Ana has been riding Ares three days a week, very faithfully for almost a month now. In the beginning she was just riding in the round pen, as Ares learned some very basic skills. But we’ve been taking him out for short rides around the farm for the last couple of weeks. And even across the road to other trails. Dressy is a pretty good babysitter, and Ares likes her.
This morning though, on my way to catch Dressy, I passed King standing in the stall next to Twister (being his buddy, since Twister needs to be in during the day for his eye to heal). King neighed at me. His own patented loud bellow. “HEY!!!!! I have no FOOD!!!” I laughed at him and gave him a scratch. Then, diverted, realized that I wanted to ride him, not Dressy. He was quite pleased with that turn of events, and marched out cheerfully after me to the trailer to be tacked up. I had to drop the girth four holes from Dressy’s size of course. I told him he should be mortified, but he didn’t care one bit.
We ambled off to tour the farm. King was very happy to be out, probably more because of the oceans of grass everywhere than anything else. The pastures are dry and grazed down to nothing. So all that tall grass was mouth watering. In an effort to overcome his grass hypnosis, I got him moving along a little faster. We had a nice little trot and then he volunteered his lovely floating canter. I had a rush of joy as we cantered along. He was happy and relaxed, and it was a perfect moment. King, at his best, is the loveliest horse I’ve ever ridden in my life. Powerful, balanced, and smooth. A dancing horse.
We visited one of my short forest trails, which was a first for Ares. He handled it well, even though it’s a bit overgrown and has some downed branches that I need to clean up. Ares is learning to cope with all sorts of different obstacles with aplomb.
We came back out into the big field, and King was again mesmerized by GRASS. Sigh. Eventually I had to flap the reins at him to insist. And then gave King a light slap with the end. It didn’t even register with King, but YIKES. Ares was beside us, and I guess he thought I was going to kill him. He spooked a bit, eyes like dinner plates. Ana, who is very gentle with him, didn’t really take a strong enough hold, and he decided to go home. Not galloping wildly. Just… going home. Jogging. I yelled at her to circle him. But he has a treeless saddle, and I think he’s starting to lose weight and get fitter, so the girth has gotten a bit loose (it’s on the top hole both sides now). Ana slipped a bit sideways. To her very great credit, she righted herself several times as she went out of sight. Ares still jogging along with his head way up.
Oh damn it. King watched this display without alarm. Ares was, after all, not moving very fast. But when they went completely out of sight, he got a bit indignant at being left behind. I did not think it would be the best idea to go thundering madly after them, so we walked (bouncy, sideways, and very light on the front end, but yes, walking).
I fully expected to find Ana off the horse up ahead somewhere. But after a couple of minutes she reappeared riding Ares back towards me. That was a huge relief. I was very worrried that both Ana and Ares would lose confidence with an incident like that. I had her dismount and check the girth. Then bring him over to me so I could reassure him that no, I was NOT planning on killing him where he stood. He was a bit trembly, but settled down as Ana and I rubbed and talked to him. Ana got back on and we carried on.
We took the horses down the farm lane and back to the round pen a few times. Making Ares work hard in the pen, and then walk quietly down the lane again. I didn’t want him thinking too much about how great it would be to go home. So we did that a few times and he was much more relaxed after a few repetitions.
I was very impressed with Ana’s fortitude. She has never had her own horse or even regular access to a horse other than some lessons. Which means no experience outside of an arena. She lost a stirrup and the saddle slipped off center. And she maintained her balance, got control of Ares, and managed to ride him back. All without panicking or clutching up badly. The only mistake she really made was that she was afraid to hurt his mouth, so she didn’t take a strong enough hold and turn him back when he decided to opt out.
So, we have to do something about Ares’ tack. I’ll probably try my old english saddle on him. I suspect it will be a bit wide for him. But you never know. Ana says she has a western saddle at home, so she will bring that to try as well. And I can also just put the Dixie Midnight pad under the treeless to add a bit of bulk so the girth will be tighter. A breast collar for safety too…