In the story of... series we tell you the full trainings story of a horse. We try to give a lot of detail on their past, their issues and their character. We talk you through the full journey we have gone through with them and what the results are, and where they are today, We hope these stories will inspire you, and give you a better view in how we train horses here on the ranch. Feel free to shoot us a message if you have questions on these stories or if you'd like to know more about the things we've worked on with this horse. We love to connect
I met Jesse actually a few years before she came to Willow Ranch. She was in training with another trainer that I’m friends with. The owner put Jesse in training because she was running into some issues out on trail rides. Jesse would turn around and not really wanting to be told were to go. The trainer was struggling with Jesse in the arena as Jesse sometimes would just put her head down and go were she wants to go. Although the trainer made quite some progress Jesse still had quite a few issues when she returned home.
Move forward a few years and I became friends with Jesses owner. Her owner just rode Jesse on the trails, and she could be quite the hand full. Her owner has more horses and Jesse ended up being not ridden very much. I have always had a special feeling about this horse so when her owner asked if we would be interested in taking her and seeing if we could use her I did not doubt for a second. So now Jesse is here, and I’m so happy with the progress she has made over this first summer.
When Jesse arrived on the ranch I noticed that she was holding in a lot of stress. Her body was super tensed up, and she was always thinking about leaving and wondering what the next thing was that she had to do. She never could really stand still and really relax. Especially in the arena, the moment you took her into the arena she would build up even more stress, she would always wanting to rush off. I felt she needed to learn how to relax, and more importantly that people can help her feel relax. When horses realize that we can shape their body so they produce endorphins and feel very relaxed, they want to be with us. They almost get like an addict and they come looking for it. :-)
So that was my main first goal with Jesse, teach her how to relax, and show her that being with people can make her feel better.
I started out with a lot of bending (standing besides her with correct body language and by massaging her in her girth area. This will make her bend around me) If she would want to run off I would push her hip out while holding the front creating a turn of forehand. This helps her relax again. I also did a lot of in hand work with her while she was wearing her bridle. When you are walking besides her and again use your body language correctly you can really let her get a feel for nice and consistent contact. As she had a history with putting her head down and getting really strong while rushing off, I wanted to show her that there was really no reason to fight contact and that if she was soft the contact would be really soft as well. The reason to do this from the ground first was to not have her anticipating stress. The moment someone would get on her she was already anticipating she was going to feel really stressed, this makes it harder to show her that we can make her feel calm and that there is no reason to stress. With starting it up with in hand she would anticipate less. Making it easier to show her the calm way.
I had to show her that contact is not something to stress about and fight, it's something she should be looking for so that she can feel better.
I did a lot of changes between in hand and loose leading (you step away from the horse with your body drawing her to follow you) These changes from being in contact to stretching all the way down and follow me worked really well with her. She loved the feeling of changing it up between more contact and stretching down all the way while staying focused on me.
After a while of just doing this I really saw her change, she came into the arena all calm, she came up to me when I wanted to come and get her in the pen, she was not challenging my contact anymore, and she would follow me nicely in loose lead staying completely focused on me. I knew she was ready for the next step, I wanted to lunge her before I got on. I felt it was good for her to see that I could push her around, again with correct body language and that she was okay with this without getting stressed. At the beginning she just wanted to rush and duck her head down and go the other way. But with some time, and consistent body language helping her and shaping her body she got very calm and loving the lungeing as well.
After this I thought she was ready to get on. It started with standing nicely for mounting. Jesse was used to walking off the moment you swing your leg over, i wanted to break her patterns from the past so this was the next thing we were going to work on. The bending that I started the groundwork with was very helpful with this. I could just have her bend around me and she would relax and not wanting to walk off. The in hand work gave her the feeling that contact was nice, so I could keep her in contact nicely without her feeling the need to challenge this. After a bit of bending around the mounting block I could get on without any problem staying in contact with her standing still.
While riding some anticipating started again and she would start to stress and wanting to rush off. But this again is where my groundwork paid off. She is already happier about contact so I could block her more from rushing off, the turns on forehand we did on the ground was easy to do now under saddle. So every time she wanted to rush off I would ask for a turn on forehand and this helped keep her calm. Calm enough to show her that I’m riding her without pulling against her bend, and that I"m watching that she is not starting any turns diving in nose first (this can really stress horses out), once she knew this and felt how great this felt she had so much tension relief. It was amazing to feel how she let go of all of her stress. I felt her body relaxing and her NO under saddle attitude starting to change in a definite YES. This is the best feeling in the world I think. :-)
We had a bunch of amazing relaxing rides, and starting to change from just relaxing to more collection. (from training into schooling) After her last few rides were she had the best work mind I decided it was the perfect time to give her a break for the winter and just go back to just handling and be around her. I can’t wait for next spring to start her up again, it's going to be great. And of course to have our lesson clients ride her, and feel how amazing and special she is.