Angelo and Dante Day 1

Background

Angelo and Dante are two Lusitano/cross geldings who are both 10 years old and roughly at the same place in their training. They’ve both learned lungeing basics of moving out on a circle, trotting for a cluck, cantering for a kiss, and stopping on whoa. They’ve learned to change directions from the handler’s body language and they have the general idea that they’re supposed to stop on the outside of the circle, though sometimes they forget and turn in to face the handler.

They’ve also learned to stand for grooming and saddling, to be bridled with a snaffle bit, and to be mounted from both sides both from the ground and from a block. I prefer to use the mounting block because both are too tall for me, personally, to mount from the ground. 

Angelo and Dante have had some experience following a handler around an arena while having someone who’s simply cargo sits on their back both in a saddle and bareback. Dante has not made any attempt to buck, but he is naturally more sensitive, so we’ve been avoiding putting enough pressure on him that he would buck. 

Angelo, however, has bucked someone off him three times. The first time happened when he was at an outside trainer and we didn’t get to see the circumstances which triggered it. The second time was when his rider was on him bareback, he had a snaffle bit in his mouth, and it was quite windy. That time he shied from something behind him, the rider lost his balance, and Angelo lunged forward with a bounce, sending his rider off to his side. The third time was a true buck when he lunged forward, losing his rider over his head. This occurred in the same location as the previous incident. He seemed to spook from something instead of balking or trying to rid himself of the rider, and after she came off, he was truly afraid and needed some time to calm down.

Purpose of Saddle Drills

The purpose of the saddle drills which we will be giving Angelo and Dante this month is to condition them both mentally and physically to the saddle and the added movement and weight of a rider so that they are less likely to buck or spook while under saddle during their first rides.

There are many ways to accomplish the same thing. Traditional dressage incorporates a lot of ground work. My father learned to simply hitch a green horse to an experienced one and use them as a team for fieldwork. Another favorite is to pony the green horse on trails for a season or two to gain experience. In my experience, all three methods work just fine. My problem here, though, is that I don’t have an experienced work horse or trail horse at my disposal, so we will need to progress through a series of exercises to accomplish the same thing. I would also like to teach them to deal with certain obstacles at the same time.

Angelo’s Lesson

The lesson started in the same place for both horses: at the hitching rail where they were groomed, had their hooves picked out, were saddled, and bridled, then let stand for a bit.
I went to gather the tools I needed: a lunge whip, a lunge line, a mounting block, and two pool noodles.

The “warm-up” of Angelo’s lesson consisted of sending him around the arena at liberty, much like one would do in a round pen. My arena is a little wider than the size of a small dressage arena: 20 meters by 40 meters, and I like it because it’s large enough for a large horse to comfortably canter in, but not so large that they can really run to the other end to avoid me. Yes, it’s true I might get some exercise in chasing them, but the ones who have had a lot of handling like these boys don’t over-exert themselves by running TOO far away from me after the first pass.

On this day, I was especially interested in finding out if I could get Angelo to buck at all.

To start with, Angelo wasn’t very happy about being chased with the whip and basically ran in a straight line from one gate to another, seeking refuge in looking for his herd. After a couple of passes, I was able to break his line and drive him around me in a circle which I reinforced by letting him stop on the outside of the far circle. Once he understood I wanted him to stay along the rail, he let me drive him there for two rounds in both directions. It wasn’t until round three that he gave a little crowhop which, in this case, seemed to be more protest regarding his work than anything that spooked him. I drove him all the harder out of the buck, and he didn’t do it again.

After the warm-up, I put Angelo on the lunge line and we drilled walk, trot, canter departs, canter-trot transitions, and trot- and walk-whoa transitions. The whole time he was very forward, very head-down (for him) and he held onto the bit quietly.

The third part of the lesson I brought out two pool noodles, had him touch them, then proceeded to touch various parts of his body with them. He settled in to them fairly quickly before I tucked each one horizontally through his stirrup fenders so that they touched both his shoulders and his haunches when he moved. He took the noodles without much complaint and we lunged a few rounds in both directions before we quit.

The last thing we did was square up to the mounting block. I stood on the block and asked him to “step up” into place. This is the exercise I like to use last because I want them to have good feelings about standing at the mounting block and waiting patiently there for the rider. Angelo did fine as usual with this.

Dante’s Lesson

In theory, I did the same lesson with Dante, but because he’s a different character, it didn’t turn out to be the same at all.

For starters, instead of a western saddle, I have to use an old English dressage saddle because of the shape of Dante’s back. He has high, fleshy shoulders and a pronounced dip in the center of his back which causes the western saddles I have to bridge. The dressage saddle puts the rider in roughly the same position as a western saddle would, but it’s a lot lighter and quieter. At this point, Dante doesn’t seem to notice it’s on his back at all.

The second thing Dante is dfferent than Angelo is that he, like his grandmother and great-grandmother, isn’t a fan of running in circles. He’s also got a short gait something between his Lusitano sire’s hovering and his Arab side’s “float”. So when I ask him to move away from me, instead of taking off towards the far gate like a lanky rocket, Dante collects with a prissy jog trot in a short curve, then spins around and looks at me. “Is that what you wanted?”

I have to snap the whip and start running myself to get him to canter. Nice round back, no sign of bucking. I’m going to have to give him something more to worry about.

So, after a few rounds on the lunge line, I introduce two pool noodles.

Snort!! WHAT are THOSE!!

“Come on, you’ve seen them before.”

SNORT!

I ask him to touch them—which he does…reluctantly. 

Then I touch his sides. He’s not impressed but he stands there, rolling his eyes.

I lay them down on the ground to get something else. He looks at them sideways, from both angles. Then he swifly takes a bite out of one.

I guess they’re not going on his saddle today.

We end the session at the mounting block. I drill “step-up” and he gives it to me perfectly on both sides several times.

End of session 1


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