I’m amazed when I look at the progress Remy has made recently. He’s still only 5, and a year off the track. A few days ago, we did a few steps of baby canter half pass, and yesterday we did a flying lead change. Today he gave me a vastly improved haunches-in in a trot that felt like it actually had some grown-up horse collection in it. He is way ahead of himself, but the work comes so easily to us because we are having fun.
When I ride him, we are focused and we work up a sweat, but I often feel like we are just playing around. I ask him to try something new, and always he does, and half the time he leaves me laughing and patting his neck at his genius or athleticism, or sometimes, his creativity. He always tries because I always appreciate his tries. We really do have a lot of fun, and I think this positive relationship and the way we communicate has helped foster his desire to try more difficult movements without his even realizing that they are difficult. This spirit of playing and learning together keeps everything falling into place seemingly effortlessly.
Of course, I appreciate his keen mind and tireless work ethic. And I put in my part as well. I ride him either with little nubby spurs or none at all, and in a rubber bit. I never use a whip. So when I ask him for something hard, he either offers it to me, or he doesn’t. There is no force involved. I also am very careful about how I am using my body so that I am giving the correct aids, and not giving aids I don’t mean to be giving. And I listen to him. If he is falling in to the left, I first double check my position and make sure I am not accidentally leaning or squeezing somewhere I don’t mean to be. Usually the correction is something subtle but simple, like softening my right thigh (my right thigh is often the offender, my left one never really is…). I also use arena patterns in a logical way to help prepare him for the harder work. I am careful to spend time working “the hard way” with breaks going “the easy way” so I make him as even as possible. I mix easy exercises with harder ones so that he doesn’t get frustrated with hard, hard, hard all the time. I use different types of exercises to strengthen different parts of his body, make him more supple (an on going challenge with him), and challenge his mind without over taxing his body.
An interested, intelligent horse is a blessing, but also takes careful management. He figures things out very quickly. He doesn’t need endless repetition to get something figured out in his head, but his body still benefits from the repetition as we work on strengthening and suppling exercises. So I try to keep a balance between easy building work, and interesting mind-engaging work. It seems to be working. As a team, I think we are ideally suited to each other, and our temperaments are a perfect fit for each other. I like his personality, and I like letting him have a voice. I think he appreciates having a rider that listens to him and understands that he is a sensitive type. I love watching his confidence build, and I love the look he gets in his eye when he knows he’s done a good job. I try to get that from him every day, and I know if I get it, that I’ve done my job. Then we both feel good about our jobs and our relationship, and although it’s hard work, it stays playful and fun.