Kai arrived to Bell’s Cove on August 30th to be with us for the month of September. On arrival he was really chill. He even peed on our landlords’ lawn, making a very good first impression.
The first couple of days were spent on both of us adjusting to being in a new place. I was in a tent by myself for the first time (and it really sucked because I kept rolling off the air mattress) and Kai was getting used to his new herd mates over the fence. This was also the time for the first important and special breakthrough of this month.
After playing and getting connected I worked my way in stick-to-me down to zone 5. I did friendly game with my stick and string and lead line on his legs. Then I simply went ahead and attached 2 feather lines to make driving lines. Earlier I had practiced clucking to him to go, so I brought my energy up and clucked to him. For the first time ever he walked off without turning around. His ears were flickering back and forth—I’ve never seen him as unsure. We practiced stopping and starting in a relatively straight line. I was very proud of how quickly he caught on at stopping and starting very lightly. I’ve tried directing from zone 5 before, but he always got confused and turned around to face me when I got much past zone 4. But now all of a sudden he just understood that I could direct him from zone 5. What a genius horse! We even progressed to a little bit of trotting. I was so happy with his breakthrough that I was jumping for joy and Kai mirrored me with his happy and excited energy.
I never thought I’d work on new things so soon after the move, but it felt so right and he seemed so ready.
We were so connected after the ground driving that I went on my first mini-ride since coming here. I rode around the outdoor arena, directing him with my body, playing with transitions and mostly just enjoying the ride.
The next day I spent a lot of time grooming him. He likes to be curried. We did a little bit of stick-to-me and I started rocking forward and leaning back for him to mirror me. I’ve never done this before and he got this right on the first try.
Who’s the Leader
We were playing the circling game in the outdoor arena and when I asked him to trot he pulled away from me (towards the other horses) really roughly. I let go off the rope as not to get rope burn. I chased him for 6 laps around the arena until both of us were tired. Just in the beginning of lap 7 he leaned towards me. I stepped back and he immediately gave me 2 eyes. I think he wanted the chasing game to stop—he did his speediest trot when coming towards me. I smiled and rubbed him and we continued the circling game. He pulled away from me one more time, but this time it took him one lap to soften. The next time he just trotted around me, bending beautifully. In fact, I was so pleased with his movement and bending that I brought him in right away, as I learned from Don Halladay, circling game is better with quality rather than quantity. When Kai came in he yawned repeatedly. The following day we had a similar connection issues, but he not only connected much quicker, but he yawned repeatedly as well.
Meeting the Ocean
I picked out a quiet little cove to walk Kai to for his first introduction to water. We found an entrance to the beach between the rocks, but there was a barrier of washed up seaweed. Kai put is head down and snorted and looked at me like I was crazy. I stepped on it to set a good example, then backed him one step before asking him to step on it with me. He took a deep breath and then calmly stood on the seaweed with me. Then we got to the actual sea. He was so busy looking at the seaweed that he didn’t notice that the waves were in fact moving! He arched his neck and he huffed and puffed, but I got him thinking about me and he began to mirror my calm energy. After some approach and retreat Kai was standing right at the water’s edge, so that the waves couldn’t touch his hooves. Then all of a sudden a wave came and touched his hooves! He jumped backwards. It was a special moment when the ocean first touched him. It was funny to me, but he probably was quite scared. I suppose it was good for him that I was happy and light hearted so he could mirror me. Eventually he walked in just past his pasterns and we quit on that.
When you show your love for horses, you meet wonderful horse people everywhere! I was taking Kai for one of our trail walks and as we were returning home a neighbour (turns out she is a former dressage trainer!) came to meet me with a book and a bitless bridle. I immediately fell in love with the bridle. It was unlike any other bitless bridle I’ve ever seen as it didn’t cross under the jaw but was a direct side pull. The leather was stamped with “made in England”.
The Horseman’s Encyclopedia by Margaret Cabell Self was first published in 1946 and the book itself was rather old. Some old books advocate really crude training methods, but this one isn’t like this.
I’ve talked to Margo several times already and I loved listening to her explaining training methods of classical dressage.
Trust and Never Say Never
The first trail ride was a momentous day because I put a lot of trust into Kai. I’ve seen other people having trouble trusting their horses, and I never thought it would be an issue for me. I’ve always known that having trust in him is good for his well being. However, there hasn’t been an opportunity yet where I felt I could put the trust issue to a test.
The groundwork session was pretty ordinary. He was connected on the circling game. I rode him in the arena, and even though at the beginning of the session I was certain this wouldn’t be the trail ride day, I made the decision to take him outside. I had already walked the trail myself many times and was very familiar with it. And I had walked that same trail with Kai about 5 times by then.
My last trail ride was 5 years ago, when I was just learning to ride, and it was at a trail ride place. As I was doing lateral flexion before going out of the gate I was getting pretty excited. We got out into the driveway and practiced stopping and couple of times. He was a little bit reluctant to turn off the road into the woods, but otherwise it was a magnificent trail ride.
At the end of our first trail ride I thought we’d go and splash around in the ocean, as it was a very hot day.
We came to our little cove, and Kai refused to go deeper without me leading him, so I took off my boots and waded in with him.
When the water was deep enough to swim Kai tried a funny underwater trot and at the last moment he decided to swim. I was not majestically on top of him, but instead I was hanging on his mane. Then we scrambled out of the water—anything but gracefully.
We’ve been to two other swims since then. He was never really scared, and the bottom was rocky and firm, but I believe he was a little bit overstimulated. The second time we went for a swim, he was having fun, but then suddenly thought, “MUST GET TO SHORE!” and slowly but powerfully trotted to shore. He was unstoppable and I glided behind him on the lead rope. When the water got more shallow I let go of the rope. He stopped and turned around to look at me with surprise. I scrambled out of the water and we stood next to each other, dripping wet.
So we did lots of approach and retreat until he knew we were going in and out with the speed that I wanted and to the depth that I wanted. The last time I took him in he followed me without hesitation up to his chest, and then we walked out calmly and without rushing.
That was another ordinary session where we were just improving our 7 games, until I asked him to go on the circle. He was trotting pretty quickly and looked rather frantic. Without thinking about it, I told him, “Kai, slow down,” in a low voice. For the first time ever he started trotting significantly slower. I asked him to disengage his hind quarters and invited him in, praising him a lot. He’s always had a pretty quick trot, and I don’t think it has occured to him to trot slower.
By the end of the session he’d mirror my energy and we have established 2 distinct speeds: a working trot and a pleasure trot. It was a very exciting moment and another big break through for this month so far.