“What’s working equitation all about?”
“Well, go ahead and unload your horse and get saddled. Then come check cows with me.”
The visitor, we’ll call him Wade, saddled up and met the rancher in the corral.
“What are you doing now?”
“It’s called doubling, or nowadays, flexions. It’s like a preflight check, to see if my horse is listening to my rein aids. If he gives easily to both sides and ‘kisses the stirrup’ with minimal, or even no pressure, then I know he’s listening to my hands.”
“Okay, so, should I do that with Pokey here?”
The rancher then began to slide his leg back toward his horse’s flank as his mount was bent around with his head relaxed at the stirrup.”
“What are you doing that for?”
“I’m getting him to move his hind feet away from my leg. Ray Hunt used to call it disengaging. When he steps away, I quit asking.That way he actually learns to do it off a soft cue. I’m wanting to educate my horse to work from signals rather than making him do things with force.It’s called lightness, and it makes my life easier.”
They started off together. The rancher side passed up to the gate, opened it, slid around it, and held it for Wade to pass through. then he sidepassed his horse to close it. They visited and joked as they rode along for the few minutes it took to get down to the creek crossing. The rancher’s mount walked easily across the concrete ford in about a foot of running water. But Wade’s horse stopped.
“Just let him stand there looking at the water awhile. He needs to think about it.”
The horse finally let out a deep breath, and lowered his head toward the water.
“Now, back away from the edge, and turn him around both ways, using that leg to disengage him, and move those hindquarters. Then bring him back up to the edge and let him rest there. It’s called making the wrong thing hard and the right thing easy.
This procedure was repeated three more times, then the horse stepped into the water,and finally walked across, lifting his feet high, but not bolting nor jumping.
“There, now, rub his neck and just relax. He did good. You did good.”
They continued on, crossing a rough field, pocked with hog wallows and shallow swampy sloughs. A deer burst out of the brush and Pokey spooked.
“Just flex him around both ways several times until his feet stopped moving. Give him time to calm down, then rub his neck. Don’t punish him, just use the flexions like a tranquilizer. Then ride on.”
They continued on down a dirt lane toward the cow herd. Then from behind them came the rancher’s son in a big tractor carrying a large round bale of hay. Pokey spun around, head high.
“Flex him and disengage him ‘til he stops moving his feet. Keep him facing the tractor until it passes, then follow it. He won’t be as scared if it is moving away from him.”
Later, ducks exploded off a stock tank, and a white dog appeared out of nowhere from behind them, and Wade practiced flexions and ‘yielding around’ of Pokey’s hindquarters until his feet stopped moving, then he rubbed his horse’s neck. A chupacabra-looking burned out hollow log got slowly investigated until Pokey put his nose on it. Pokey was pretty apprehensive as they rode through the cattle, but with multiple flexions Wade made it through.
“Little twenty seven has a new heifer calf!”
“I didn’t see anything.”
“That’s because you were busy with Pokey. But when you can, look up and out. Notice the new baby calves, listen to the birds, enjoy the clouds.”
On the way back to the barn, Pokey crossed the concrete ford easily as he followed the rancher’s big fleabit gray. When they had returned to the corral, Wade asked, ”Now, you never did answer my question, though– what’s working equitation?