The horse in this video clip is my nine year old PRE gelding Rancar Felix, who I bought as a 2 year old.
Last year and the year before he was tolerating being mounted (with care) and then ridden away in walk trot and canter by my daughter Florence, having been started and prepared very slowly and carefully with progressive stages, but despite our best efforts to be taking things at his pace, using regular short sessions, with positive reinforcement used generously, he was still tense during the actual mounting process. Our pace of progression was still too fast for him.
He is naturally a timid, high fear, hyper specific, hyper sensitive horse who has always been very touch phobic and sound sensitive, plus claustrophobic and he is also a high intelligence slow thinker but physically a fast reacting horse who is a little weak in his hind legs and therefore unbalanced and stiff in his body Florence was no longer willing to ride him after his behaviours had her on the floor (unharmed but shaken) too many times – he was showing he could be dangerously explosive if one small thing was slightly different in his routine being mounted. To rule out pain, I then had his back Xrayed and I was prepared at that point to have him put down as if the Xrays had revealed that he was in pain from his spine, but no evidence of this on Xray could be seen.
So, I have been working on things very, very slowly again. Even slower than before during the last winter. I gave him Equine Touch every week, which at first he was not sure of at all, but has now come to love, and I worked on his fears while being mounted using clicker training and positive reinforcement – and many, many repetitions of the same things before progressing to the next stage. I took the whole mounting process apart and worked with him unpicking the various aspects of his fears connected to being mounted, and I did this alongside his education from the ground. In the new year I knew he was ready for me to actually consider sitting on top of him properly at a stand still. I did that for weeks. Just sitting on him at a standstill. It felt lovely to sit on him and feel him not being afraid. I really love training my horses from the ground, it is so rewarding to work them in this way and he is a dream to work with as he is so sensitive and intelligent, but I knew it would be wonderful to be able to ride him one day to train him from his back too.
Bit by bit I sat on him at a standstill for longer and longer, getting on and off many, many times in the sessions. Bit by bit I stayed on him longer and got off him less, but still at a standstill. i tried to finish sessions before he was bored as I know he does get bored rapidly. Then one day I felt him experimentally shift his weight on one of his front leg slightly and I knew he was testing to see how it felt to move with me on top of him. The next day I asked him if he wanted to take a step with me on top of him and I let him take the initiative to make that first tentative move himself. He thought about it for a long time and then he took one step and was obviously very pleased with himself! I rewarded him and got off. We went back to the mounting block and did it again – and I got off and ended the session. My daughters’ nine year old super talented show jumping mare Dragon is the same age as him, and has lived with us for nearly as long as he has – and he is being congratulated for taking ONE single step with a rider on him and not exploding! Horses are all so different! So I am re-building the foundations again after I thought we had built them once pretty well already and of course, we may still get things wrong again and try to build too fast. Humans are impatient creatures.
The bottom line is, if the horse says your version of going slow is still too fast, then you have to go even slower.
My Frightened Lion has found his roar and he is becoming the New King.