One of the most important things I learned during my year as a working student with my trainer is that every horse should have impeccable manners. Don't get me wrong—I've always known that horses should be well-behaved, and all of my family's horses have had very good manners, stood well for the vet and farrier, and been easy to handle, lead, tack, and medicate.
But there's nothing like seeing, on a regular basis, 1,000+ pound event horses giving their riders trouble with even the simplest of tasks—both at competitions and at home—to reinforce the notion. As a result, my trainer and I instilled impeccable ground manners upon Dorado, and even today, he rarely (if ever) sways from what he's learned is acceptable.
Because he's proven to me that he's very well-behaved, Dorado gets some leeway in departments other horses might not...like taking his sweet time getting up from a nap.
Photo: Erica Larson
But because he is so well-behaved, and because he's getting up there in years, I often find myself letting him "push the limits," so to speak. But the only reason he's allowed any leeway is because I know that if I tell him no, or he knows it's time to behave, he snaps back into shape before I even have time to think about it.
For instance, I admit that I let Dorado rub his face on my arm after he's done exercising—something that I've only allowed a few horses to do over the years. But, there are some conditions: His bridle must be off first, and he must wait patiently without trying to rub until I give him the okay. And even then, he does not rub hard, and he does not rub long—just enough to get his sweat and slobber plastered all over my arm!
Why do I let him do this? Because he's proven to me that he can handle it without becoming a rubbing monster and "attacking" anyone within head's reach once I'm off his back. Just the other day, in fact, my husband stood in front of Dorado as I took his bridle off. As I turned to pick up his halter, rather than rubbing his heart out on Adam's shoulder, Dorado waited patiently for my okay before giving my arm a quick rub. In short, I trust him. Plus, he had a bit of a rough go before he came home with me—if I can give him a little extra pleasure after he works for me, why not?
He also gets a little leeway on the longe line. When it's really time to work, he's great about buckling down and focusing. So when he takes off bucking and squealing if he's longing without side reins or other tack, I'm not too concerned. Dorado rarely bucks when he longes under tack or with a surcingle, and it's even less common when I'm riding (and then, it's usually indicative of a more important problem, like his back or hocks feeling uncomfortable). Again, it comes down to trust.
Dorado is always on his best behavior when he needs to be
Photos: Keith Larson
I know, I know, letting Dorado push the limits this much very well could backfire on me. And it still might! He's a horse, and you can't always predict what a horse is going to do next. But at this point, he's 18 years old, he knows wrong from right, and he's never given me any reason not to trust him. I have seen him, however, being playful on the lead line with me, but tone it down to "statue" when my 91-year-old grandmother and my cousin's 14-month-old son got out of their cars.
It all comes down to how much trust you have in your horse, and whether you're able to let them push the limits now and again without completely losing their ground manners. Fortunately, I have a horse who can push the limits, but knows when it's time to behave.
Do you ever let your aging equid push the limits? Why or why not?