work. One of them was a trainer, but she quit taking outside clients because people were often hard to work with, and dishonest. She is very good with her three horses, and they had a willingness and softness that I admired. She recommended I ride Tweed out on the trails, dismount, halter him, and let him graze, teaching him that the trails are where he should want to be. I think that's smart, and I've started doing that.

3. Give Tweed more opportunity to make mistakes, and stop supporting him all the time with my legs and reins. This came to me from watching Ryan Rose videos. He wanted us to give our horses a loose rein and see if they'd remain straight walking out. If they didn't, let them fully commit to moving off the line, and then turn them 180, then immediately drop slack into the reins (so they know this isn't a punishment) and ask for a straight line again. Well, I tried that with Tweed and it worked great. He figured it out super quick, and he wants that slack rein. So, a lot of our work now will be to get him to step up and take responsibility. I've been doing the same on the trail.

This is quite different than my work with Leah, when I was starting her on the trails. Leah seemed to like that connection with the bit and reins, and I had to support her with it for a long time as she built up trail confidence. Tweed does not seem to get support from that kind of contact. He prefers a loose rein. Green trail horse. Loose rein. Hmmm...I have a dilemma, don't I? I plan to solve it in small increments, with the help of my new trail buddies. We're going to ride out together, ride apart from each other, and introduce a number of short trail scenarios to help our horses through the trail basics. When Tweed is relaxed and connected, he will get a loose rein. If he's not connected, he will have to do some work until he is, then he will get the reward of a loose rein again.

I see this post is getting long, but hasn't captured all of what's been happening. There are times I doubt myself, but then I look at the bigger picture and see everything I've got right. I continue to have faith in building slowly with an eye on the big picture. It isn't about just today, it's about the 30 years I might have Tumbleweed. It's about teaching him to like to work and seek that partnership. It's about trust, him trusting me, and me trusting him. There is no shortcut to that goal, so you better sit back and enjoy the convoluted journey!


  1. Yes you're right- there are no shortcuts. It takes as long as it takes, and that's he way to connect. It's all about connection, isn't it? That is the thing we seek in our horsemanship journey. When I was a little kid, reading the endless horse books that I was lucky enough to get from the mail order library, the one that resonated with me was a story about an Indian boy who , as the story said, was "one with his horse" and that is what I strove for from that moment on. Sometimes I got it, sometimes I didn't. It's hard to do when our own minds and goals and reasons and habits get in the way. But when it's there, it's magical.
    Journey on!

    1. That’s a worthy goal with a horse partnership. My daughter and I were talking last night and she said I hope you don’t compare other horses to Cowboy. She said that because Cowboy was an orphan foal, and he doesn’t really care about the herd (he doesn’t) it was easier for him to leave the herd for our rides. Tumbleweed, on the other hand, has deep bonds with the herd, especially Foxy, so it’s asking more of him.

      I reminded her that it took me years to get that point with Cowboy and she laughed and agreed. She said she didn’t even know if Cowboy and I were going to make it at first. I was his 5th owner in his 7 years of life, and it was hard to earn his trust, but when I did it was entire.

      Tumbleweed is different, yes, but I’ve also had the advantage of raising him. He trusts me from the ground, where he can see me, 💯. Comes to me in the pasture. Loads right up without a single hesitation. Unloads and has great manners at the trailhead. Stands still on a loose rein when I mount. Listens for directions. Moves off the rein and leg. Stays tuned in. Opens and closes gates. The friend I met was pretty impressed with him.

      But he has a “no” button. It will be yes, yes, yes, yes, …no.

      Cowboy and I were as one as I’ve ever been with a horse, and he retained a “no button” too. But we worked and worked until the no button rarely showed up anymore.

      That’s my plan with Tweed. I want to do my best to avoid the areas of no. I’m never going to be the type to finesse him into a yes like some people can do. I have to work, work, work, build, build, build to the yes.

      And maybe that’s the oneness. I’m a unique person, and I have my basic personality, and Tumbleweed has his basic personality, but when we spend a lot more time together, then we come to understandings about what each of us needs, how we’re a team, and what we’re willing to devote to each other that goes beyond the instinctive, no.

  2. I’m going to add my updates to this post, rather than writing new ones. I decided if we’re to ride on a loose rein on trails, we should have it down in the roundpen and arena first. Today I blocked our work into 4 parts: roundpen warm up, roundpen loose rein work at walk and trot, obstacles, arena loose rein at walk.

    After each block, he got a big reward.

    Our issue was loose rein, trot, to left. He kept cutting out of the circle. We spent a lot of time until we accomplished it. Trot work is good exercise for him and me both. I was exhausted. Although his trot is so much smoother this year. Remember when I called him a jackhammer? I has to wear two bras. Not anymore. He is smoothing right out. In the arena. I wanted 5 consecutive straight lines at the walk, and it didn’t take long to get those after a few walk offs. I turn him 180 and throw him back the rein.

    In the roundpen, if he leaves the circle, I take the rein and guide him. If he continues the circle, I throw him the reins. I also start on a loose rein snd allow him to choose.

    One more thing. I switched from a round rein to my splits. It gives me a popper which will help me keep him on all fours. He got a pop today and blew out, not knowing where it came from. Ha. Always full of surprises.

    Today was a great day, and I brought him home as soon as we were done. He showed signs of pride in his work. I think this is a good program that I can feel safe with and he can feel accomplishment.

  3. Your update sounds very positive.

    1. Yes, it occurred to me that what I’m doing is how he was trained in the first place, so it makes sense that a loose rein is a reward.

  4. You are doing all the right things Linda! Nothing good comes out of rushing. Patience always pays off. I love that you've got friends to help (each other) out on the trail. I have always ridden with split reins. I really don't care for the looped ones, for several reasons. I think all horses have "no" buttons, and they are there forever to some degree. Similar to our human dislikes. With that said, many can be resolved and are just part of learning to grow up. Kudos to you for putting so much thought and practice into your horse(wo)manship!

    1. Thanks Aurora. Yes, rushing always leads to disaster, and I don’t want that for him or me.

      At this time in my life, I enjoy the solitude working with Tweed alone. The occasional connection with these very nice, super quality young horse ladies has been refreshing, too. I like this current path we’re on.

      Yay for split reins. I love them, too. Nothing like having a popper available in a tough spot.


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