30 Days of Riding Immersion
Intro by Jackie Nelson
Reign (3/4 Friesian gelding) is now in serious training to become a stellar trail riding horse. It has been nearly a year since he had his very first experience with having a rider on his back. Life got in the way. Days flew by, then weeks, then months. A little more saddling de-sensitization. A couple of mounts. He is now nearly 8 years old and never been ridden. A little tubby, as you can see.
30 Days of Riding Immersion
But Spring is finally here again. We have big plans, and I want to chronicle his training with Danielle. Here Danielle enjoys a romp with him before she takes him to a more up-scale facility with solid-wall round pen, giant arena and stalls (he has never been stalled) for 30 days of riding immersion.
Tuesday, Day 1. We settle in.
Day one was his arrival at Weddle Stables in Austin, Texas. He arrived in the morning and was taken immediately to a back stall in a large, dark barn. Lots of deep, luxurious shavings, but his first experience being stalled. He immediately grew worried, leaned against the stall door and continually reached out with his extra-long neck to touch all of us on the other side of the gate as if fearful of our disappearance.
When he decided to pound the stall door with his foot, he was reprimanded with a sharp rope-slap on the door (3 times). Otherwise, he was rubbed, and soothed by voice for the first 30 minutes.
He started giving big “yawns” (an indication of his stress and his efforts to relax his muscles). Danielle went into the stall with him. We all left, and she stayed for a couple of hours, helping him to relax then turned him out into the pasture with a couple other geldings. They all seem to be getting along very well and he’s calming down nicely.
“I spent a few minutes with him in the round pen just walking/trotting around free and he was really great, spot-on with all of his halts. I’ll be back tomorrow at 10 AM. From this point forward, he will be immersed in training and riding; I’ll send updates daily, (which you can publish).”
What follows is a chronicle of Reign’s 30-day immersion with Danielle, captured in daily emails.
Wednesday, Day 2. Mount/Dismount & Side-saddle Sit.
“Hey guys, just wanted to give you today’s update. I got here a little bit early and found Reign behaving like a gentleman in his stall. We cross tied, groomed, and saddled without event, and then I took him into the round pen and spent about 35 minutes doing walk/trot transitions on the longe line.
He did great! Spot-on for all of his walk-trot transitions.
However, when I asked for the Canter (kissing, saying “Canter,” and cueing with the whip, I only got compliance about half to a third of the time, and only for a few strides (it’s a new exercise). So we’re going to spend a lot of time lunging to get these transitions really going smooth.
After we did our longe work, I did some free work with him, where he followed me around and we did walks and halts, practising stopping to the “whoa. ” He did really great in this too.
Finally, we spent the last 15 minutes or so doing our mounting exercises. Every mount/dismount consisted of getting up to a side-saddle position (a safe position for emergency dismount). This is new. I didn’t know what to expect. He could be deceptively calm and then explode. I’m good at calming my own body, which he picks up on.
He was perfect: Still as a statue for every one! He was so good that I spent some time just sitting side-saddle and talking to him.
I’m grazing him a little before putting him out for the day. I’m very pleased with his performance today, especially after the stress of the adjustment! Will do the same thing again tomorrow, and maybe see if we can add another step.
We had fun!
Thursday, Day 3. Cowgirl UP!! Sit astride. First free steps.
Well, today’s session was amazing!
The round pen wasn’t available immediately so we started our day in the big arena doing walking/trotting and halts, and he did great in the open environment. Afterwards, we went into the round pen and did our entire routine (except not asking for the canter on the longe line because I wanted to give him an opportunity to do really well before I added something new).
After about 30 minutes of longe work, including backing up on the line, I did my mounting and dismounting exercises- up to sit side-saddle, then down, repeated several times. After that, I got up into the saddle (astride), and sat for a while! This is another new exercise for us with legs on either side of the saddle for the first time. I dismounted and did it again about three times. (The pic is from my phone. It’s a “selfie” of sorts and documents our first-ever “real” mounting experience. Note the loose reins and relaxed hands).
After sitting awhile, I dismounted, then mounted again and asked for the walk. It was hilarious. He stood Stock still! Not a flinch! (His ground training has always taught him “when in doubt, stop.”) And “stop” he did.
After about five solid minutes of me asking (persistently annoying him with the verbal cue & clicking) for the walk, I upped the ante with leg pressure–then tapping with the end of the reins– we started making some small circles. All of this done on a loose rein after about 10 mounts and dismounts and asking for the walk.
I can now get on, ask for a walk, and get several steps and a little circle. But perhaps even better, after we walk and stop I can ask him to “back” and he does so immediately with almost no pressure on the reins. (That was a surprise gift.) He’s wearing a double-rope-nose side-pull with much the same feel as the halter he was trained in.
Tomorrow, we’ll do the same routine again, except I plan to work on the canter transition from the ground as well.
Friday, Day 4. Start Canter on-line.
Good morning team! We had our first training session with Dana Weddle (instructor & owner of Weddle Stables) today. Another pair of eyes and another perspective is always a welcome treat. Afterwards, she commented on how smart he is, how willing he is, and how easily she thinks he’ll progress, based on what she saw today. Of course I agree!
We started with her observing my longe work and offering feedback. Then she went through it with him herself to demonstrate a few things such as keeping him from turning in and coming towards the center of the circle on the halt (an exercise he was trained to do in his natural horsemanship ground work), and the canter. I want him to pick up a collected canter from a calm, collected trot, without the crazy high-speed trot in-between. Dana pretty much said not to worry about that at this point, because as long as he speeds up, he’ll eventually get it–it’s something she expects he’ll progress in from the saddle, and I’m content to agree. We’ll keep working towards those nice, peaceful transitions!
Today’s “riding lesson” was pretty much a repeat of yesterday, but we got a lot more mileage in our circles. SUPER impressed with how calm he was, and how obvious it is that he WANTS to do what’s expected. Communication from the saddle has been a bit tricky. He has been wearing his side pull through the first days so that we are introducing only one thing at a time, but tomorrow he will experience his first bit – an eggbutt, three piece snaffle with a copper roller. It’s gentle and comfortable. He is a large horse, so his mouth should be able to handle the chubby roller. Read more about snaffle bits here The bit will offer him another form of communication as he moves forward. He can always go back to his side-pull at any time.
Saturday, Day 5. A new bridle.
Today we started by bridling in the stall; Reign took the bit without event, though he was fussing with it quite a lot in his mouth. We hung out in the stall awhile, did some disengagement exercises, and put on/removed the bridle twice. He was very gentlemanly throughout.
My bridle/bit doesn’t fit him well, so I’d like to grab the one you got for him to take to Otis’ place so we can continue more comfortably.
After un-bridling, we did our regular session: everything we practised w/Dana yesterday was EXCELLENT today. The longe work was improved (getting better at picking up & keeping the canter), and the riding portion was great! We used the side-pull bridle, but I added the dressage whip for extra communication, and it did the trick: we did lots of circling and worked on making bigger circles w/direction changes. Much longer in the saddle today too. Big improvement on yesterday’s effort!
Everyone at the barn loves him & thinks he’s great, and i’m proud of the big baby steps he’s making! Our ride today was really repetitive, yet still fun because he’s so clearly eager to please & hear “good boy.”
Sunday. A Day of Rest
Monday, Day 7. Ready to put it together.
It seems like having a day off let everything really settle in; when I arrived this morning, Reign was ready to go! He did a great job during the ground work, though a little excitable. A massive rain front is coming in tomorrow. All of the horses are giddy with negative ions and wind excitement.
He picked up the canter in each direction, and we did direction changes several times. We even got a nice, collected canter a few times. At the end of the longe session, we went back down & spent several minutes transitioning up and down between walk/trot/halt with success.
He was ready to go the moment I got in the saddle… surprise! So after re-establishing the notion of ‘get on and stand still,’ doing some disengagements, and some backing (he’s SO good at this, haha), we resumed with the circle exercises we started the other day. Such a good job! We’re moving slowly, yet every day of work he has made a large step in the right direction. During our session we spent a lot of time circling, stopping, changing direction, and we even managed a few figure 8’s– all in the side pull, at a walk of course. He’s understanding the neck reigning cues–or at least beginning to, enough that with the leg & whip/aid, direct reining hasn’t been necessary. Of course, we’re just making circles, and I still think that the bit training will be a benefit, regardless.
So, lots of walking, stopping, backing, and changing direction in the round pen today. I’m proud of this progress, mostly because during the whole process, I felt SAFE and confident. He is careful and conscious of the rider on his back, and I think, so long as I bring him along gradually, we’ll keep making good progress.
Tuesday, Day 8. Rain, Rain Go Away.
It stopped raining long enough for us to have a nice working session today! He was a little frisky because of the weather, and we spent a few extra minutes mounting, dismounting, and holding still. His circling and neck raining exercises were as good as yesterday, and we made bigger circles. (We’re almost getting a full longe size circle!) Still walking, and focusing on transitions between walk, whoa, back, & direction changes. We’ll just keep doing this and adding steps as he gains confidence and gets better 🙂
Oh, also, today I rode with two dressage whips, one on each side so I wouldn’t have to switch back-and-forth for direction changes. He desensitized and adapted very quickly! What a good boy.
Wednesday, Day 9. Rained Out!
(I’m fairly certain that in 8 days Clinton Anderson or Pat Parelli could have Reign galloping down a country road like a pro. But slow and steady is our motto. –Jax)
Too much rain to work. A nice day of overcast rest for both of us.
Thursday, Day 10. Rained Out!
Still waiting for the round pen/arena to drain, but I did spend some time with Reign, handling him and hand walking him. He was a real gentleman. Looking forward to getting back to our routine!
Friday, Day 11. A little open arena longing.
The round-pen was still a no-go this afternoon, but the arena was sufficiently drained for some light longe work. We did a simplified routine (without any saddle/riding) both in the arena, and out on the grass pasture area after some hand-walking. Even though his turn out has been limited over the last few days, Reign seems calm and collected, and not any worse for the time cooped up in a stall. Like every previous day, your boy has proven himself both sweet and willing. Looking forward to getting our next ride! Dana says if the rain holds off tonight, the round pen should be ready to go again tomorrow.
Saturday, Day 12. From Boy to Man!
What a boy! The round pen was still a no-go, but the arena was sufficiently drained, and I didn’t want to lose another day… so we did our whole routine in the huge, open arena.
The longe work was excellent, but I wasn’t sure what to expect from our ride, since he has had a few days off for rain AND he has never been mounted (let alone ridden) in the open arena. BUT, aside from a little squirrely-ness in the first mount–which we took our time and worked out–he was amazing (the above pic is shot from the saddle–glad I desensitized him to the camera early, haha). Every previous session seems to have come home; We did all the exercises at a walk, and we used the entire arena for our circles & figure eights. All done with a side-pull hackamore on a loose/indirect rein!!!
I had a dressage whip in each hand to signal along with the neck rein, but I have no doubt he’ll adapt to just the rein soon enough. Honestly, I wasn’t sure it was possible to teach a horse indirect reining from the get-go, but Reign is demonstrating that it is!
Wish you guys could have seen him today: walking in circles, stopping & holding the whoa for different periods of time, stopping and backing before walking again, all on a dime. He’s beginning to move out underneath me with more confidence, and his stride is an absolute dream.
Hopefully you all will be able to make it out some time next week; I think you’ll be very happy with how he’s coming along. Slow and steady wins the race!
Sunday, Day 13. No rest today.
Took advantage of the nice sunny weather to work Reign again today since we had such a good session yesterday, and I’m glad I did. We’ll return to the round pen this week to continue our focused lessons, but today we trained in the arena again–I wanted to test if it was just pure good luck yesterday, or whether he’s really nailed the concepts.
He’s really nailed the concepts! I spent some extra time throwing around a mounting block–till this point, I’ve been mounting from the ground, but I thought the mounting block training would be useful. After “chasing” him around with it for a very few minutes (using the rear-disengage as a way to show him that moving away is unpleasant and standing is good) , he stood quietly for the mount. Read Mounting Issues.
The ride itself was an uneventful pleasure, and I’m very pleased with our work!
Monday, Day 14. a Day OFf.
Tuesday, Day 15. Show Off.
After yesterday off, Reign was a bit spunky getting started today. We were happy to see Jackie and Jim; thankfully, Reign didn’t make too much a liar out of me 😉
Though he’d been squirrelly at the mount the last few sessions, today he was perfect: he stood stock still for several mounts (including demonstrating the side mount for Jax’ camera), and though his circles were small and a little nervous, his halts, backs, and direction changes were well done. We returned to the round pen today, and tomorrow we’ll train in the arena again. I’ll continue to alternate–it seems to be working, and it’ll help make the transition to training at the ranch (with it’s exciting distractions) easier.
After Jackie & Jim left, we worked a while longer, and I spent some time teaching him to walk along the rail. He’s starting to get it! Lots of walk/whoa/walk/whoa–he’s quick to respond to the rider in these commands. Direction is the main thing now–the thing we’ll get really good at before we add any more gear changes. He’s coming along steadily, so I hope to be walking and trotting with confidence under saddle before we return back to the ranch. I’d like to canter him under saddle the first time at Dana’s–particularly in the round pen, but I’m not going to push it. Once we’re walking and trotting comfortably, the canter should come easily.
I am proud that Reign picked up the canter at first request today! I kiss, he canters. Very pleased with that 🙂
Wednesday, Day 16. A long day in the saddle. Wires crossed. I thought Francie & Chuck and Jackie were coming to see Reign today. I never got the email that told me otherwise. At any rate, while I waited to show off his skills, I was in the arena riding and riding and riding: 45 minutes straight. Wonderful for direction work. Busy day. No time to write more.
Thursday, Day 17. Friday Day 18. Rain out.
Saturday 19. Nearly Trotting
What a nice ride we had today!
Reign was a terror on the lunge line–he was an explosion; even got away from me in the arena, bucking and snorting like he was being chased (or chasing?) dragons. So, since we had the arena to ourselves, I let him pick his pace, and moved him all over the arena, using the whole space, continuously moving our circles (I’ll demonstrate when you guys are out if you haven’t seen this), and spiralling him in and out. By the time I got on him, he was an absolute angel–though a little high energy. Stayed on the rail with ease for full arena loops, then lots of small circles & direction changes. I came THIS close to asking for the trot today, but decided it’d be wise to try our first gear changes in the round-pen. So, tomorrow, once I feel he’s ready, I’ll begin to introduce walk/trot transitions.
I’m so excited! Hopefully the added step will come just as easily as all the previous ones have; I’ll let you guys know how it goes as soon as I get home 🙂
Sunday Day 20. Trotting
We started in the large arena, and went through our entire warm-up routine. Reign was a good boy if a little bit Squirrley;
After about 10 minutes on the lunge line going through all the gait transitions (BTW, he picks up a perfect canter at the first kiss and holds it steady until you ask him to do something else. Did I say this before? Well, I’m saying it again because I’m very proud of him for nailing this concept so quickly), I got in the saddle for a nice ride.
He wasn’t as easy as the day before, but he was a very good boy. He was a little dance-y–what I mean by this is, for example, when I asked him for the halt he’d slam on his brakes but then dance a few steps in place. I knew I was going to introduce the trot and, interestingly, this dancy attitude didn’t dissuade me at all. Mostly because Reign is so respectful in the walk, I knew that if he exploded or gave me a speed that I wasn’t looking for, I WOULD be able to get him to stop. So, after finishing the workout in the arena, I then brought him into the round pen for the second session.
We got started right away in the saddle and he was very good, though he’s not as good at forward momentum and direction in the round pen. After circling in each direction, I went straight to it. I clicked and asked him for the trot. He seemed to ask, “are you sure?!” He only gave me a couple strides the first time I asked, but at least he gave me that! We spent about 15 minutes working on picking up the trot in both directions; the transition needs a lot of work, and tempo will take time, but never at any point during the session did I feel unsafe. Even when the trot was too fast or irregular, the overwhelming sense that I have when I’m on top of this horse is that he wants to keep his rider in the saddle. It’s a very different feeling from riding Cadence!
We ended our session with him making a complete circle at a steady trot and then stopping in the center. so proud!!
We will continue to build on this work today, and trotting will be part of our daily ride! We’ll do the same thing that we did yesterday, and I hope to be trotting him in the large arena by the end of the week. If anything, I expect that it will go easier than in the round pen, if only because it’s easier to keep his direction steady in the larger space.
…as I told Jackie on the phone yesterday, I’m really starting to like this horse 🙂
Monday Day 21. More and Better Trotting
Today we did everything we did yesterday, better than we ever have before. There isn’t much more to say! He was ready to pick up the trot when we moved into the round pen, and he gave me a really nice effort, with many evenly tempo’d (if fast) full circles, in both directions. looking forward to tomorrow’s ride!
oh–I feel it’s worth noting, two things: first, he’s never broke into a canter stride (and I haven’t yet asked) under saddle–some horses trot, scare themselves & explode. Reign hasn’t/doesn’t. Second, he’s never offered anything like a crowhop, let alone a full-on buck. On the lunge line, yeah, he’s a white dwarf folding in on itself–but under saddle, no sign of bucks…
Tuesday Day 23. OMG!
…and today, he made me eat my words. I’m pretty sure I caught 25 feet of air, but let’s start at the beginning…
(I’m ok; I even managed to hang onto the dressage whips on the way off.)
We had a solid warm-up, as good as I’ve come to expect, and our arena walk/ride was really great. Best yet. When we headed into the round pen, all was well. In fact, we actually had a really great session in the round pen. We got to the point where I thought, “well, I could end it or do a little more,” and I did a little more…
He was making too tight of a circle in the trot which I shouldn’t have allowed because it compacted his body; when he dropped his head I didn’t stand much chance of uncoiling the explosion.
I think it was just one big one–After catching quite a bit of air (I think I landed on my feet), we stood across from each other for five solid minutes just staring. Then I walked over, mounted, asked for a walk, asked for a trot, changed directions asked for a walk/trot that direction & ended on a good note. Aside from that one explosion (which if I hadn’t pushed him, & been less sloppy, I might not have gotten) he was a good boy. (I was on my toes for those last two loops; he was very sensitive & responsive.)
I’m curious to see how tomorrow will start, and whether or not I’ll see any more of that behavior… He’s funny– he seemed quite astonished I came off. I know I was! hahaha.
Wednesday Day 23. Only crazy people do this!
I am proof positive that you’ve got to be crazy to be a horse trainer.
We had a great day five; since yesterday’s explosion I was on guard, but it turned out to not be necessary. We spent a lot of time doing transitions walk/halt/walk/ halt, etc. warming up.
Then I decided that since he’s better overall in the arena, we might as well get going w/gear transitions in there… So in the spirit of exploration I asked for the trot. It was great! Aside from being mostly too fast, and him wanting to turn in a circle, I was able to keep him on the rail. When he picked up the trot, he maintained it until I asked him to slow; this is so important! This is where that good ground training shows itself. I trotted him two long sides in each direction, walking during the short sections.
I’m really proud of him today.
He’s earned his day off tomorrow!
Thursday Day 24. A Well-earned Day of Rest Maybe a little Retrospective Learning
Friday & Saturday Day 25 & 26. Settling in. Yesterday and today we had really nice rides. Yesterday was nothing much to speak of: we did all the usual stuff plus trotting in the arena. Today was the same, except we spent a lot more time trotting-more today than we have yet, getting full circles in both directions and lots of gait transitions.
He’s doing great, and his trot is beginning to modulate into something nice 🙂
Sunday. Day 27.
Monday. Day 28
Tuesday. Day 29 Not much to say about today’s ride, except that it was on the long side, and we did tons of trotting and transitions between walk/trot. Mostly just used one side of the large arena, making a figure eight in the short side– the pattern is easy for him since there are light poles at each turn, so there’s a large focus point in each stage. Every day gets a little bit easier in every category, and I’m actually looking forward to the cross-terrain exercises we’ll experience at the ranch. It will be interesting to see how he does outside the round pen/arena… Which I plan to test out sooner than later 😉
(see the picture of his first trail experience below )
Reign the Magnificent! I think you’re really going to be happy with how nicely he’s coming along! He’s been steady as a rock since he tossed me like an acrobat; which drives home my theory that the bucking was both preventable and my fault. lol.
It’ll be nice to have a couple days off and get back to it. I think that once his mouth is more comfortable, he’ll adjust to the bit well; I say this because he’s so responsive to every other aid, which would be really cool.
Wednesday. Day 30. Meet the Boss
Chuck and Francie came to see Reign before he goes home tomorrow. It rained last night, and is not a very pretty day today. This is the first time that Reign has had someone ride him other than me. After a little warm up and demonstration, Chuck mounted. His first attempt hit Reign in the side with the toe of his boot as he started to mount, and the big boy startled a little. But a little more caution in the mount (as Reign gets use to a different body and weight) was very quiet and successful – a perfect stand and mount.
First some slow walks with me by his side. Then a little more adventuresome. Some independent walk and a little trot. All perfect.”
Thursday. Day 31. Home at Last! On the Kristull Ranch
By Jackie Nelson
Reign’s 30 days of saddle immersion therapy has been very successful.
We started with a horse with a beautiful disposition and very nice ground training, but there was still PLENTY to do. He had never been ridden. We built trust. We built muscle. We sensitized to crops and desensitized to all other pieces of this riding puzzle. We learned neck reigning, leg and seat cues as well as establishing and changing direction and transitioning up and down in speed – even backing up. All of this was going on at the same time. And all of this while wearing his bitless head gear. No one can say it can’t be done and done well.
Now comes the hard part. Practice, practice. practice.
Thanks for riding along.
Reign’s next challenges will be to take all of his recent experience and add new distractions such as going outside the arena and on the trail. We intend to do that sooner than later – maybe in just a couple of days. (picture left: Chuck riding Reign’s mother Isabo and Danielle riding Reign on his first trail experience just two days after coming home.)
He will also be getting used to Chuck – both longing and on his back. A lot of learning takes place at one time, building on a nice, solid foundation. I surmise it will be 30 days before Reign starts cantering. He has been so solid, so willing, and so smart, it might be less, but “steady and sure” is still the motto.
Update Texas experienced 90+ days of RAIN (April 1 through June 15), floods and mud! Reign could not really work without a covered arena. Then getting the ranch back into shape after months of muddy, soggy neglect has taken its toll on time for horse training. Such is the life of a Cowgirl!
Finally on the 4th of July, Reign came out of his pasture, did a few high-spirited laps around the round pen, went on a trail ride as if he had done it every day for 100 days, and Chuck got his first real ride at home. They are going to be great partners!
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