Merlin and Trainer Dave
Dave started with ground work. Teaching Merlin to respect his space and get out of his way. His tool for this was nothing more than a piece of plastic on a carriage whip, but it did wonders. Fifteen minutes of following orders on the ground (with lots of helpful explanation from Dave) and Merlin was a calmer, quieter, pony. I was amazed at this and pieces of things I was watching on videos and reading in books were coming together right in front of my eyes. A good horse in the hands of a good trainer is a beautiful, beautiful, thing.
After we did the flag-based ground work in a circle, Dave took him up and down the road on his lead rope, driving him ahead of him and controlling his direction with his trusty plastic bag on the stick. Merlin behaved so much better around Dave, and for a lot of reasons. Mostly because Dave knew exactly what buttons to push and started him out on the ground establishing himself as herd leader. That groundwork, I am quickly learning, is the gold standard of horse training. Everything starts on the ground and leaping up on Merlin and expecting to be a cowgirl was a recipe for disappointment. He and I both need that communication time on solid footing. The learning curve here is straight up, folks.
After much success with him on terra firma, we gave Merlin a break from training for his hoof trimming. Dave worked right in the front lawn, checking and clipping his feet while talking shoes and tack. Merlin is barefoot and Dave thinks he is doing well without shoes and unless I start driving him to town every day he should do well unshod. I agreed. Merlin stood like a statue for him, calm as a monk in deep zazen. Dave stood back, crossed his strong farrier arms, and said "This is a NICE horse. He's better than you realize. He may need some work, and so do you, but he is a NICE horse." I lit up the front yard with my grin.
After that we both took turns riding him. Merlin really put Dave through his paces but through consistent work we got him out of the driveway, up and around local dirt roads, and I watched a pro put my pony through his paces. I picked up some hints and tips and by the end of the two hours Merlin was doing exactly as I asked of him, little to no fuss at all. We rode better today than ever before and I was grateful.
Here's the two problems with Merlin: lack of foundation work and me. He was given a long break from regular riding (about four years) and then handed a green rider to start with him again. A rider who knew how to trot around a dressage ring with trained school horses but had little experience and confidence around a greener horse out on wild trails. I went from 0-60 in my expectations and now I am learning what it takes to keep up with my goals. It's taking guts, sweat, patience, money and dedication. But today was a huge step in building a healthier partnership with Merlin and learning how to communicate, correct, and convince him to work with me. Dave was amazing, and we already planned to have him come back in a week. We're going to ride Western next Monday, a first for me.
So stay tuned for more horse tales here. The story is far from over! After all, Merlin and I might enter the Washington County Fair in a few months, or at least start driving regularly. His cart is almost ready and I am growing so much out of these experiences. No regrets, only excitement!