Ella's brand came out dark not white but still.... THIS. There are no words to describe how much I love my little mustang.
"The white mark means she is strong.
Her hooves don’t need shoes, her lungs create the wind, and her legs will last forever.
She has survived the tests of time.
The white mark means she is brave.
She has overcome unbelievable fears to become my friend. She will do anything I ask, because she trusts that I will not let her get hurt. She is always willing to try.
The white mark means she is loyal. She could kill me if she wanted, but she yields to my wishes. She could jump the fence or throw me on the trail and return to the wild, but I know I can trust her to take care of me.
The white mark means she is wise.
She turns to face her fears, to decide which ones are worth running from. She has taught me more of her language than I have taught her of mine. She remembers everything.
The white mark means she belongs to Mother Nature. Those shapes are her birth certificate and her social security number. She would rather be in the forest, than in the barn.
The white mark means she is freedom. She reminds me now and then that she doesn’t have to let me halter her, but she does anyways.
The white mark means she is America. She is the land that she ran across and her veins hold history. She is a living legend."
Today we had an AMAZING ride!!! Ella was excited to see me and came through the herd of mares to greet me! I saddled her up and started our session by venturing around the property for a bit. We went around a lot of “obstacles,” the other horses, and went over the teeter-totter. She didn’t even flinch! No hesitation, no pushing towards the other horses – just cruising around! I tried to use only my legs and voice to guide her, since our ultimate goal is to ride in the pasture/ on the trails bridleless! I really only had to “fix” her a couple times.
I took her into the roundpen to work her without the bridle, just the neckrope. We took several laps around each direction, making sure that she was responsive to my voice and staying in whatever gait I was asking of her. We added some figure 8’s and worked on our sidepassing and pivots (She’s already a pro at “whoa” and backing up bridleless in the roundpen). A couple times she tried to be a smarty pants and anticipate what she thought I was going to ask for, so I really concentrated on being very clear with my cues. I would sidepass her one direction and then stop and wait a few seconds before I asked for the next maneuver. If I was asking for the sidepass and she was wanting to pivot, I would keep my leg on her until she adjusted and then rewarded her. We practiced pivot-sidepass-pivot-sidepass a few times and ended on a good note!
For one last trick, we practiced her bow. I’ve been wanting to use her bow as a way to hop on bareback. She’s been holding it really well, so I decided to go for it! I asked her to bow, said whoa, and jumped on! She stood up and waited for my next cue, like a good pony 😊 For not working her very consistently, I’m very happy with her progress!
Brinley got to sit on her future pony for the first time today! She was really studying Ella, touching her mane and cooing to her. It was adorable! And in typical Ella fashion, Ella had her ears turned back towards Brinley, listening to her and not moving an inch.
I've been really impressed with Ella as she's been introduced to more kids. Kyler loves riding and brushing her, and she's always aware of where he's at, never getting close enough to accidentally step on him.
When I'm on her she's on a mission. She's wondering where we're going and what we're doing, always looking for the answer. She's very forward which can lead to the pony trot of death and anticipating the lope, just wanting to cover ground. The moment I hop off and put a kiddo on, she does a 180. When I ask her to go, she hesitantly takes the first step forward and goes into babysitter mode. She's got a sixth sense with kids, and it's one of the reasons I love her so much!
One of Ella's favorite liberty maneuvers is the back up from behind! I just tap her, say "back," and she backs towards me!
***She has never turned her butt towards me in an aggressive way. If you teach this, make sure that you are experienced enough to get after your horse if they ever get pushy with it or back towards you without asking. That can become very dangerous.***
I taught Ella this liberty back up last year. She really picked it up fast! It only took her about five minutes to learn it! I have only worked on it here and there though, because I don't want her over-anticipating it too much in our sessions.
Teaching the back up from behind:
Ella already had a very soft back up with pressure on the halter, which is step one! (If a horse won't back lightly to pressure, go back to the basics.) I added a second lead rope for "reins," similar to if I was ground driving her. I asked her to back up a few times with me behind her, just saying "back" and adding slight pressure. Next, I added the whip. I lightly tapped her, said "back," and added pressure on the halter. She started to associate the back up with only the tapping and saying "back." I took off the halter and lead ropes and ta da! The first time I asked her to back towards me at liberty she nailed it! She got a treat and lots of scratches and we called it a day!
I’ve seen this a couple of times and absolutely love it, so I had to share! (I do not own it)
”I can't count the number of times that I have heard the words "Oh you just trail ride" or "It's just a trail horse", especially from other riders who focus on only one discipline. And each time I have to smirk a little. To be JUST a Trail Rider you need a very special talented kind of steed for which many folks don't realize the expertise required:
- He needs to be as maneuverable as a dressage horse...to be able to place each foot exactly where and when you need because there is a steep cliff drop-off on one side and a wall of solid mountainside on the other. A sure-footed horse is a must to be a good trail horse.
- He needs to be as bold as a foxhunter....to go willingly where she is pointed, whether that is over a log, up a steep hill, down a gully, through rushing water, boot-sucking mud , across a rickety bridge, or bushwhacking through thick scrub.
-He needs to be as agile as a show jumper....able to easily twist and turn around trees and bushes, boulders and hop over fallen logs.
- He needs to have the stamina of an endurance horse....because a 10 mile ride can easily turn into a 20 mile ride if his "on-board GPS" (aka rider) takes a wrong turn.
-He needs to have the calm mind of a rodeo pick-up horse....because many horses cannot hold it together under stress. But a good trail horse must be able to cope with the high emotional energy often coming from other horses in front, behind and either side of her. He needs to always be level-headed and sensible.
-He needs to manage being squashed against others like a polo pony....because on some trails his nose might be pushed against a tail in front, or flanks pressed side-by-side with rider's knees banging against other rider's knees, or another horse breathing down his back. He needs to have patience and get along well with others.
-He needs to cope with bursts of speed like a racehorse.....because if that "on-board GPS" (aka rider), stated above, turns the short ride into 20 miles you won't get home till dark if walking that whole distance, or you come across a nest of bees!!
-He needs to be a clever problem-solver with his mind and feet like a cutting horse....sometimes his rider is gonna get him stuck in places that seem impossible to get out of!
-He needs to be brave like a cow horse because not only will he have to deal with protective mama cows and bulls out on the trails, but she'll also be faced with mountain bikes, ATVs, motorcycles, strollers, tractors, logging equipment, chainsaws, horse-drawn carts, bullet-riddled appliances, floating plastic bags and balloons, booming thunder and pouring rain with flapping slickers, loose wild horses and burros, and all forms of wildlife.
-And they need to be cuddly and sweet like a child's pony....because he will spend countless hours exploring trails with his rider.”
The mustangs really excel at trail riding, whether it’s a leisurely ride or a more endurance-type ride! Ella has taken great care of me on the trail since her very first trail ride. She’s sure-footed and has common sense. If a deer or turkey bursts out of the bushes, they will startle her (and me), but she stops, faces them, realizes they are not a threat, and we move on! Wind, rain, obstacles – no matter what, I know that my little mustang can handle anything!
For the past couple of rides, I’ve just been letting Ella move out and go at her own pace, as long as she’s maintaining the gait that I’ve asked for. We’ve been on the road and in the pasture, just trying to cover some ground. There’s something special about that – nothing overly fancy, no “nit picking” her – just me and my horse being together.
There’s a spot on the road that she’s not a fan of. There are a lot of trees that make the stretch of road very spooky with ominous shadows, and sometimes the wind adds another factor with cracks and noises in the trees. Some days she’s not having it at all. “The boogeyman is in there, mom, I just know it!”
I can’t really blame her. In the wild, the horse that ventures into the ominous shadows alone is likely to become a snack. The safest place for them is back within the herd.
We’ll do the dance of me asking her to go, and her thinking that it’s safer not to. She’s not being mean or offering to buck or rear, she just doesn’t have the confidence at that moment. Sometimes with horses, it’s better to dismount and walk them through an obstacle rather than trying to force it and having something happen that sets you back. If necessary, I’ll hop off and show her that it’s ok.
There’s nothing better than watching her lower her head, sigh, and follow me right through. She trusts me enough to do what I ask, even if she’s still not 100% sure. “Ok mom, if you’re brave enough to go in there, so am I!”
The bond that we have formed is irreplaceable. We trust and respect each other, and I try to truly listen to whatever she’s saying. There will never be another Ella – love my little mustang mare 😊
The other day after we finished our ride, I walked Ella down the alley of the barn towards the ties, only to realize that I forgot her halter and leadrope in the arena. I wasn’t about to clip the tie to her hackamore, and didn’t want to drag her back over there. Luckily, she’s great at ground tying. I firmly told her to “whoa” and went back for her halter. She turned her head saying “hey, where are you going?” but didn’t move an inch. When I came back, she was in the exact same spot! Good girl, Ella 😊
Ground tying is something that every horse should know but is often bypassed in training. It comes in handy if you forget something like I did, if you need to step inside really quick, check out some terrain before asking your horse to cross, etc. There are so many situations where it proves valuable!
When I’m training young horses, or even horses for a tune up, I always have some ground tying lessons mixed in with my groundwork. Once a horse knows “whoa” and basic groundwork, they can learn to ground tie. The process is really quite simple. I ask for the horse to stay by putting slight pressure on the halter, dropping the leadrope, and saying “whoa.” Then I’ll walk away – only a few steps at first. If the horse takes more than one step, I simply put them back where they were and ask again. Once they start to understand, you can reward them with a treat, scratches, whatever you’d like. Just make sure that you are only rewarding the horse if they stay in their spot. You can increase the distance between you and your horse until you can go anywhere, and your horse will stay.
Ella was amazing today, from start to finish! We rode in the outdoor arena for about 30 minutes of continuous trotting and loping. I took her on different paths every lap so that we weren’t doing the same circle over and over. She was being super light and responsive to my seat and legs, and I only had to correct her path a couple of times (she saw her buddies haha).
Next we came into the indoor arena to cool off a bit and work on some bridleless maneuvers. We spent some time just walking around relaxed and moving off of my leg without any rein. She appreciated that 😊 We walked over the board bridge a couple times for a little bit of obstacle work. She hesitated initially but then went over several times flawlessly.
For our bridleless work I wanted her to walk and trot out, pivot, sidepass, back, and whoa strictly off of my leg, seat, and voice. No reins or neckrope at all. She did great! In fact, sometimes she would try to read my mind before I even asked for anything. She might over-anticipate certain maneuvers, but I would rather her do that than quit on me. Check out the video below for a different perspective of our bridleless work!