This trust in the rider can actually make the well-trained horse astonishingly stupid under saddle, however. When I was a kid our old stallion, Gay Bandit Chief, was a champion five-gaited Saddlebred who had been campaigned everywhere in his youth. He would, literally, charge unhesitatingly off a steep bank or over anything in his path if his rider pointed him at it. Bandit was a nasty-tempered creature but oh, so well trained.
The green horse, on the other hand, knows nothing, nothing! Take them out of familiar surroundings and you cannot predict what they will do. I would just love to see a story where the author's intrepid hero unwittingly got his hands on a barely-broken creature of the type so well portrayed in many Charlie Russell paintings. That "Bronc to Breakfast" was a staple of the cattle drive, when half-broken mustangs were expected to sweetly accept saddle, bridle and rider and go right to work. Check.
|"Bronc to Breakfast" by Charles M. Russell|
Horses have associative memories, so it is, unfortunately, possible to imprint exactly the wrong thing on them without even trying. Your defensive reaction to his playful grab for the treats he can smell in your pocket (a smart smack across the muzzle instead of the neck), may make him head-shy for a week. Your desperate grab for the reins as he leaps a ditch may make him anxious about approaching the next one, not knowing what he did wrong the first time. There is a huge difference between "training" and "subduing" the horse, and the difference comes out in how the poor beast reacts to strange situations.
The green horse is just...dumb. The rider must pay attention on these creatures. He might flounder his way over a young tree rather than around it because, hey, you pointed him at it and he trusted you to keep him out of trouble. On the other hand, he might decide that the young tree in the trail is from Mars and do a quick, amazingly agile swap of where his head and tail used to be and depart smartly back down the road toward home. You may or may not be with him when he goes.
Horses raised in pastures or in the wild are much smarter about these things, but conversely, they don't know about stalls, stables, wagons, cars, trains, wheelbarrows and other modern conveniences. These things are Monsters lurking to assault Horsey so far as he is concerned, and he will react to them, if only to give them a good, long look as he goes by. The flightier beasts will decide the bucket hanging on the wall over there is actually the portal of doom and refuse to walk by it, or be dragged by it, or be beaten past it by three stout grooms. The power of any given horse to defend itself against what it perceives as danger is immense, and should never be discounted.
So how do you get his attention and/or trust? When do you pick the fight and when do you wait it out? It is sometimes difficult to tell when the horse is truly frightened and when he's just playing head games with you. Patience is always best, but sometimes the horse just doesn't want to cooperate that day, and having won the battle, will remember it for next time. This can lead to much retraining if you don't get the drop on him and put an end to it quickly. Sometimes he will walk past the bucket just fine ninety-nine times, and on the hundredth approach pitch an epic fit. Why? Who knows? Maybe the bucket is swinging ever so slightly in the wind. Maybe somebody hung it up with the logo showing. Maybe this is the first time he actually noticed it, and now his little world is oh my god! DIFFERENT! Whatever. You now have a problem.
This is the time to engage the fight, when you know he knows better. If gentle soothing and sweet talk don't get him past it, find a whip. A gentle tap or two on his hind leg usually readjusts his attitude. If it escalates into a pitched battle, you really do have to win it, which may involve enlisting help, or simply waiting him out until he gets tired and walks past it. The more excited he gets, the worse off you are, as you are now making this a Big Effing Deal in his mind. The more excited you get, the less trust he has in you. The vicious circle in motion.
Welcome to horse training.
Remember that the green horse really doesn't know what you think he should know. His vision is different from yours, his sense of smell and hearing more acute, and he is unaccustomed to not reacting in whatever way he pleases to what he smells, sees, and hears. Your reflexive check of his instinctive reactions could send him into orbit. Nor has he learned the meaning of the confusing signals he's getting from the twitch of the bit in his mouth, the shift of your weight on his back (which he may or may not know how to balance without staggering), the creak of the saddle and the touch of the reins on his neck. He is nervous, anxious to understand what you want him to do (or sullen about the whole affair), and totally unpredictable. He may step over a four-inch pole on the ground or take a mighty leap to the moon. He may stand like a rock when you get on, or nearly fall over on top of you trying to adjust for your weight. He may accept a bird flying up in his face with wonderful equanimity, or have a meltdown over a motionless boulder beside the trail. He is constantly listening and watching for danger (and expecting it, too), with half his attention forever on the strange thing clinging to his back.
Put your hero on a green horse deliberately to create plot tension or to shape a scene around the horse's reactions (or the rider's reaction to the horse). Do not just put your rider on any old horse that comes along and expect it to be perfectly well broken and up to any situation. That is unrealistic, and contrary to how the real horse world works. Riding stables, dude ranches, and liveries might have an entire complement of broke-to-death horses in order not to incur lawsuits. It is doubtful that any large stable, traveling group, or horse dealership was ever stocked that way. Like the rest of us, horses only acquire experience by doing, which means that sometime, somewhere, someone is going to end up on a green one, with all the attendant, and interesting, consequences.
Have fun writing them! As always, I am open to your questions and comments. Please do share your personal experiences. I'd love to hear them.