Changing the conversation

"I know there are cookies in there"
A friend pointed out in my last blog post that it doesn’t sound like I’m having fun riding anymore.  And it’s very sad and also true.  The good rides that I have with Ryon are getting fewer and further between.  It’s been easy to blame it all on him - his anxiety, his hormones, whatever is going on in that big noggin of his.  It’s easy to forget that my trainer and I have manufactured the expectation that we’ve placed on him - to perform at a certain level consistently because other horses do.  If Ryon has shown me anything, it’s that he’s not like other horses and he’s got his own way of doing things.

Through habit and the rhythm of routine and consistency, I have forgotten the team aspect of riding and that he’s half of the pair necessary for success, however we define it.  Getting angry and frustrated with him is not and has not been the solution to our problem.  This fall, I’m refocusing on our relationship and working on our partnership from a few different angles, the first of which is groundwork.  Ryon is eager to please, when it strikes his fancy.  He’s smart enough to know what to do and smart enough not to do it when he doesn’t want to.  Instead of challenging him only in the saddle, I’m going to try giving him some puzzles to work through on the ground.  Learning to “sit” and “lay down” may be a stretch but “giving kisses” and “smiling on cue” are surely within his grasp.

It sounds silly but I’m also going to spend more time doting on him on the ground as well.  Typically I’ll do a quick groom, tack up, and hop on.  We do plenty of warm up in the arena but not in the barn on the ground.  I don’t spend much time focused on how he feels, just that he’s uninjured and not physically uncomfortable.  I’ve forgotten how much he loves being brushed and having his hair cut and braided.  He’s one horse who will stand completely still as I clean his face and ears and cut his mane.

Because Ryon’s behavioral issues under saddle are not restricted only to me, my trainer and I put him in some new equipment this week that prevents him from pulling so hard on the backside of fences.  We’ll have to just swap bits every few months, so he doesn’t have time to get too comfortable (read: take advantage) of each one.  When Ryon gets bored, he acts out and doesn’t pay attention and changing the conversation between us will hopefully be enough of a distraction for him and keep him on his toes.  This horse is teaching me (very passively) to never let things get stale and to look at problems from different angles.  I’ll be sure to report back and let you all know how it progresses.


  1. Oh my gosh! Your relationship with Ryan sounds like a mother-son and wife-husband relationship at the same time! Good for you to trying different stuff to make it better for the both of you, Rooth:)

  2. I really think your new approach will help! I've found that with anyone {including my cat} things go better if you really spend time learning what they like and not get distracted by routine or the way things should be.

  3. It sounds like you are on the right track. I'm sure the big lug will be happy working through the puzzles.
    Maggie is very frustrated with me because she's pretty sure I am a dog. She's been trying to teach me to chase her (non-stop) through the yard, the house, wherever, to try to take her toy away from her. At the same time I've been trying to teach her to chase the toy when I throw it (which she does) and bring it back to me (which she doesn't). Never of us is learning a thing!

  4. I just found your blog from the comment you left on mine, and am catching up. Not knowing much of the history here tho, your approach sounds like a great one! I've never done much ground work either until my new green bean, and it's proven really valuable in building trust and getting to know each other. Elisa Wallace does a lot of those tricks with all of her horses - she has some of her "sitting" technique on video but not the whole process. Good luck!!

  5. I love reading about your relationship with Ryon <3 best luck to you both :)

  6. Never let things get stale and look at problems from different angles . . . seems like good advice for all of life, non?


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