I adopted a paint / quarter horse from a Rescue when he was two and a half years old. He was cute as a button and in-your-pocket as a horse can be. I let him be for a while, and then got him some training until he was ride-able, but not to the point that I felt comfortable riding him on trails yet on my own.
For a long time all we did was some riding in the round pen. I had another rescue horse, a tall mare, my trail mount. In the pasture, she kept the little boy in check. Observing the two reminded me a lot of Monty Robert’s accounts of his wild horse observations in the Sierra Nevada before he became a horse whisperer. Hiding in the mountains and out of the wild horses’ sight, he studied the way mares were keeping young horses in check, which in turn helped him understand how young horses learn. My mare taught the young one boundaries by chasing him out of her space and biting him if he was crowding her or trying to snatch her food. But she was protective at the same time, always by his side. She also played with him – running and bucking together when let out to the pasture in the morning.
My mare was the young horse's leader and protector, as a mother protects and teaches a child. I got him more training, and yesterday I finally took him on his first short trail ride with my mare. I rode the mare and my friend, a very experienced rider, rode the gelding. Except for a little temper tantrum that my friend quickly got under control, the gelding did fine. He did more than fine. To my surprise, my mare kept wanting to follow him and he gladly took the lead, allowing me to watch how he was doing. We kept on riding, sometimes changing positions, but whenever my mare was in front, I could tell that she was hesitating and waiting for her adopted child to take the lead.
I was very proud of my boy, and of my mare, for teaching him so well. Who would have thought that the moment we hit the trail, my protective and strict mare was going to step aside and let this young horse take the lead. And he rose to the task beautifully.