The metal age is a great age to consider. You may know the deal. Your hair is silver, your mouth has gold, and your pants have lead. And I’m beginning to groan as I feel all those metal parts—the temperature here in the northeast growing downward. Horses are fuzzy in preparation for what’s to come, but high-headed and spirited when the cold wind sweeps through. That inspires me every time.
A beautiful, silver Andalusian mare has joined Celesto, my black Andalusian stallion here at my facility. Davina, a mare I started two years ago as a four year old, is now tall and robust. She sizzles with energy and old-world beauty as she parades around my paddocks. Looks like there may be family of ‘Andies’ getting started around here too.
Andalusians, Morgans, Arabians, Paso Finos, Tennessee Walkers, Quarter Horses, Paints and Friesians, what makes each breed great and admirable can be as different…as “a sigh from the southwest is from the northeastern breeze.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes
Within each breed I certainly find different characteristics, or as I just call them: characters. I recently acquired, trained and re-homed a wonderful Morgan gelding named Lorenzo. He was bred in California, found his way to Pennsylvania, then New York, and now resides in Vermont. Training him from the ground up has had great rewards and discoveries of what’s under the hood regarding temperament, soundness, disposition, and always—that something extra special. I like that term “special.” To me it means that there is an ingredient within each horse that gives it a distinct edge over every other horse in my barn. (It could be that a particular horse stands steadier at the wash stall than any other, but, hey, it’s their sumpin’ special).
Lorenzo has amazing self-composure and assuredness. Nothing fazes him, but, there is so much caliber and “go.” As a cross country horse, he will never say quit. Never! What was most unusual about him was how well he trained me, so now let me explain…
Bringing him along using my Complete Horse Method, his training meant teaching him to be the lightest of horses in the bridle, ready to turn with the lightest of cues, finding ease in each forward gait, suppleness during transitions within each gait, etc. All that was easily becoming more and more established with each training session. What I discovered was how much room a horse can find within the confines of just simple bit contact to internally morph from a delicately balanced horse, one that follows my hands forward into a relaxing horse, one that follows my hands forward into a relaxing position, or collects back into a horse readied to switch gears…to sneaking into a forward-engaged, gas-pedal down, adrenaline-seeking speedster. I know and understand how much a horse can really rely on the security of your hands, and to depend upon the contact to feel supported. I can even endorse a bit of leaning on a young, green horse. But this boy discovered a new tier of “lean in.” This subtle act of intelligence was sheer brilliance. It was undetectable to me. Lorenzo would lean into my hands ever so much as we rolled along the hills —the Catskill Mountains offering their vast array of trail diversity, up and down and around. Lorenzo loved it. He grew more engaging and “into it!” I watched and enjoyed my protégé all summer, but as he grew less and less light, his lope turned into a canter, and his mind became less and less about walking. At first I thought, “This dude’s an athlete and he’s really getting into the best shape of his life. Let him be a teenager,” to “What is happening?” Lorenzo seemed to have forgotten everything I had taught him one day. He began throwing his head with every downward transition, and seemed to forget all he’d been taught. Instead of self-carriage, instead of engaging his hinds and coming back into my hand, he would brace against me, completely unengaged.
It was a hostile take-over, and I was along for the ride. Then it hit me.
Riding one handed, as I was doing, I had allowed him to remain steady on the bit. He understood the contact, and devised his own plan. Lean into it ever-so-slightly, and give yourself a surge of go-juice. I had created an adrenaline junky. Any of you suffer from this kind of head-smacking tunnel vision? Yeah, I got trained. I’m fairly sure I could start a FaceBook page for other dupes.
The fix is simple enough, to go back to direct reining. A single rein in each hand. With direct reining, Lorenzo could never lean on just one rein. With indirect reining, or neck reining, pressure is often times on both reins at the same time, it’s just the nature of that style. It encouraged Lorenzo to develop an appetite for moving up under the contact and ever-so-lightly push against my hand. With each rein now, bending him each time he decided to lean, reengaged his slick ‘lil Morgan hiney and backed him off my hands into his light, self-carriage I had put so much effort into. Yeah, I said, “Whew,” once I got everything figured out. One thing about a Morgan, they are a wee bit like a Border Collie, brilliant!
You can watch Lorenzo’s video on my FaceBook page if you’re so inclined.
I’m still laying in the dirt with the social media stampede. Please take some time and “like” www.facebook.com/Jeff-Wilson-Cowboy-Dressage so I can stand back up and dust myself off. That’d make me happier than a full breeze from a corn-eatin’ horse. I have been training horses for over 35 years and value the western horse lifestyle in my approach to training. Giving clinics and seminars on how to reach your full potential with your horse through the training foundation of Cowboy Dressage keeps me young.
Check out our online training: competitivetrailhorse.com