The world looks different from the back of a horse. It's more peaceful and connected. One doesn't think about their problems or, if they do, those problems are minor compared to the beauty in that moment.
A horse doesn't plan ahead but lives in the moment. Really, they are incapable of that wider scope of cognitive function. Rather, they base their immediate reaction on experiences of the past based on the situation that they are in at that moment. They don't think that the sign in the road might blow in a sudden gust, but if it does, it becomes a monster at that time. You can pass the same sign a hundred times but suddenly on one-hundred-one, it's a fire-breathing, horse-eating monster. Horses live in the now, this moment. We can learn something from that.
Of course, that doesn't mean I'm not thinking about how to get him to cooperate in a task. I still think about what I'm doing, but he has my undivided attention and when it comes to riding, it is all about that moment, each moment. It's very liberating.
This morning was a beautiful morning all about preparing Buddy to head out on the trails. After lunging and some arena riding, he was pretty subdued and focused. I've been taking it one step at a time in an effort to give him the most positive experiences possible. We've slowly graduated from one small step to the next: round penning and desensitizing -> lunging -> riding in an arena -> lunging and riding in the pasture and leading down the road outside the fences -> riding outside the fences.
We rode outside any fences this morning for the first time. My goal was to just ride along the property that he is familiar with, getting him used to being ridden somewhere outside an arena. I don't want to push him too far too fast. I never have. And he's rewarded me greatly every chance I've had to work with him. This morning, we did have an issue along the trailer row, but we would reach his limit of fear and I let him retreat to where he was comfortable and calm again, then we rode back and I'd ask for a little further before retreating. He wanted to run away, but he has the personality of a superb trail prospect. He listened to my voice and seat (which I try to keep relaxed) and the bit pressure (which wasn't that much). We did that three times and by the last time, reached the end of the trailer row and headed back to the arena far more calmly and with little rein pressure. That was good enough progress for me!
Buddy is not a flighty horse but he could be if we hadn't prepared for this. I've spent almost two years building his trust and confidence in my leadership. And I've done all I can to let him make the right choice so that I don't have to discipline. He's challenged me a few times, but it's never been too difficult to make him realize that misbehaving isn't worth the effort--he's a bit lazy, thank goodness. It's that laid-back personality, partially natural and partially from training, and achieving first his trust in my leadership on the ground and then his trust in my leadership on his back that combined to bring out the best in this little guy. It's not about the human being the boss but, rather, a trusted leader and partner.
And I did measure him recently with a proper measuring stick. He may not stay a pony for long at already 14.2 hands at 4 years old. Unfortunately, he looks like he will end up being a small horse, which tend to not score so well in shows against larger horses. He won't qualify for the pony divisions against other small equines. But, I have a happy little horse who will eventually carry me anywhere and do anything.