Several years ago Midas became my project. I’d ridden his stablemate, a retired show pony, and then trained a boarder, a gaited pasture potato, and when the pony and the boarder were gone…it was Midas’ turn.
He was a big bully. A really big bully. On the ground, and even worse in the saddle.
I was a good rider, but day 1 consisted of him bolting with me, and it just didn’t go great from there. He was reasonably well behaved for my teenage brother-in-law (who he chose from a distance as his favorite human), but it still wasn’t pretty and bolts were a part of life. Much to everyone’s frustration.
I knew that I needed to work hard to bring this horse to a place where he was a trustworthy citizen. I also needed to use diplomacy. Besides the fact that harsh methods aren’t any good to start with, they would have never worked on Midas. He’s too big and strong, and he is fully aware he is big and strong.
So I made Midas an offer: If you will walk beside me quietly, I won’t apply any pressure at all to the lead rope. In fact, I’ll let go entirely with my right hand. Midas was a little surprised, but readily agreed.
Soon I offered to forgo the lead rope entirely, he agreed to that, too. Suddenly my big bully was walking at my elbow, anyone’s elbow, without a rope to keep him there.
That was the beginning. The idea born from a childhood of Marguerite Henry books, Monty Roberts, Xenophon and a good riding instructor.
From there, I watched a Tommy Turvey clinic on liberty work, then I was introduced by my trainer to Clinton Anderson’s green book (Downunder Horsemanship) and then Buck Brannaman. Midas now has impeccable ground manners. He is reasonably controlled at liberty–and under saddle we’re actually working on dressage concepts like straightness and impulsion and collection rather than just “don’t veer, don’t speed.” Plus, we can cool out on a long rein, which was a major milestone for us. Now it’s a way of life, and when I dismount I take his bridle off and he follows me to the barn for his rub down or bath.
I’ve also realized that I’ve always cared more about horse training than a particular discipline in the horse world. A lot of the show ring stuff is actually useless. Real riding, real horsemanship, is the same across all the disciplines. And I love it.
We’ve come so far: I’ve learned a ton, and we’ve had a lot of fun.
There is so much more to learn.