The other day on the trail as Sebastian and I finally managed to pass an elderly lady shuffling down a hill with her white-muzzled golden retriever, the lady commented “Oh! You were going so slow I thought you must have been a person!” In certain circles this may be a complement. If Sebastian were destined to give pony rides at the carnival no comment would have pleased me more. Thing is, we are working towards long distance trail competitions. Riders in these types of competitions brag about the speed of their horses’ walks, as in “Is it okay if I pass with Trigger? He has a huge walk and he jigs if I hold him back too much.”
The average trail horse walks somewhere in the range of 3-4 miles per hour. Sebastian, given his druthers, would walk about 0.5 miles per hour. That is, if there was nothing interesting to eat along the way that demanded a prolonged pit stop.
Sebastian eyeballing a juicy looking fern in the middle distance.
Sebastian practicing his model horse pose (sucking in the gut, I’m pretty sure). Watch out Horse Illustrated.
At about 14.2 hands he’s not a leggy creature, but really that’s no excuse. He’s got plenty of go when he feels it is necessary. He just doesn’t have those kinds of feelings very much of the time.
So, after many a long conversation with Sebastian about keeping our forward momentum, I needed to work on seeing the bright side of this. What is awesome about having a horse with more “whoa than go” (as the Parelli folks would say)? Turns out it is the perfect situation to up the ante in terms of training on the trail by going from doing a good portion of my communicating with the bridle to using only a neck rope (with the bridle as a safety net- we do live in Oakland, crazy stuff happens on our trails). I made a mini-flag out of my dressage whip by trying a scrap of plastic bag to the end of it so I have a way to correct him when he doesn’t respond to just the rope.
The whole thing works like a charm! Both of us are more engaged. He keeps me busy because he is not a horse that feels confined by the boundaries of the trails. Lately we ride mostly fire roads and he frequently asks if we can wander off into the bushes or up what look like small cliffs to me. Maybe it’s a Mustang thing. Waving the flag to correct his direction when necessary has a bit of a motivating effect, so he gets back in the direction I’m requesting and reactivates the forward. Perfect!