If you follow my Ellison Hartley Horsemanship Instagram account then you have probably noticed this hashtag before! This is the hashtag that I used to describe our training progress, with Ruby, my friend’s horse.
Who Is Ruby?
Ruby is an APHA paint mare owned by my friend and fellow riding instructor, Aleta. She decided she was ready for her own horse and on a horse search we went. We saw a horse that couldn’t breathe. A horse that was lame all over. Also, a horse that was way bigger than it was advertised to be. You know how it goes with horse shopping, it’s a long and arduous process if you take your time and do it right.
Aleta found an ad on Facebook and my other friend, Christina, encouraged her to go see the mare. Long story short, a few days later we were going to check this mare out.
Ruby was as advertised. Quiet and sound. She just had not had a lot of formal training. Evidently, she mostly was ridden on trails. We watched her owner rider her. Then Aleta got on her. They were a good pair from the first time Aleta swung her leg over the mare. As soon as we got to the car before she could even ask me what I thought I said: “that’s the horse for you!”.
Aleta had Ruby vetted, she passed with flying colors. She moved into my barn and settled in easily.
The Training Ruby Had So Far
Ruby was trained by a western trainer and his daughter. All of their horses were quiet and well behaved as far as I could see. When we met Ruby, Aleta tried her in western tack, which for her was okay. Since she is experienced in western also.
Aleta and Ruby had a great ride, even their first time together. Her owner was a great coach and coached Aleta through the cues that Ruby was used to.
The mare has a good head on her shoulders. She is super quiet and calm for her age. Obviously, we knew she was trained for different cues than the ones we use in our English riding. We went into it knowing that, and it has been a fun challenge so far!
This Mare Has A Serious Stop!
Let me tell you something, this mare can stop on a dime. Anytime she gets any indication you might be slowing, in the beginning, she would straight up slam on the brakes. She didn’t understand the half halts and leg cues as we were trying to tell her “downshift please, slow your gait, but don’t stop”.
I don’t say this like it is a bad thing at all. It is just different than what we are used to. Working on keeping her moving forward in the transitions is something that continues to be a priority. She will canter around beautifully, but when you ask her to slow if you don’t ask just right, she will slow to walk abruptly. In a way, it is somewhat comical to watch, but obviously a habit we are working on improving. She is getting better and better able to understand what we want each time we school her.
What A Nice Western Jog You Have!
Seriously, if you give Ruby long reins and let her get long and low she goes into the prettiest little western jog you’ve ever seen! Now that we are riding her under English tack, we are working on teaching her what her new temp should be.
When starting each ride, before worrying about anything else we try and get her thinking forward off the leg. Not just for a stride or two, but to stay in front of the leg. As with everything else, she is figuring out the new expectations we have for her slowly and surely.
Contact? What’s That?
I honestly don’t remember much about if her owners rode her with much rein contact. I know she went with her head nice and level but as far as the amount of contact, I believe they must not have used as much as we do. Which is pretty typical for western from what I have seen. This poses another challenge in Ruby’s training… teaching her to move forward from her hind end into the contact without stopping. We want her back legs to push, her back to come up which in turn will round her topline and bring her head down.
She looks beautiful when she is really working from her hind end and up over her back. She does not yet understand it completely( I wouldn’t expect her to already). As far as I’m concerned, she is doing well with it. Now. even if she does try and slow down as Aleta takes more contact, it is more easily corrected than before. Ruby is carrying herself well most of the time now. She comes above the bit and we just remind her to go forward and stretch down for the contact. She is understanding the cues now. If she backs off the contact and we push her on, now she normally has a lightbulb go off in her head and corrects herself.
If I Had To Say Her Worst Habit…
Now, this is a stretch because if this is the worst problem we ever have with her we are lucky! She tends to want to hold the right side of the bit in her mouth and brace on it, which leads to her falling in and getting a lot of tension in her neck and jaw.
She has made great progress that I think she may almost be over this little habit. The way we corrected it was pretty easy. As soon as she took a hold of the bit on the right side, I would have whoever was riding her lift there inside hand up and a little across the withers. Then while using a lot of inside legs, they would ride her into a smaller circle. Holding her body with their inside leg, making sure to use their right hand to lift her right shoulder and bend her. Normally after a few times of doing this. she gets the message. I think it won’t be long and she will be completely over this little habit.
Ruby has a great naturally balanced canter. She has gotten very prompt in her transitions from trot to canter most of the time. Once she is cantering she naturally has a nice forward temp and is pretty balanced on both leads.
We have already started working on her flying changes over a ground pole and she is a quick study.
Popping Over Some Jumps
Ruby never ceases to surprise me with how she takes everything in stride. When we asked her to go over a little cross rail, she went on the first try. Now, she does still jump way up in the air, like the rails are going to jump up and bite her belly or something! It is cute and pretty typical with horses that are green over jumps. With time she will realize that isn’t necessary, that she can conserve her efforts!
Changing It Up!
The trick to making progress with Ruby has been to switch things up a lot. We want her to learn to trot forward in a better frame, but her red-headed “mareness” won’t allow us to go round and round in circles all the time.
She always trots better after she has done some canter work, so we warm up at the trot a bit, then canter. Once her engine is moving we can come back and work more successfully in the trot.
Throwing poles out onto the circle or a crossrail here or there keeps her interested in her work. It’s amazing how her whole body changes after she jumps. It is like she relaxes and softens her whole body. She even gets a different expression in her eye. Keeping her interested by changing things up as we school her is helping to keep her behaving like a willing student.
She is young I want to keep up her work ethic and have her to continue to be a willing partner for Aleta. Ruby has progressed amazingly fast. Each time I teach a lesson with her she does something or another to really impress me.
Western Turned English
Teaching her the new cues and expectations of how we want her to go is certainly challenging. Ruby is a very willing participant, we couldn’t ask for a more trainable horse! I have learned a lot going through this process with Ruby and Aleta. I continue to learn something each time I work with them.
We are teaching Ruby, and Ruby is teaching us. As well as things are going now, I bet it won’t be long until she is jumping around little courses and holding herself in a nice frame all the time.
The horses always have something to teach us if we pay attention. In Ruby’s case it is how to get her to understand the difference in the cues she learned as a young western horse, and the English cues we use now. Ruby will continue to teach us as we continue to teach her.
So, now you know where the hashtag “babywesternhorseturnedbabyenglishhorse” came from!