Everyone keeps asking me ” when are you going to get on Indy? When do you think you’ll start riding him?” My answer is the same every time. When he is ready. I’m in no hurry. There is no agenda. Horses will tell you when they are ready, if you actually listen to them. I pay careful attention to Indy’s attitude, body language, and especially to the limits of his attention span. There is no point in “drilling” him and no benefit to pushing him beyond what his young brain can handle right now.
On the other hand, I do have to keep his mind busy. That’s the trouble with the smart ones; they need new challenges. While Shady would behave and perform the same exercises day in and day out, I can feel her spirit diminish if I spend too much time on one idea. A few years back I had a lovely thoroughbred who would have gladly trotted a 20 meter circle day in and day out all year round. He was a sweetheart, but not the brightest. I love the intelligence I am seeing in Indy.
One night, without having planned to do it, we lunged. He had been inside due to lousy weather, so I brought him in the indoor to stretch his legs. He ran and jumped, bucked and reared, entertaining himself and myself. I can see so much of Shady in him. He will run up to me, just like her, stop, blow loudly out his nose, and explode off again. After about 20 minutes he stopped, licked and chewed, and calmly walked over as if to say “ok, I’m all done here.”
I stared at him, standing quietly and submissively next to me, as he huffed and puffed. I put his halter on and we began walking. We practiced a few transitions between walk and halt as we walked. He’s very good at voice commands. As we walked, I slowly let the lead out and we walked in a large circle, with him at the end of the lead. We did more transitions. He listened, staying out on his circle. We switched sides. He listened. He licked and chewed and showed all the submission signs, behaving like a pro. I unclipped his lead and we cooled out together, walking along side by side without speaking.
A few nights later we repeated the process, only this time I put a lunge line on. He walked on, making the circle bigger and bigger, until it was a full 20 meter circle. He walked, he halted, and he walked on again. He just got it. Most other youngsters I’ve started have needed a helper to lead on the outside of the circle. The exception, of course, being Shady, who also just got it.
About a week later, we tried again, and added in a trot transition in each direction. He pulled a little, but stopped when he realized he was at the end of the line. Our circle may have bulged out in places, but overall we still had a round shape.
I bought him his own surcingle, put it on, snugged it up, and nothing happened. We walked, then tightened again and nothing happened. He didn’t care. I’ve put plenty of things on him before, just getting him used to blankets, pads, etc being on him. Now it doesn’t faze him.
I left him run around with the surcingle on, giving him a chance to figure it out on his own. He was his usual self, bucking leaping and playing, seemingly not noticing the different sounds and feel of the surcingle. We then did a lunging session with it on, doing three trot transitions and three walk/halt transitions in each direction with lots of praise.
I keep our sessions very short, with not more than 10 minutes total on the lunge. The majority is at the walk, with no more than 2-3 trot circles at a time. I keep our circles as big as I can, walking along myself to keep it bigger than the lunge line length. We don’t canter; maybe a few excited strides here and there but I immediately ask him back to the trot. We don’t lunge very often and don’t plan to, maybe once per week or less. There is no need to drill him or stress his joints. This is all concept training, something we can use to develop our partnership, introduce new things, and give him some semblance of a job. He seems to take pride in his work.