Expanding the Circle of Comfort

not too old to learn challengeThis month, Jolene has weathered many new experiences, but never without worry. That’s Jolene. Anything new (new helmet, new gear, new trail, new visitor) is cause for inspection and concern. I’ve become more patient with her than I typically am our other equines. I understand that review and consideration cannot be fleeting, unless I want bolting and distress.

Read more about the Not too Old to Learn Challenge.

Even saddling, once an hour-long event, now honed to 10 minutes, can still be subject to review. Read about saddling challenges here.

Jolene is extra wary when riding in a gully with steep sides.

Jolene is extra wary when riding in a gully with steep sides.

As we ramp up the trail riding, we’ve worked on these elements:

  • Riding in a gully. It’s scary because the path seems to have walls on both sides, rising up and making her a bit claustrophobic and vulnerable to predators (my interpretation here).

See photo at right.

  • Going fast. Last year, she bucked me off a few times. And I think we were both a little uncomfortable loping and galloping together. Finding good running room is challenging with all our rocky terrain, but we found some and have opened things up a bit. Read what Buck Brannaman has to say about “dialing it up.”
  • Being light and soft. Jolene’s lateral flexion can be easy sometimes, clunky the next. So, when we’re trailriding, we practice one-rein stops and general listening back and forth. We’ve worked on softer, finer cues with hands, legs and seat.
  • Creek crossing

    Creek crossing

    Other new experiences: a creek crossing and going over weird, man-made earth cylinders, meant to deter erosion and set up like small interval jumps.

  • Saddling up in a confined space (between a building and a truck).
  • Introduction to packing. In photo at left, Jolene is wearing a saddle with over-the-saddle panniers from Outfitters Supply of Columbia Falls, Montana. She did marvelously with her first hundred-pound IMG_7977load.

Other learning opportunities:

In an effort to expand the circle of comfort and get everyone in shape (or “legged up,” as they say around here), I’m riding all our equines.

I’ve learned:

Jodi is like a Golden Retriever. She benefits from lots of encouragement and praise. She’s a plug compared to Pep or Comet, lovable but perhaps lacking confidence. But I’m working on improving our connection and her go-getter-ness.



Brooke is the most challenging, our temper tantrum girl. She benefits from a strong, firm rider who can have a conversation without riling her.

Whenever we return home, she’d prefer to do so at breakneck speed. My strategies: making the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard. If she starts racing, she gets put to work in circles or in the opposite direction. If she whinnies for her herd, she gets to back up several paces. Soon enough, she finds relief with good behavior and we’re returning home on a loose rein, having stopped to graze and enjoy the scenery.


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