Sandy’s Lessons while Saving Shiloh

Lessons learned while finding the sweet spot of "Full Release" by Sandy Reuther

Lessons learned while finding the sweet spot of “Full Release” by Sandy Reuther

Last fall I had the opportunity to adopt a broodmare. I would be potentially saving a life since if the horses were not adopted they were destined for the auction. I picked out a semi friendly 8-year-old grulla mare and went to pick her up a week later. I found that she was originally going to be a riding horse but was accidentally bred by a creative stud and as a result joined the brood mare band. I got her home and worked with her enough to get her easier to catch. I had great plans to get her going as a riding horse but between her resistance and my lack of time during the school year, not much progress was made. I had signed up for an internship with Sherry and Shiloh was put on the packing list.

Sherry, Morgan and I started working with her on my first morning there and worked with her almost every day for four weeks. To say she was challenging would be an understatement, but she made progress and we learned many lessons. Three of the main lessons involve planning, responsibility, and creativity. The easiest lesson I learned involved planning.

The lesson involving planning is to definitely have a well thought out plan and be willing to throw it out. For instance, we had been saddling Shiloh for a few days and we were planning on saddling her, doing ground work, and then some passenger lessons. Well, Shiloh had decided that she had tried saddling and wasn’t for her. We took probably four hours that day, and many in later days, convincing her that saddling was a good thing and much easier than not getting saddled. For the first two weeks of saddling, she would test our resolve on saddling about every third day. We just had to meet her where she was at each day and work with her there. Also, have a plan when you are riding. Think ahead so that you can give the green horse direction because when they get lost, they can panic. As an example, think ahead enough to decide, “I am going to walk 10 steps beyond that cone and then do a one rein stop to the right.” It is your responsibility to know where you are going, so you can communicate with the horse.

On every team, the responsibilities are divided among the players. The second lesson I learned had to do with this division of tasks between Shiloh and I. First, I have to be the leader. I have to be in charge every time I am working with her and not accept any behaviors that could be detrimental. For example, when leading Shiloh I had to insist that she stay outside my personal bubble and not allow her to be in my back pocket like she prefers. The reason for this was so that when she spooked, she did not jump on me. Also, she liked to dominate us by running her shoulders into us and by keeping her out of my bubble, her shoulder was not in play. Shiloh’s primary responsibility was to do what I asked and to keep on doing it until I asked her to do something else. All other responsibilities pretty much rest on the rider. If the horse is not doing what you asked, then you are asking it wrong. Sometimes you have to be pretty creative in order to get your point across.

Becoming a team

Becoming a team

Being creative was the third lesson that I learned when working with Shiloh. She did not necessarily respond in the way that we expected and so we had to think outside the box. One instance was Shiloh not wanting to circle clockwise. After I worked with her for a while, and had moderate success, Sherry worked with her and traced the resistance to not being willing/able to flex to the right. Over the next few days we worked a lot on flexing and the problem with the circles fixed itself. Another instance was when Shiloh was learning to accept a saddle. She did not have a big problem with having a saddle on her back, it was approaching her with a saddle that caused problems. I set up two saddles and circled her so she would have to go near the saddles repeatedly and she could only rest between them. I also lead her between them and then backed her through them. By figuring out what Shiloh needed and giving it to her, we made progress.

Every horse that you work is learning every time you work it. I also believe that you are learning every time you work a horse. Although by working with Shiloh I learned a lot about planning, responsibilities, and creativity; the lessons didn’t end there. I can’t wait to see what she teaches me next.

Sandy Reuther


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