On Wednesday it was very quiet at the barn; only one of the other boarders was around, and she was out hand walking her mare. I like these quiet times because they help me focus more closely on what I'm doing with Halo without the distractions caused by other horses and riders passing by. And there is something about how still and silent it is at night that I find very comforting. It's a good thing we have a lit arena and round pen though!
Halo was a dirty mess after the rain we had on Tuesday (so much for last weekend's mane & tail bath). I got her cleaned up and took her up to the arena after setting a few things out, one of them being my battered Crosby close contact saddle. It was time to try something new - another step on Halo's path to becoming a grown-up horse.
I free-longed her for about 15 minutes in both directions and decided to bite the bullet. I wanted to keep this training session very short, and hopefully productive. Previously I had put a bareback pad on Halo's back without buckling the girth. I also once made her carry my coat from the arena back to the hitching rail. She handled those experiences with aplomb, so I hoped for the same with a first saddling.
My close contact saddle is extremely light, and also expendable, which are the two reasons I chose it to use for this exercise. Considering my other options are a $1200 dressage saddle and an enormous hulking western show saddle I don't even have a cinch for, it was an easy decision. I left the stirrups off for now so that the only new experience would be the weight and the cinch, not anything clunking her in the sides if she took off running.
Halo snuffled the saddle curiously when I first led her up to it, and couldn't make up her mind whether or not it would make a good snack. I rattled the girth buckles at her a few times and they lay it over the base of her neck, which didn't bother her at all. Next I walked the saddle around to each side of her, flapping it around to make noise. She was attentive, but unafraid. I went ahead and slid it into place on her back. She sniffed the flaps of the saddle by bending her neck around to either side, but didn't have any reaction beyond that. I put the girth on very loosely and led her a few steps. Nothing. I really wanted to get the girth tight so that the saddle would stay on if she decided to bolt. So I walked her in circles in the round pen, stopping and tightening gently every so often. She was great!
In the end, there wasn't ever any spastic behavior, which was exactly what I hoped for. I want my first ride to be much like this first saddling was. I put it on, tightened the girth moderately, and walked her several times both directions in the pen. I decided against letting her loose, because I knew she was more likely to buck and pitch a fit. I wanted the first experience to be completely calm and relaxed. So after our few paltry laps, I led her out of the pen and back to the hitching rail where I got a couple of pictures of her looking oh so grown up! While she still looks gangly and awkward to me, I can't believe the hip she's developed in the past few months. Look at that butt!
I should add that on the way down from the arena I talked to the barn owner for a few minutes and she asked how old Halo was. I think she may have been concerned that I was doing too much with her too soon (who knows), but I explained that although riding her is still a ways off in the future, I want it to be a total non-event when it does happen. It's likely that I may not even saddle her again for a little while. There's plenty of things she can still learn on the longe line, and her main job right now is to eat and grow.
A great thing that came of the conversation is that the barn owner mentioned that she has an older horse I can ride and teach Halo to pony off of. That would be GREAT! That way Halo can get some trail experience and good exercise before she's ever ridden. I love the idea of her seeing trails first without a rider - mostly because I am a big pussy about trail riding. The whirl and bolt spook is never great, but when it happens amidst trees...blackberry bushes...stinging nettles...well, then you have an idea of what my trail riding experiences in the past have been like. Let's hope for a better future!