Purpose, principles, ponies, and time are the tools of teaching

Tuesday around 11pm, Dan, Jan, and I got our horses out and headed for the arena. Jan played with Salsa while I warmed up Rocky. I asked Dan to be our cow, but he wasn’t sneaky or fast enough to be very challenging, and then Rocky got excited about driving and almost nipped Dan’s hoodie.

PurposeSo Salsa became our cow. And Rocky and I drove that pony cow (heh) all over the arena! We chose an area between a barrel and the fence to be the goal zone, and when we got Salsa in there, I said “DING DING DING!” and gave Rocky a cookie.

Salsa is maneuverable and quick. Rocky is sore on his front ankles, so I can’t let him do a lot of swerving or tight turns with me on his back. But he got into the game anyway!

After, I worried that Salsa would be wary or afraid of me, because instead of protect him from Rocky, I combined forces to drive him. But when we finished, Salsa actually seemed more relaxed with me on the ground than he had been. He is always trying to get Rocky to chase him and I wonder if my guiding Rocky in the chasing game meant I was doing something horselike and understandable to Salsa.

I learned a lot about freestyle riding from the experience.

Purpose is not the same thing as being direct line. We had a purpose, but no specific series of procedures for how to achieve that purpose. Gait, speed, direction, which side of the horse my rein was on, tactics for driving Salsa without making Rocky feel that it was directed at him — all of these changed often, and allowed the game to stay gamelike. No rules, just a purpose and the freedom to try things that don’t work. It didn’t matter if I miscommunicated and Rocky went left instead of right, because he could just keep going left until we were facing where we needed to go. He could do no wrong, and I didn’t get hung up on anything I did wrong.

Don’t add variety too soon. After driving Salsa over the goal line twice, I decided we would next drive Salsa to Jan, who was standing near the arena gate with Dan. We tried and tried, and yet Salsa darted either to the goal zone or to the spot near the cookie mailbox to escape. I think Rocky started to get frustrated, because we had Salsa in the goal zone several times and I didn’t stop for rest or a cookie. It was too soon to choose a new goal. Driving Salsa to Jan required more agility than Rocky can do safely with me on board in his current condition, so he felt confused or even unsuccessful when I kept pursuing Salsa after Rocky thought we had scored a goal. In the end, we drove Salsa into the goal zone and kept him there for 10 seconds, and then I rewarded Rocky with a cookie, ending the session and turning him loose to roll. (At that point he didn’t want to unstick from me, but that’s a different story.)

One-rein riding is no longer terrifying, especially when I forget I’m doing it. I recently switched back to one rein because I noticed I had started to lean on my reins again. I no longer break into a nervous sweat like did when I first started trying the one-rein thing. Nor do I always take extra care to tell Rocky I’m about to flip the rope over his head to the other side. I just flip it as needed. I can bend him either way, toward the rail or away from the rail or nowhere near the rail, so it’s not as important anymore to know what side I have a rein. I’m doing better at using my body to turn before the rein, although I know I’m still using my rein way more than I should be.

At this point, it’s about learning, growing in confidence in ourselves and each other, and not worrying so much about whether it’s “right” as long as it is natural.

A horse doesn’t care how much you know, until he knows how much you care. ~ Pat Parelli


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