Sunday morning Brett and I went on a trail ride with Mufasa and Winston.
Let me back up a day. Saturday, Brett took Flash out for a ride around the ranch. While he was out, he came upon a couple of kids on horseback. They were riding on the bridle trail and a young woman was with them, walking a dog. The kids were in the 12-15 year old range, a boy and a girl. They were trotting along on the sandy dirt next to the road and the woman was coaching them on how to canter. The kids were obviously novices and they were having difficulty steering and keeping their balance. The horses were all over the place, careening out into the road and then back on the bridle path. When Flash saw them, his head shot up in the air and he started to jig. The kids kept at it. Flash started to prance and canter in place. The young woman finally noticed the effect they were having and told the kids to stop. Brett and Flash jigged past and then started crossing the road to the other side. As they were crossing, the woman gave the kids the go-ahead to start trotting/loping again. It was too much for Flash. He cantered in place, in the middle of the road, thought about spinning, and did the splits instead. His whole hind end slid out from underneath him on the asphalt. How Brett stayed on is a mystery. He said he was sure he was coming off. But he didn't. So, instead of having a leisurely stroll around the ranch Brett brought Flash back home and prayed he hadn't injured his hocks further.
Sunday we went on the loop trail so Brett took Mufasa. Flash can't do hill work anymore. Brett has ridden Mufasa around the ranch a couple of times and he's done great. This was his first time on the trail. Brett knew Mufasa is a level headed, well trained, experienced trail horse but still... You never know when you are going to come across something that sets the most seasoned horse off so he was nervous starting out. Mufasa was fine, marching along with his big swinging stride and looking at, but not worrying about, anything. He did look sideways at the crouching boulder on the trail but every horse has issues with that rock at first.
When we started out, Winston felt like a coiled spring underneath me. Fortunately, he settled after about ten minutes. He stopped popping his head up and relaxed, marching along at a good pace. We led going out and Winston was braver than on previous rides. Usually we lead for a short while, then something worries him, he plants his feet and stares at the frightening horses in a far pasture or at dogs -- even if they are safely behind a fence. This time, he looked but he didn't stop. I was very proud of him. Halfway through the ride, Brett and I switched places. I think it's good for horses to be comfortable being in the front, the middle, and the back of a group so we try to give ours experience in all positions. It is more relaxing to be in the back with the lead horse taking care of sorting through all the sights, sounds and smells in front of you going down the trail.
Three-quarters of the way around the loop, after we had switched so Winston and I were behind, Mufasa picked up a trot going through a ravine. Brett brought him back to walk -- Mufasa still needs to learn proper trail etiquette which includes not trotting up and down the ravines and creek beds. Winston plunged into a trot following Mufasa and I tightened the reins and my core, asking him to stop. He ignored me in his zeal to catch up with Mufasa. I took a firm, strong hold of the reins and insisted. Winston went into "don't trap me or I'll buck" mode. Fear rose in my belly in an instant. The feel through my seat and in my hands was identical to when he threw me. With Mufasa back to a walk, we settled in behind and my brain started turning and trying to figure out the best way to negotiate this with Winston.
There are stereotypes about appaloosas that go something like "headstrong" and "stubborn." On the Hanovarian side, Winston is from the D line which has great gaits but has also thrown some difficult horses. Of course, the debate rages on whether the difficult traits come from Diamonte (the D sire) or from the horses bred to him. Regardless, when I bought Winston the trainer told me to never pick a fight with Winston. I have always treated Winston as a partner. I am the leader, but we do things together and I do not demand results. Although I have never ridden a stallion, I have read that they are similar in how you approach the work. You get there through respect and partnership, not through demands.
So the next time we went through a ravine and Mufasa took it upon himself to trot, I didn't haul on the reins and demand that Winston walk. Instead, I talked to him by squeezing and releasing. Over and over again. He had room to move forward but he had a repeating request to slow as well. It worked. He never got frustrated or felt like he wanted to buck. Instead, he gradually slowed to a walk and I gave him a big pat on the neck. One more hurdle negotiated successfully.