Jacob, we have learned, vacations well.

I love this term, ‘vacations’, and the implications it has for horses (and humans) alike. While I don’t exactly imagine a horse on a beach, sipping piña coladas sprawled out on a lawn chair, the reality isn’t much different: a horse in a paddock, brought in to be brushed and farriered and occasionally doctored if need be, but otherwise spending his days grazing on grass and munching on hay. There might not be a tiny umbrella perched in their hay net, but the chill vibes are abundant.

I digress.

Jacob has been on a bit of a vacation these last few months as we work through a long list of horses who are less inclined to do well without a regular job. The Esmes and Addies and Edwards of this world continue to hone their craft towards being gentle riding horses (riding horses, they already are — adoptable, too! but riding is a practiced art, never one with an end point, and there are always things to work towards) while the Dominos and Bijous and Jacobs graze and nap and kick up their heels when and how they see fit. Jacob has been included in that latter category, the companion category, as we’ve let him settle back into his routine here at SAFE, as as we thought about what his future path would look like.

Jacob was adopted out as a companion horse, though he had been started under saddle and been doing some light riding before that time. Jacob’s confirmation is nothing to behold, but our vets felt that he could be comfortably maintained as a riding horse if what was asked of him was kept to a minimum. Now, with his return, we had to determine the path that would be best to take him on going forward, thinking first of his comfort.

So the last time Joel was here, we brought Jacob out for a brief assessment. Jacob’s main issue has always been his dullness (aka, his slow response time and lack of response to pressure) and his stuck feet. Our primary goal with Jacob is to help him learn that forward is his friend, and that being prompt about that forward motion is his best friend of them all. Jacob is not a horse who can or should be worked for long stretches — the best way to light a fire under a dull horse is to do so quickly and efficiently. Short bursts of movement help to build a positive foundation for Jacob, one where he does not tune his handler out, but instead is ready and waiting to be responsive to their ask. For a horse like Jacob, who likely went his entire eight years before meeting us learning how to and being rewarded for pushing people around, these changes will not happen overnight. Kaya, who worked with Jacob before he left and who is continuing that work now, limits her sessions with Jacob to usually total less than half an hour. But in that short window of time, she makes the work count. And there have been positive changes in Jacob since his vacation period ended and his reentry into work began.

Here’s the real crux of the story though, and why I brought up vacations in the first place: Jacob was last saddled many months ago, and ridden even before that time. On that initial day we brought him back out into the roundpen, we felt it would be as good a time as any to see how he would do ‘back in the saddle,’ and to our mild surprise, he didn’t even blink an eye as he was cinched up and sent around loose. It was like not a singular day had passed since he’d last been saddled.

But we are still at a crossroads when it comes to Jacob’s ultimate path. Our main goal, as is the baseline with all of our horses, is to help Jacob be as gentle and manageable on the ground as possible. And while he is, most of the time, there is still that lack of responsiveness and pushy element to him that can be at times unwieldy if he is allowed to take advantage of his handler. So helping Jacob become a better citizen is our primary focus. Secondary would be building his strength, and seeing about the sustainability of Jacob’s future as a riding horse. Like mentioned before, his shape is not suited for intense bouts of ridden work, but we will monitor him as he re-enters the working world and assess his comfort level as he continues to strengthen, both his body and his mind.

So while his vacation days might be over, I say that vacations are best appreciated after work anyway, right?