Early on in our relationship, Joker and I were struggling with saddle fit issues. We do not have the budget to buy a new saddle for him, so we were experimenting with the ones we have and trying to find a way to make one work. While I realize this isn’t the best plan of attack, it’s sometimes what we have to do as a non-profit with 16 horses and only 2-3 saddles. Thankfully, we found a solution, but more on that later.
A few weeks ago we decided to go to a Working Equitation clinic. For those who are unfamiliar with the sport, by all means search YouTube for some videos and enjoy the experience. In a nutshell, it is dressage mixed with competitive trail obstacles. AOPF Farms in Maryland with trainer Barry Dornon held a clinic and were happy for ATR board member Katie McIntyre and myself to bring our RRP horses to participate.
The day was basically a practice session with all the obstacles you would find in a working equitation test. Going through a chute and ringing a bell, then backing up. Picking up a jug, riding through a small circle, crossing a bridge, jousting to pick up a ring with a lance, opening a gate… just a few examples. Joker and Porter both went in pretty game and accomplished most of the tasks, though with Joker my goal became finding the limits of his concentration and working on getting him to settle and focus when we pushed against it.
We rode for over two hours and I couldn’t be happier with how willing Joker was to try new things. When he would feel a bit too much pressure, we’d take a step back and park and just let him watch the goings on until he took a few deep breath, and then shoot for a smaller goal. With this tactic we were able to approach several new questions that he’d never been asked in his short life.
The last big obstacle I thought he was ready to try was the bridge. Unfortunately on our first attempt, the front section of the bridge moved when Joker stepped on it, and I think this set him up to be even more fearful of it than he would have initially. Barry connected the three sections afterward, but it wasn’t quite enough to convince Halo it was any safer. I worked him a bit on the ground around it and got a foot or two on it a couple times, and then Barry and his steadfast quarter horse gelding stepped in to help pony him across. With some patience and firm but kind guidance, they were able to get him both on and over the bridge.
Once this was accomplished, I was able to get on and ride him over pretty easily. I chose to end Joker’s session with a nice trot around the arena, just letting him stretch his legs and get out some energy before calling it a day. Could not be happier with his performance overall, and want to thank Barry and the owners of AOPF for the opportunity to come play!