bags-on-sticks and other miracles
With my trusty Bag-On-a-Stick I went upstairs to my office/tack room and brought down my english tack, changed into a pair of favorite Kerrits tights, and set up everything I would need to work with Merlin, from fly spray to helmet, on the grass where I tack him up. Once the setting was locked and loaded with gear and space, I went to get my stubborn pony.
With just a lead rope and halter I did the same ground work Dave showed me, to best of my ability. I made sure that when I moved in a direction, Merlin was moving out of my way and then squaring up to show me both eyes and relaxing before we moved forward with any more motion. If he rested a rear hoof or sighed, I walked up and pet him. If he acted up I waited until he slowed down and relaxed again. Twenty minutes of this and he wasn't blowing or sweating, but watching me. Just learning that when I step around to the right, he best step to the left and keep his front facing me, those big hindquarters safely tucked away.
Happy with our ground training, I started grooming. I am not a fast groom, nor a fast tacker-upper. I check feet and clear the frog of any mud or stones. I brush legs, belly, back, rump, neck and mane. I rubbed his forehead Amy Flemming Style. I then saddled him up, tightened the girth, put on his bridle and walked him to the mounting block (AKA Lehigh Valley Farms milk crate) and hopped on him.
I instantly thought of my riding instructors Hollie and Andrea from Riding Right. In Hollie's book, the very first lesson is "Have a plan before you get on." My plan was this: to have a short, pleasant, ride with Merlin on a quiet country road. To go up the hill a short distance, just to the neighbors driveway (about 100 yards), and then stop him, turn him around, get him past my own driveway and down the mountain a quarter mile or so. Just enough to communicate and enjoy the summer sun and the feeling of being with him. Then stop, turn home, and before I get home turn him back towards the road and have him walk a bit before dismounting a good ways from my driveway (so he doesn't assume driveway = done work). If you can follow that, then you either have horses or aren't giving yourself enough credit for critical thinking skills.
So that was my plan. A short ride where we do all the things we have been struggling with and then end facing away from the farm and dismounting when I please, not him. But first I had to get him out of the driveway. Soon as I got on he started heading towards Jasper, so I did what Dave told me to do, Take his feet out from under him and turned him in a tight circle and gave him a piece of heel when we were facing the road.
He fussed for about 45 seconds and we were out of the driveway! I think I actually Yee Hawed!
We followed the ride plan perfectly. We rode uphill, turned around and then went past the farm a quarter mile or so. I bet we could have gone farther but I wanted this lesson to be all about him getting rewarded for doing as I ask. He did everything I asked, and was a perfect gentleman. I walked him the short way home, took off his tack, and sent him back into the paddock with Jasper and a cookie.
This is such great progress folks. A horse I couldn't even get to leave my yard took me out on a pleasant stroll. And I did it all without needing a trainer or a friend around for support, so I feel brave. Time to celebrate with some lemonade and then some archery in a kilt!