Dexter by Karen Wegehenkel

Here’s an update from Dexter’s foster home:

Ultimately, I’ve fallen in love with this little guy. If he was a hand taller or I was a hand shorter, I’d keep him. He’s smart, athletic, tough, and funny, everything I like in a horse. But I do think he deserves a rider who doesn’t tower over him quite so much. He absorbs my leg very nicely, but while I’ve gotten used to riding him, I think a shorter rider would simply find him very easy to ride in comparison.

On the ground, he has really been minding his manners. I know I just jinxed us, but he has really been minding his Ps and Qs. His mouthiness on the ground is getting much better. Most days, with a little reminder, he can hang out calmly without getting mouthy about everything. That has taken some time, and I’m glad to see him remembering to respect my space on a daily basis. He has also become much better about respecting my space if he sees something scary on the ground. Early on, if he spooked at something, he would try to climb on top of me. Now, he’s learned that he can look at the scary thing but he needs to do it from his own space. This is a huge improvement.

Lately, our big projects under saddle have been developing a nice free walk throughout the ride, especially the beginning, and picking up lots of canter transitions. I’m on a semi-vacation from work, so I’m getting to spend lots of “couch” time with Dexter. He can come out a bit tense at the beginning and only really relax after our first trot set. I’m really working on taking the time to just hang out on his back in the arena for a few minutes before trying to get started. This gives him a chance to look at all of those other horses and relax. This has really helped him be able to walk on a longer rein at the beginning of the ride. The trot work is really all quite easy. He’s become much more even in strength behind, so making nice rhythmic circles without leaning on a shoulder has become a cake walk. He turns very nicely and easily off of the outside aids. Our walk-trot transitions are pretty decent. Or trot-walk transitions still need some work, but that’s just something that takes a downhill horse a little extra time. We started leg-yields at the trot today and he basically learned them in one ride. No problem!

Our big project is the canter. When he first got here and I tested out the canter, cantering just made everything worse. He was so off balance that he would get very tense and upset. Now, the more I challenge him with things like leg-yields and canter transitions, the better everything gets. He IS still pretty downhill at the canter, though he can canter on the bit for a few strides here and there. This week, I’m working on picking up the canter, cantering half a circle and then transitioning down to trot before the canter snowballs downhill. If he gets downhill and loses his balance, he can have a hard time going back to the trot and can be a bit of a speed demon. This is not a disobedience. He just doesn’t have the strength to rebalance himself yet. We’re doing a lot of work on it now and it is getting better every ride. Picking up the left lead is very easy. Picking up the right lead is harder, but interestingly enough, the canter is better once we’ve got it. The best thing is that even if the canter falls apart, he’s mentally relaxed enough that I can give him a long rein at the walk, regroup, pick up a nice trot and go back to work without it being a big deal.

He can still get nervous with a bunch of other horses. In our barn, they are ALL bigger than him and he has some confidence issues. I’ve been working on having people ride closer and closer to us and he is getting more and more relaxed about it, though this still needs time and work. And, in good news, despite the fact we’re rapidly moving into breeding season and have many mares in raging heat, he has been doing quite well with the whole thing. I know he could test that issue any day, but he has actually been having less issues with the mares than a couple of months ago.

I think he is nearly ready to try a permanent home again. I would like to have the canter a lot more solid and generally rideable and i would like to take him on some spring trails rides, but other than that I think I’ve nearly done what I can to set him up for success without him actually being my horse. He’s been handled seven days a week since he got here. He’s been slowly legged up into full training. He needs to stay in some sort of full training schedule! He’s a horse that thrives on daily work and consistency. He needs more miles in all areas of his life, but that is true for any horse his age, especially one with a slow start. I have no doubt that he will test his new owner on the ground and under saddle and that person does need to be very experienced and consistent, but his behavior has really improved with a few months of unwaveringly consistent handling. He’s too smart to NOT test, but I do believe this is a great horse for the right person.