I know it doesn't seem like that big a deal to some people, but it's huge to me.
I mean, I can stay on top of a horse (as a general rule) and I have hundreds of hours in the saddle of the past seventeen years. The last five have been primarily bareback on rugged mountain trails. I mean, I can mostly keep the horse between me and the ground, but getting on Skeeter for the first time is a Big Deal.
I've never started a horse. I've ridden green horses until they were well broke. I've even corrected training issues in some horses, but I've never started a horse.
I know what I expect as far as ground manners and Skeeter is about 95% perfect on ground manners. She leads with the lightest pressure, but can also get distracted and forget to focus. I'm much, much more confident on what I expect from her on the ground and I'm much more confident in my ability to get her there.
From her back is a totally different story. I know that good ground manners translate to riding. I know that, but it was still a huge deal to climb up on her back today. I had to trust that she trusted both Bill and me enough to let me climb up on her. I had to trust that I've instilled enough ground manners that if Bill told her to whoa and stand she would do it. And I desperately don't want to screw her up and have bigger problems in the future.
It took about ten minutes for me to actually make it onto the back of my
horse, but it felt much longer. It seemed like I did the
pressure/release thing forever before finally sliding up. We started with leaning over her, which Bill has done lots of. It's not a big deal. Then I kicked her back, hip, flank and leaned some weight on her. When she shifted, though, I removed all the pressure by standing back up on my "mounting block". We did this several times until she didn't care that I had one leg dangling over the other side and she was bearing more than 50% of my weight (not that she cared a lot to begin with, but I had to be sure she'd stand stock still). She moved off a little bit when she realized I wasn't going to relieve the pressure by stepping off, but didn't bolt. She took a step or two and then froze. She's young yet and has never had to balance an extra chunk of weight on her back. She eventually figured to tighten her stomach to help balance the weight and was able to move a step or two before I slid off.
All of the time Bill has spent playing Dead Indian with her has paid off. She doesn't care about someone laying across her back and sliding down. My knees are far too old and abused to be just popping down off a horse. I need as soft a landing on my feet, and therefore my knees, as possible.
Bill scrambled up on her after I got off and she was just as good. I lead her a step or two and we called it good. I removed the halter and just let her be. As we wandered over to fill the water, I realized I had a halter in my hands and I could just sneak into Copper's pen and quick put it on him for a minute, so I did.
Copper did really, really well. He's still figuring out the leading thing, and asks that I remember to lead him properly instead of dragging him by his face. He very much prefers to be lead with the person just forward of his shoulder (you know, where you belong) instead of out in front of him.
After Copper got "worked" for all of about three minutes, it was back to Miss Skeeter Bang. On went the halter and back to the mounting block. She really balked at it and didn't want to play, so I changed the rules and had Bill lead her up so I could mount from the off-side. I don't think it occurred to her that I would change the rules and she'd have to learn from both sides. Ha!
She didn't make it easy on herself by parking out a bit from the block. I was able to get my leg over, but then had to leap from the block onto her back. In the video, you can tell that she wasn't exactly thrilled with my weight landing on her back. You can almost hear her go "ooof". I started sliding and grabbed onto her with my left leg to try to get centered again. In the video, that's when she started turning into Bill. It took me a second to realize I was causing the turn by grabbing on with my leg (good for her, moving away from pressure) and as soon as I relaxed, she straightened out and relaxed.
When Bill hopped up on her, she was pretty much over the whole day and pranced a bit. I made her stand and relax before he got down and we called it a day.
Next time, we'll wander a bit farther.
I actually am just making it up as we go at this point. I know there are great training videos on how to start horses, but I'm just kind of letting her (and Mom and Bill) tell me what she's ready for next. It's worked so far, let's hope it continues to work.