“Trust Me”

Today has been a great opportunity to try new things, learn from an unexpected source and feel really good and accomplished in the end. So much so, that I can honestly put my feet up and smile knowing its been a good day.

Recently I have undertaken a project horse from a riding student and friend. She’s a pretty little Arabian, black, about 13 years old, about 13.5 hands tall. She’s little – but she’s mighty. She had started having attitude with being ridden, and with another trainer was acting supposedly pretty fresh. I had rode her myself a couple years back and watched my student ride her. She seemed well-enough trained, understanding simple cues and actually stood still when the student inadvertently stepped off, got the left foot hung in the stirrup, and fell under the mare. I saw right then and there, that this mare was not flighty, quite intelligent, and patient. Great qualities to find in a horse. – However, due to life and circumstances, as we can all relate to, the mare was turned out for about a year and a half. She was still fed and groomed and loved on. Which is all a pretty great life for a horse. {grin}

Bring it all up to about 6 months ago – and she begins being worked with by a trainer. She was rode English – and from there labeled “no good”, “uncooperative’, “just a killer horse”, accused of bucking and rearing and acting the fool. The owner also witnessed her horse’s mouth bleeding and raw after being rode. . . Sad, since I knew what the horse was.

Less than a week ago, she came to visit me. I do not claim to be an expert (after all, we all know what an expert it. . . lol), but I knew what the mare was and I refused to believe that she had transformed into a dangerous and useless horse. So, I threw my hat in to give it a try. The first couple of rides were rather uneventful, primarily conditioning and getting her into working mode. Trotting. Lots. of. trotting. If asked for more – she was immediately angry and ready to get rid of you (or at least act like it). I took a day to ponder it. Knowing the impressionable, fragile-but-tough nature of Arabians, I could not just force her. You can push a horse for more, spank if you don’t get what you want or get more animated, but I knew that was not for her. Today, I tried what I had a feeling would work for her. . . but she taught me why.

I have a method of getting riders to do two things: 1) to ride with the core, leaving hands and arms out of the balance equation, leaving the horse’s mouth alone; and 2) to learn to trust the horse. The method is simple: ride without cueing the horse directionally. A square seat, square hands, no movement in your low set hands, – just using your legs to ask the horse on. Maybe a walk, if you want a trot – you ask with your legs. Hands never move. Your body learns the movement of the horse (because at Stay in the Saddle we learn in the very first lessons that you never use your feet to balance in the stirrups), and you follow the horse.

Well, on this little mare – we began our session just this way. At first, you could tell that she was so confused. She’d toss her nose, trying to find the bit. Or trying to get what she was accustomed to? She started making very small circles near the gate. Over and over. Round and round. Then, little by little, she’d try a bigger circle. Then she’d try the opposite direction. She started settling in and being pretty relaxed. She also preferred to trot. And then I started to ask for a bit faster trot. Every time I’d touch her with my calves, she’d pin her ears. The only time that I’d pick up a single rein was when she’d pin her ears and toss her head. She figured out that she wasn’t gonna get yanked on. She figured out that she could move out relaxed and picked up her pace.
I began to realize a very critical piece in this puzzle: she was used to running into the bit every time she was picked up to move out. She gave up on humans because they were confusing, conflicted creatures that always pulled on her.

We continued to work at a speedy pace. She was compliant and willing. She made larger and larger circles. She quit cutting short corners. She was striding out and seemed. . . happy. Vowing to keep my hands in place, not to touch her mouth, I dared to ask for more.

No ears pinned. No head tossing. Nothing but willingness. She loped. On her own accord, on her own terms. She loped – and it was wonderful.

And then I heard something – not in words or in sound. Not anything that I may ever hear again. But I heard the mare tell me “Trust me.” She felt as though she had been so doubted – she felt so defeated because no one thought she was worth trusting. . . Whether it was due to insecurity of past riders or simply riding style – she never felt like she was given any credit in return for any willingness she gave. She was angry. After all, she is an Arabian. So sensitive to everything that we do. Honestly, though, all horses have that within them. Arabians just wear it on their sleeve. 🙂

Of course, I allowed her to slow down – praised her extensively – and then had to try again. 🙂 Wow. It was wonderful. And I think she thought so, too. We left the arena today so happy. She was a horse. A trusted horse. Well deserved in her reward for her excellent effort. And SHE knew it!


I proceeded on with working Eragon. He was a little. . . naughty. We were working with in-hand training and skill building using some new techniques that I’ve been studying. He wasn’t interested. He was irritated. Not his normal self – but a colt nonetheless. Decided that we’d work on tying. If patience is an issue – nothing like teaching a little patience like tying.
Although he hated it – you could see it in his face – he stood really well. He paced around a bit, but never fought it and never pulled. I worked around the barn. Praised him. Worked some more. Groomed him. And finished water tanks. And then took him home to his barn and barn-mates. Happy.


Lastly, Deitz used a young willow tree to scratch/relieve an itch on his ‘underside’. . . I didn’t know if the tree would make it. And the colts thought that looked pretty interesting and gave audience to the display. A good laugh to end the day. lol – for real!

Gentle in what you do,
Firm in how you do it.
Buck Brannaman


About Stay in the Saddle

I am a horse enthusiast and riding instructor. This blog is to help other horsemen, and eventually post instructional video. Stay in the Saddle is here for YOU, the rider!
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