Mocha was itching to get out, and even though the ground was frozen solid, we went outdoors. She’d been quivering a little bit when I brought her out of her stall, so on went the fleece cooler to replace her heavy blanket (I was surprised as I didn’t think the trace clip was that chilling. In retrospect, I think she might have just been a bit eager to get moving).
I thought for sure that this was going to be the time she’d blow up on me. High-headed from the moment she stepped out of the stall, and the way she blew up and humped her back when I tightened the cinch–I almost rethought throwing the cooler over the saddle, as I’d planned, but shrugged the worries off, figuring that if she was going to blow, she’d blow if I asked her to lunge a little. And if I can’t sit a couple of Mocha bucks, even with a cooler over the saddle–well…Mocha’s not the most talented bucker I’ve ridden. Sparkle is the queen of bucking in my life, and Mocha isn’t the sort of horse to get into bucking like Sparkle did. And Sparkle never would signal a bucking spell, she’d just launch herself into it. I figured it was safe. I did dip her snaffle into lukewarm water to warm it up, which surprised her.
So we went outside into the big arena. Mocha stepped gingerly through the patches of dirt and sand heaved up by the frost, and she really didn’t want to leave my side when I tried to do a short lunging. Since she wasn’t humping up like a horse thinking to buck on a cold ride, I tightened the cinch a little, got the same hump, walked her some more, tightened a little, and called it good even though it wasn’t as tight as usual. Made sure the cooler was wrapped around the stirrups so that I could find my right one fast if she did decide to surprise me, and got up on her quickly and smoothly. The way she minced out told me right off she wasn’t going to buck. No, Miss Stall Princess just didn’t trust icy hard ground.
Interestingly, she relaxed and strode out when we went through the leaves. There were just as many frost heaves there, but perhaps the ground isn’t frozen as hard–in any case, it brought home that if I move this horse to a colder climate, she’s going to have to learn about icy ground, frost heaves, and all that other stuff. We spent most of this ride at a walk with some jogging. Almost got a piaffe during the first few jogging circuits because of how tight and short she was keeping her steps. But, kept the reins fairly long with a light contact, mostly just letting her know I was there but letting her balance and figure it out on her own. So 2/3s of a ring circuit were tight and tense, then the 1/3rd that was leaves was markedly bolder and bigger. The only other place she stepped out was over the railroad tie walkovers, and she relaxed over those.
We did do some schooling figures. Mocha expressed her opinion of the foolishness of this ride with regular little grunts of disapproval that got louder during the two tracking. But hey, after two-track, she relaxed her back enough to walk out nicely on the hard, icy ground on a soft rein. Never did get a fully relaxed trot but I settled nicely for the big swinging walk with a relaxed back.
Gotta laugh, though. I’ve never dealt with the mind-set of a stall-living horse until I owned Mocha. I’ve legged up on Sparkle and my ponies in much icier conditions, even in snow–and they didn’t think much of it. Sparkle never did hump her back up like a bucker as much in cold weather as Mocha did today, and she was the bucker of the two. Never thought you had to teach a stall-raised horse these things–and yet, with Mocha, it’s becoming quite clear that yep, that’s exactly what I have to do with her.
OTOH, one thing that is priceless is that Mocha’s sense of self-preservation with regard to her footing is HUGE. If she doesn’t trust it, she’ll stop dead and freeze up. While I might have to explicitly teach this mare to be a trail horse (that is, if the opportunity presents itself) outside of an arena, on the good side, I can count on her to be sensible.
That goes a long, long ways.