When you want to ride out from the "barn," a barn-sour horse isn't such a good thing. I doubt there is an equine anywhere that doesn't exhibit the tendency, even if its just move slow away from the barn and dramatically pick up the pace as soon as their hay-fired GPS tells them they are headed back to the "barn." The degree to which a horse or mule exhibits this tendency has something to do with its own disposition, but even more to do with the disposition of the riders that have been in her saddle. Equines are very honest and they read people better than people read people. If you could ask your equine "Does this dress make me look fat?" expect the truth. Your husband, on the other hand fears sleeping on the couch and you should wonder if, "Oh MY, you look ravishing!" really means what the sum of each word in this phrase indicates.
With winter and short days settled in, some of this family have had a little less saddle-time. For them, this is how this past week went. One son who I won't name got on Goldie, our sweet tempered Quarter Horse mare to ride out with Tyler and me earlier in the week. Goldie said "no, I 'm not," which looked like this: little tiny tantrum, half hearted crow hop, and Tyler's brother bailed off. I had to get off my ass, get on Goldie and tell her "yes you are," which looked like this: little tiny tantrum, half hearted crow hop, a little bit of leg cue and directional re-alignment, then all is well. Tyler's brother got back on Goldie, I remounted my ass, and off we went for a cold, but pretty desert ride--everyone behaving perfectly.
Then, just yesterday, one of the girls in this family who I also won't name (we presume her innocent until proven guilty) bailed off Kate, our sweet tempered mustang, after Kate bluffed her way back home from a mile up the trail. All the way up the trail, Kate had been asking her rider a fundamental question. Its the question Pete asked his fellow escapees to whom he was chained in "Oh Brother, where art thou." Who's in charge of this outfit, anyway? It looked like this: wobble, wobble, how 'bout I go this way, or that way... Wow! You mean its OK if I kind of stop here and fuss for home? All right, a mile of this is enough, I'm going to be the boss now. Lets just turn around and trot on back--you can get off if you don't like it. And get off she did, bumping her head. Thank goodness Kailee's mom is OK.
I won't profess any real horse training skills here, but there is a foundational key that applies in this story and everywhere else in life. It is one piece of horse sense that I want my kids to learn, along with a few others. Horses are much like us in many ways. They don't like pressure or discomfort; and they really want to know who is in charge. In the Human/equine relationship, there has to be a boss--it goes to the core of the horses' herd instinct. The equine is hardwired to accept leadership, or give it. You can learn all kinds of techniques to communicate with your equine, some harsh, some gentle. But if you tell your equine through your bearing and body language that you aren't really in charge, then your equine will assume the role of boss. People brag about bomb-proof horses that will babysit kids, etc. Sure, there are individual variations in how tolerant each equine is, and so too in humans. But no equine sacrifices its self interest with out being led to do so by some type of pressure. Unlike Humans, they have no pure motive to act for the common good.
In preparation for our big wildnerness escape for this summer, we re-instated the "must ride at least once per week" for now rule and 2-3 days per week starting in March. Believe it or not, asking the kids to ride is a real chore. The boys prefer mucking stalls to riding. Just as the horses would rather stand around in the muck, my kids are a little barn-sour too.