One thing I made the time to do while Tom was gone was to spend a lot of time working with the horses. The big accomplishment during this time was finally backing Elphie, so we now have five saddle horses, leaving Lodo as the solo freeloader. We’ve been working with Elphie since we got her as a six or eight month old, and we’d done enough ground work that she was mentally ready to back months ago, but we wanted to wait until she got a little bigger. We’ve been waiting, and she hasn’t grown much, so I was at the end of the list of things I could do with her without getting on her back. We’d considered getting someone smaller to back her, but I was reluctant to put a kid on her since we weren’t positive she’d be good, and while I also considered finding a Belizean to do the job since we know of many Belizeans smaller than Tom or I who would be willing and able to do it, I go for a more gentle approach to breaking a horse than most of the cowboys around here. I figured that after all we’d done with Elphie, she’d probably be like the last one we broke, Patrick, and getting on her would be mostly an anticlimax – and I was afraid that if I asked a Belizean cowboy to get on her, we’d have a yee-haw ride’em cowboy rodeo as she was kicked and whipped and jerked in the mouth and generally made to behave as badly as possible so the cowboy could show her who was boss. That was the last thing I wanted for this sweet little filly.
So, I tacked her up, ground drove her for a few minutes, and then put a five gallon jug of water on her back so she could feel what it was like to move with weight on her back. As soon as she figured out it was possible to move her legs, she was fine. Then I leaned over the saddle and let her walk around as I steered her. No problem. I put one foot in the stirrup and stood over her back, still letting her walk around with me steering. Ho hum. Then I turned around and sat my butt in the saddle, riding side-saddle for a quick escape. Not even an ear twitch. Finally, I threw my leg over and got in the saddle, gave her a squeeze to move forward, and that was that. She seemed to be saying “That’s a much more logical place for you to steer from than running behind me.” We walked up and down the driveway a few times, around the guest cabin, back down the driveway, around the front pasture, and then out the driveway and down the road. That was that.
I realized that I didn’t have a camera person around to record the moment for posterity, so the next time I rode her, which was equally without incident, I put the wildlife camera from Erik and Rhea on the fence post and got a couple of pictures with the motion sensing camera. I look as funny on her as I expected to look – she’s certainly not a 17 hand thoroughbred! – but she seems to be okay carrying me. And, now that Marjie is here, she’s willing to ride her and I’m sure Elphie will appreciate her skinny 5’2” frame instead of my 5’10”. As my friend Vicky said when I sent her the picture, all I need to do if I want her to stop is unfold my legs and drag my heels! We’re still not entirely sure what we’ll do with her. If she continues to be as good as she’s been, she’ll be a good trail horse for kids or very small women, and we may use her as a pack horse when we start doing overnight camping trips. Whatever she does, she’s a pleasure to work with and a real sweetheart, and we’ll be glad to let her earn a little bit of her keep!