I gave Henry Monday off, then headed out on Tuesday with the intention of doing a long stretchy trot in the field. Except somewhere between pulling into the driveway and getting out of my truck, I lost any tiny amount of motivation I had and instead decided that it had been way too long since we used our trusty neck rope. How about a tackless hack instead? We could go for a long walk and add some trot in there, and Henry and I would both get a change of pace.
So I pulled him out, brushed him off, picked his feet, grabbed his neck rope and an Ogilvy pad (aka my bareback pad) out of the tack room, put on my helmet, and off we went. First we wandered down the driveway towards the front pasture, then looped back up the side road toward the chicken coop. One of the barn workers was in there feeding the chickens, and when he saw me pass by, his eyes bugged out and he said “You ain’t got NOTHIN on?? YOU CRAZY!”. Direct quote. I just kinda laughed at him and said “You might be right!” and went off on our merry way to the field (where Henry was super, btw, and never put a hoof out of place).
I started thinking about it though, as we kept walking. Is it nuts to ride a pretty fit TB event horse around in the wide open with nothing but a neck rope? Maybe. Probably. I can’t think of another horse I would do it on. But I trust Henry a lot, and we’ve spent a long time building up our relationship to this point. I’ve had him for almost four years. We’ve done A LOT together. I know him inside and out, and he knows me inside and out. I can pretty much always guess how he’s going to react to something. I would also like to think that he trusts me just as much as I trust him. I think he knows that I won’t put him in an unfair situation, and I think he respects my authority as “leader” (most of the time, anyway). I’ve been really careful and deliberate about cultivating that part of our relationship over the years. I want him to always feel confident in what I’m asking him to do, and it’s really important to me that he trusts me.
I ride him bridleless with some kind of semi-regularity, every few months or so, and he is as predictable as any living breathing thing can be. Also, running off just is not something that he would ever do. Of all the things that are in Henny’s repertoire, running for no specific reason just is NOT one of them. Stop and graze with no warning, almost chunking me over his head? Yes. Spook at something and relocate 10′ sideways in the blink of an eye? Sure. But I’m almost as likely to fall off from those things with tack as I am without it. I know for a fact that he just isn’t going to take off in the field and leave me physically unable to stop him. If I fall off otherwise, then oh well, I fall off. Just like I might do on any other given day anyway.
I really do enjoy our little tackless fun days, and they present a great opportunity to work on riding only from my seat and leg. Let’s be honest, it’s pretty neat to do figure 8’s of 10 meter circles in the middle of a giant field with no tack on. We spend a whole lot of time doing hard serious work, so it’s nice to just have a little bit of relaxed, no pressure, pure fun sometimes. Most of all though I’m just super appreciative to have a horse that can gallop around XC like a total badass on Sunday and then trot around the field with no tack on Tuesday. Horses like that don’t come along often, and I’m going to enjoy mine as much as I can for as long as I can. If that means I’m crazy… I’m okay with that.