Since dressage had always been her passion Thor’s mom started riding with a local dressage instructor. As she said Thor has a huge walk, a canter to die for and a trot that makes you want to die because it is so bouncy and big. She felt that dressage would suit Thor not only because of his elastic gates but also because he is innately an introvert and a thinker. Despite these characteristics she found that Thor could become very unconfident when learning something new or in new environments. She said that Thor seemed to expect to be reprimanded when he became unconfident and he would sometimes bolt before she realized that he was getting really concerned. The few dressage shows they went to were not fun for either of them as Thor was very tense and worried most of the time.
As Thor’s mom began to really think about their situation she realized that Thor’s confidence was a barrier to him being able to offer what was being asked of him. It was not that he would not do what was asked, but when he really got worried and lost his confidence he could not do what was being asked. Rather than trying to force Thor through his thresholds she sought out some horsemanship training with the Parelli organization with the goal of building Thor’s confidence in himself and her.
Unsurprisingly, all of the work that Thor and his mom put into their relationship on the ground really paid off in their dressage training. However competing Thor at dressage shows was no longer very important to his mom and they focused more on their work at home. They now knew how to read each other and neither of them jumped to assumptions when things went wrong or when they had a miscommunication. This meant they were able to work through any challenges they faced together without tension or bolting.
The liberty work eventually led to them riding without a bridle at all gaits. Thor would turn just from shifts in his mom’s weight, change gaits with cues only from her seat and legs, change directions, go over obstacles and small jumps all with others riding around them. For a horse that had confidence and trust issues when she bought him all of this was a testament to the relationship Thor and his mom had built.
Thor really began to shine and become playful during their liberty and bridle less sessions together. Although the original focus was on dressage and showing, in the end their partnership success was not measured at shows with ribbons or awards. As his mom said, “I think we were put together to help each other grow. I became a horse person, not just a rider. Thor became a trusting partner, not just a horse to be ridden.”
In 2009 Thor’s mom purchased an energetic 3-year old Andalusian named Alquimista with the goal of starting and training him as her future dressage partner. Thor really enjoyed having a younger brother. He and Alquimista had adjoining stalls and their mom would periodically turn them out together to play. Alquimista kept Thor young and Thor was a voice of reason for his impetuous sibling.
In the year leading up to his retirement it become increasingly more difficult for Thor to offer the hind end engagement required of dressage horses and he began to exhibit more stiffness in general. Thor’s mom thought hard about what she wanted for Thor’s future and felt that a situation meeting the following criteria could make both of them happy. She wanted 24/7 turnout on grass pasture with lots of room to roam and some hills to keep his joints moving. She also wanted a moderate climate out of the hurricane zone (Thor joined us from Florida and he was a non-sweater there). She also wanted Thor to be part of a herd and to retire at a farm that focused on retired horses rather than a boarding/training facility that had pasture space for retired horses. Finally, she wanted to continue to be involved in Thor’s life and we well-informed about how he was doing.
Fabrizzio, Walden and Thor showing how hard the retired life can be