I’ve been very careful with Ares, because when I picked him up from his trainer, he came with a warning to be careful. I was a bit confused about exactly what I was to be careful about, but I got the impression that the trainer had some sort of vision of turning him into a riding horse and had tried to back him in a stall. Nothing wrong with that. If you are actually a rider. Which I doubt a Standardbred trainer actually is. Anyway, it seems that he got on Ares and was alarmed at the feeling, so got right back off again.
As a result, I’ve been dutifully putting Ares through a more rigorous round of ground training than I normally do with the Standardbreds that I retrain. He’s learned to lunge in tack, with side reins. Made sure that his voice commands are solid (they usually are in driving horses anyway). And have tried to make sure that he is really confident with me and whatever I ask of him.
The whole allergic reaction to the yellowjackets episode really worked in my favour as it happens. Ares has been extremely friendly since that happened. I think he perceived my intervention as a rescue (which it was). And since then he’s always happy to see me and pleased with any attention. I’ve gotten to quite like him. He’s very willing and cooperative. Pays attention to me and has energy.
Today I put the tack on him and took him into a big box stall. Brought in a small plastic step stool. First I tied him to the wall and just got up and down on the stool beside him. That was no big deal as I have done some of that before while grooming him on the cross ties. I flapped my arms over his back and leaned over him, patting him all over the opposite side. Then rewarded him with a cookie and a great deal of praise. He likes cookies but I think he likes praise even more. He visibly relaxes when he knows he’s doing well.
After a bit of that, I unclipped him from the wall. Put weight in the stirrup with my hands. Put my foot in the stirrup. Jumped around. All the usual stuff. Put my foot in the stirrup. Lay across his back. And finally just got up. Throughout the entire process, Ares never moved. The only thing he did was shift his weight once to square up and balance himself under the weight when I finally committed all my weight to his back.
After getting on and off him a few times without any flinches or difficulties, I finally picked up the reins and asked him to move a step. First put a tiny bit of leg on him, then clucked. His first step was a bit of a lurch. But then he figured it out and did a calm circle right around the stall.
That was all I was trying to accomplish for today, so I stopped and got off. Much praise, patting, and even a kiss on the nose (he’s getting to really like sappy stuff like that). He looked very pleased with himself and his world.