One of the best breakthrough moments of my equestrian career was on the back of a 4-year-old pony.
I’m not usually the first person to call when there’s a green pony to be ridden. That’s not to say I don’t now how, or I’m not capable enough to ride him or her. Simply put: I don’t always have enough confidence to work with a young, green pony. Especially when he’s for sale. It’s difficult to convince yourself you won’t ruin the pony, you won’t put bad rides on him, and you won’t you know… make it so he won’t sell.
Remy is a beautiful palomino pony, who has surprising confidence for a four year old. He wants to please, which is to say he tried his hardest to understand what we were asking of him. And to his credit, the first time we worked Remy was in the rain, during one of the hottest weeks this summer. It’s safe to say this pony has a good head on his shoulders, because we tacked him up and brought him right out into a field to be ridden.
He needed no lunging. He needed no prep. Even for an anxious person like me, Remy needed nothing for me to feel comfortable climbing onto his back. You might think that’s a simple feat, but it’s really so much more than that. To have a young horse with little training on him act like a solid citizen blew my mind. Even though he was amiable and willing to please, working with Remy tested my patience and knowledge, too.
My trainer and I were prepared for a pony who had lead changes. We were prepared for a pony who knew his job; who knew how to walk, trot, canter and change leads. What we got, however, was an entirely differently pony. Our plan needed to change, but I wasn’t ready for that. I wasn’t ready for a pony who didn’t know how to stop, go, or understand directions.
I learned, that weekend, that while I knew how to handle a green horse, I didn’t know how to communicate with a confused pony. Communicating and translating is hard, you know? It’s difficult to recognize what language you might need to communicate in, in order to help the pony understand your language. Though it’s a tough situation, but my trainer worked to find a phrase that would help me connect with Remy. She said, “You need to communicate with him. I know it’s tough to figure out what to say to him, but help him see slowing down and stopping are good things. Help him understand it’s a pleasant time.”
I knew how to stop a horse. You move your weight, you close your fingers. But for a pony who didn’t know how to do either of the above, how do you help him or her understand you want to stop? When I took a deep breath, closed my fingers, and slowed my posting he got the hint. Finally. The most important thing I learned from that afternoon was while I may know the solution, I have to learn how to translate it to my horse.