Happy New Year from The Natural Horseman

By Steve Stevens

We have recently been blessed with being able to use a beautiful indoor arena when the weather is bad and we can’t work outside. So I was really excited to go train today since the ground was saturated with melting snow.
I was going to work a big paint named Chief that has been in training with us for about a month. Chief was brought to us because he could be quite dominant and spooky.

Steve and Chief in the arena. (Photos courtesy of Amanda Stevens)
Steve and Chief in the arena. (Photos courtesy of Amanda Stevens)

The indoor arena has a round pen in the corner of it so I turned Chief out in it as I was going to grab my tack. I wasn’t about ten feet away when I hear this swooshing noise and I see Chief almost jump out of the round pen. It was pretty sudden so I went towards him and then saw out of the corner of my eye one section of the clear span building on the outside sliding down and crashing. I couldn’t believe it, but it was the snow melting and almost creating an avalanche on the sides of the arena. This would probably be scary for the most seasoned horse let alone one that has been known to be jumpy.
I have gotten Chief good at the basics of lunging, staying out of your space and being respectful. But I thought, what an opportunity to see how much has been accomplished.
So I led Chief out into the arena and sure enough like clockwork the sides started caving in one by one. It sounded like I was at Nascar.

Chief was really nervous so I did the most important thing you can do with a nervous horse, which was to send him out away from me on the lunge line.
He can spook, run or buck as long as he is respectful of my space.
I didn’t want to take his nature of feeling safe away by not letting him move. I just wanted him to move his feet in a way that I could keep him busy and me safe by redirecting his mind. So we started lunging, changing directions, backing and doing rollbacks. To start, he would jump and have minor bolts when the avalanche would hit, but after a handful of minutes of working, he started looking to me for answers and whenever he relaxed I would take the pressure off and step away.

Before long Chief was standing still on a loose lunge line while the snow crashed. It is really important to not hold a horse tight when they are scared of anything because it makes them feel more trapped. Just let them have space and help them move their feet and before long they will come back to you without the big battle we see so often.

Steve and Chief.
Steve and Chief.

I didn’t expect to be training at the bottom of Mount Everest this morning, but I didn’t let it frazzle me and I took advantage of a great training opportunity. Chief tried real hard today and I was really proud of him. I have to admit I am excited to just go and work without all of the excitement, but sometimes you just have to roll with the punches.

Happy New Year everyone! I hope you get to ride horses more than you ever dreamed in the new year.