Once upon a time, a not so young adult amateur maiden took her very green, oversized, five year old warmblood into the indoor arena for an evening ride. She lunged him both directions while other horse and rider pairs were running around him at various speeds. He listened intently to her quiet commands as she tried not to disrupt the lesson that was going on. Playful and young, he let out one adorably small buck and and kicked at nothing in particular when asked to pick up the trot but otherwise cruised around feeling good and trying hard to please his lady. One of the other riders marveled at his special trick of halting from any gait with the lightest whistle from his person. The maiden told her fellow rider that she wasn’t sure how she managed to teach him that particular trick, but she decided having an e-brake on a horse could be a really valuable thing. After the young steed had warmed up, completed several changes of gait, and released his youthful exuberance, the maiden swapped beating sticks and set off toward the mounting block to start her ride.
The castle that the maiden and her steed call home is also home to two resident sorceresses. One of these sorceresses has extremely powerful magic and rides a giant dragon. The dragon this sorceress rides is an exceptionally sensitive and complex ride. This dragon is so particular that if the slightest thing changes in his indoor arena he breathes fire. The sorceress all but demands that everyone in the realm abide by her strict instructions especially when it comes to the mounting block. If the mounting block is moved even one foot off of the arena wall or is turned a different direction, her dragon threatens to take down the castle. Never wanting to end up on the sorceress’ bad side, the maiden knew she would be responsible for teaching her young steed to follow the rules of the realm.
As the maiden approached the mounting block, the young steed followed dutifully behind her and stopped when she asked him. He was a little worried, though, because before when the maiden rode on his back it was kind of uncomfortable- the saddle pressed into his back in odd places and the whole process usually meant a lot of work. She would push her calves into his sides and then, to top it all off, she wouldn’t even let him choose where they went! The young steed was unsure if he wanted to do what the maiden was asking so when she grabbed the base of his mane and climbed up on the mounting block he took a few tentative steps backwards. The maiden cooed to him and stepped back off the mounting block.
“Maybe that was it!” he thought, “all I have to do is step backwards and she’ll decide not to ride me.” “I’ll be the best lunging horse in all the land and we will just show off the tricks she’s already taught me.” Emboldened that he might have learned a new trick, the young steed followed the maiden eagerly until… wait a minute! he found himself back at the mounting block. She had simply circled him, lined him back up, and was stepping up to try to ride him again. “Okay,” he thought, “this one is easy, I will give her the same answer because she is asking the same question.” The steed took a few steps backwards. Undaunted, the maiden asked him to step forward and tried again. The two went on like this for several rounds before the maiden decided to try teaching a new trick instead. She brought him up to the mounting block but this time did not get on the block. She said the word “stand!” loudly and firmly. The steed was already standing nicely so when his lady gave the command, he wasn’t exactly sure what she wanted. She walked around him and patted him in various places but didn’t get on the mounting block. Then she gave him a peppermint, for what, he wasn’t sure! The maiden said the command again, “stand!” and this time took a slow step up the mounting block. “That’s my cue,” the steed mused as he took a few steps back and casually swung his hip away. The maiden tried again and again to teach the steed to stand. He liked the peppermints very much, but he still wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do to get them.
Twenty minutes had gone by since the maiden had planned to start her ride and she was no closer to being in the saddle. Her resolve wavered for just a moment when she remembered how moving the mounting block so the steed was between the block and the wall had always worked in the past. The powerful sorceress wasn’t in the castle tonight anyway, what’s the harm? She brushed away the invading thought, “No! this is an extremely important lesson, no short cuts,” she lectured herself, picturing the sorceress’ wrath. She took a breath and tried to think of other ways to help the steed understand what she needed him to do. The maiden had heard tales of a wizard from a far away land who tried to help teach lesser magicians understand how to work magic using guiding principles. The maiden tried to understand the situation she was in and how some of the principles she had heard of from this wizard might help her work some magic on her own steed.
She was worried that her application of these principles might not be correct, after all, she’s no magician. She was tired of fighting with the steed and starting to come close to losing her patience- the LAST thing she wanted to do in the situation. Encouraged by the innocent expression of her steed, she found a few more threads of patience within her to grasp for support and tried a new way. She broke the problem down in her mind. “I can’t explain to him that his saddle fits him much better now and won’t be as uncomfortable as before. I can’t convince him that if he just learns this skill I will dismount and be done for the day and nor can I promise him that that would always be the case.”
“The problem is that he wants to move his feet.” The words of the foreign wizard echoed in her mind: “make the wrong thing hard, and the right thing easy.” She told the steed to “stand!” and slowly stepped up the mounting block. This time when the steed stepped backwards the maiden said to him, “okay, you want to move your feet? Let’s move them, then!” Calmly, but insistently, she backed the steed quickly for several steps and then flexed him and made him disengage his hind end several times in both directions. The steed thought the flexing was pretty tough! He half-heartedly resisted a few times but the maiden was swift and firm in her corrections. A couple of times when she tapped him with her stick he gasped and grunted, completely aghast that his lady would do that to him. But he kept his cool and tried harder to please her and puzzle out how to make the pressure stop. Finally she took him back over to the mounting block and commanded him to “stand!”. He gulped and took a deep breath. She stood still for a while, then patted him and he lowered his neck. But, old habits die hard and when she went to step up the mounting block he swung his hips away again. Feet wanting to move again- wrong answer- but it’s your choice. She kept the steed moving and took him back out in the arena insisting that he flex and yield his hind quarters and shoulders around her several times in both directions.
She returned him to the mounting block, asked him to “stand!” and then just breathed with him quietly for a minute. He seemed to be starting to sort things out. This time she was able to step up the mounting block without him moving his feet. She gave him a scratch and stepped back down. She climbed the block again and grabbed the base of his mane. He shifted his weight and took a half step back. A couple more times she made him work really hard every time he stepped away from the mounting block. Each time, though, the maiden would bring him over to the mounting block and she wouldn’t ask him for anything there. “Oh, okay,” he finally conceded, “I’m beginning to think that just standing here has got to be easier than all of that work I just had to do!” And so the steed planted his feet at the mounting block and stood like his maiden had asked. She mounted from the mounting block and still the mighty steed remained like a statue. The maiden beamed. She stroked the steeds neck and purred praises in his ear. She tapped his neck and reached down to give him a peppermint.
With one final scratch to his withers, the maiden and the steed set off on their ride. The maiden was calm and quiet asking only that the steed walk on a long rein. He marched around the arena loose and swinging with an even rhythm. The maiden was grinning from ear-to-ear because even though she only got to ride for 15 minutes, she fell in love with her noble steed all over again. She realized that the 15 minute ride was the most relaxed she had felt on a horse in years. Despite him being young and unbalanced she was able to breathe deeply, swing along with him, and try to get back the feel of her own seat. Eight months off of riding takes its toll. For the first time since she bought the steed, she felt at home in the saddle with him. The maiden had to marvel over the amazing things she and the steed had accomplished that day. She was proud of him for being so well behaved on the lunge line; for keeping a cool head and not reacting aggressively when her corrections were firm and she put a lot of pressure on him; and also for not shutting down from the pressure- he stayed present with her in the moment and tried to listen to what she was asking. She was also quite proud of herself for not losing her patience and keeping negative emotions out; for working through a problem and being fair but firm; and for being able to see the beauty of the moment.
Intent on ending on a good note, the maiden decided to leave all other plans for another day. She halted the steed and softly dismounted. Giving him a scratch on the wither and a kiss on the nose, the two walked side-by-side out the back gate into the starry night and they lived happily ever after.