Friday, August 17, 2012

Harley, Working Horse

Harley had a new experience yesterday.  He was my mount for two beginner lessons.  This was an impromptu decision, because one of our lesson ponies was under the weather.  As I am sure you can imagine, I am very protective of Harley, and do not want anything to compromise his training or well-being, so this was my thought process, which finally arrived at employing my horse for the afternoon.

  • A very competent horse person arrived to help with lessons.  She was a must in the equation.
  • I had already ridden Harley, so his body was warmed up and he felt great.  The weather was cool and he barely worked up a sweat.
  • His potential "lessonees" were good listeners and smaller people than myself (well under 100 pounds).
  • I thought about the alternative, very nice horses that I could use and realized that Harley was still my first pick.  He is quiet and kid-friendly, forward, and listens to me.  He is much taller than a pony, but small enough in girth for a short rider.  Ask me how I know!
  • When the kids drove up I heard one of them proclaim, "I want to ride the new horse!" and Harley greeted them with pricked ears and curiosity.
So we went with it.  Harley was a working horse.

I decided to use the jumping saddle instead of my dressage saddle.  The stirrup leathers are much easier to adjust than my webbers, which probably do not adjust short enough for the kids anyway, and the jumping saddle has the added benefit of a sticky faux suede seat and an OS ("Oh shucks") strap attached at the pommel.  The downside is that I much prefer to teach riding position in a dressage saddle, but since the kids do not know what they are missing, it was not a big deal.  I gave Harley an extra pad, our Skito memory foam half-pad, to buffer any beginner-bounces on his precious back.  I am glad I opted for this, because his first rider, little as she was, bounced all over the place in trot, giggling the entire time.  Thank goodness for memory foam!

A bridle was not on the cards for these young riders so we stuck with the halter and reins combination.  Harley was so reponsive to rein pressure that I had to purposely lengthen the student's reins a few extra inches or my sweet horse would obediently walk backwards or stop after every step forward.  With a little extra rein he marched along with a long neck and stopped mostly off the rider's vocal command.  I was so proud.

Perhaps the most amusing moments were when we introduced the students to trotting.  Harley had his wonderful leader for the entire lesson, since the riders are very much beginners, and I trotted alongside the rider adjusting position and applying a supportive ankle hold as needed (therapeutic lingo).  It is easy to take for granted that this was a very awkward and confusing situation for my horse.  He does not normally trot with a leader and definitely not with a small person on his back.  Add me running next to him and you have one perplexed horse.  For the first rider, he would trot about three steps and then stop, trot three more and stop, his ears swiveling between me, the rider, and his leader.  Having introduced new horses to lessons before, we encouraged him gently to keep moving forward and told him what a "Good Boy" he was.  Stopping or slowing down is probably the best "confused response" that we could ask for in a lesson horse.  It was very clear to me that Harley was not alarmed or scared, just wondering why on Earth all these people were moving with him and with a bouncing, laughing child on top of him.  By the second rider (She had her choice of horse and picked Harley.  Not surprised.), he was much more confident in his job and trotted along at a consistent, smooth pace.  This was rewarded by a lovely, balanced seat in his rider.  She was a natural for sure!  She loved asking Harley to "back".  I think she did not know that horses could walk backwards!  She thanked me with a huge smile and shining eyes when her lesson was over.  It was pretty cool to see someone else enjoy my horse (almost) as much as I do!

By the conclusion of the lessons, all three riders wanted to help brush Harley, which I obliged, and he looked positively glowing as three little people swooned over him.  Of course, he also got carrots and made all sorts of funny faces to get the kids laughing.  Total ham and, apparently, kid-reliable.  I do not think his feet moved the entire time they were grooming him.

After the smiling faces drove away, I scrutinized his back and looked for any sign of stress or discomfort.  He was fine and seemed happy about the new experience and all the attention.  I hand-grazed him and thanked him for his help with the lessons.

I do not expect to use Mr. Harley for lessons very often and definitely not without my presence, but I think that this was a good exercise in "trying something new".  His solid disposition and sensitivity were a good combination for this type of simple lesson, although he did try to eat grass and sniff poop a couple times.  He needs a little more to keep his attention than walking over poles.  ;)

Harley confirmed my feeling that there is no other horse with whom I would rather work.  He is such a gem.

"Oh wow.  There ARE people shorter than Val."

Harley + peppermint = laughing children


  1. sounds like he was an absolute star, and did really well. Glad that he got in to the swing of things.

    When I get my horse cause it will be at my local college, it will occassionally be used as a lesson horse.


    1. That is great! I hope they give you a break on board for your horse's hard work.

  2. What a special horse he is and a good sport. He made the day for those little people. I'm sure they're still talking about him and will be asking to ride him again next lesson.

    I love it when a horse is kind to children. All of ours seem to really know when the grandkids are around them and they behave admirably. Especially, Mellon. My seven yr. old granddaughter has ridden Dusty and she is really good with her. Wish she was that nice to me, maybe I should try shrinking down to kid size.

    1. Dusty is a real smarty-pants, herself. It is so amusing that they can adjust their ways when they know there are children around. Gentle souls, horses are.

  3. He is one hunk-o-gorgeous horse that Harley!
    Gem is correct, loved the new en devour!
    Smiles and charmed from here!

  4. Harley reminds me so much of Jackson. I tried teaching the grandkids to ride on Jackson since they are small, would be doing walk mostly, maybe some trot, on a lead line. Jackson loved it. Loved the attention and had his ears on the little riders the whole time. Your Harley, and my Jackson -- they're all heart.

    1. Absolutely!

      I was so worried about the physical well-being of my horse that I forgot that he might actually like toting children around and all the attention. It worked out. :)

  5. I have always been told that the hallmark of a well-trained horse is that anyone can ride him. Harley is certainly a well-trained horse! He'll be a regular ol' Schoolmaster in no time.

    1. Cool beans! Thanks, Shannon.

      One of my older students rode him once. He went well for her, but if she put one leg on stronger than the other to ask him to go forward he would swing his haunches in or start shoulder-in. It was cool to see that his buttons worked for someone else and nice for the rider to get instantaneous feedback from the horse. She was moving straight ahead in no time. ;)

  6. What a good boy!! I get not wanting to use him for those lessons regularly, but it must be nice to know that he can take new situations in hand like a total champ! :-)

  7. I can just picture him with his ears twirling around wondering about all the extra curricular's going on around him. What a trooper he is!


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