Thor is a Holsteiner/Thoroughbred cross who joined us for retirement this past spring. Thor’s mom has owned and ridden horses since she was in her teens. She ended up taking a 15 year break from horses to concentrate on raising her family. As it always happens with teenagers, the day came that her kids decided it was no longer cool to be seen at the mall and were busy with their own activities. In an effort not to become a clingy helicopter parent she decided to find a local barn and start taking riding lessons again.
Thor happened to be boarded at the barn where his mom began her re-entry into horses, and in fact her very first lesson as a “re-rider” was on Thor. She must have felt like it was her lucky day to have her very first ride on a horse after a 15 year hiatus on a gorgeous, black 17 hand horse. Thor’s owner at the time had received Thor as repayment for a debt that had been owed. She did not ride or visit him much and Thor did not really have a job or a person paying attention to him so he was used in lessons. Thor’s mom began riding him regularly. When she learned that Thor’s owner had decided to sell him due to financial difficulties she decided to buy him even though she had no intentions of purchasing a horse at that time. She just knew that she wanted to be Thor’s person, and in 2005 she became Thor’s mom.
Thor and his mom playing in the water
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.
Thor patiently posing for Christmas pictures for his mom
Thor on the right and his “little brother” Alquimista on the left posting for Christmas pictures
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.
Thor and his mom tackling one of the obstacles at the Parelli center
Thor and his mom attended several horsemanship courses at the Florida Parelli center where she learned about horse and herd psychology, how to read horses’ body language and how to adjust her approach to be a successful partner and leader for Thor. Their first course was on-line work focused on training her to apply techniques to build their trust and partnership on the ground. The course format gave her two solid weeks to spend with Thor in a horse friendly group environment with lots of opportunities to build his confidence.
Thor and his mom
During those two weeks Thor got over his fear of puddles and actually went knee deep into a lake and spent 20 minutes splashing and pawing water all over both of them. He jumped over logs, went through car wash obstacles, over tarps, in between tires, through tents, and over wooden bridges. Of course all of these things were scary for Thor at first. The point was to apply the horsemanship skills to help Thor overcome his fear and offer, rather than be made, to expand his thresholds.
Thor on the left playing with his little brother Alquimista in Florida
One of their breakthrough moments towards the end of the two week course was when Thor slipped and fell on his side after cantering over a log on-line. Thor initially had the familiar look of panic in his eyes. Instead of running to him Thor’s mom dropped the rope and waited. Thor took a deep breath, his eyes softened and he calmly got up and they continued on. Later that day, she was running next to Thor on-line through some obstacles on a hillside. His mom stumbled, twisted her ankle and fell down. Even though they were going at a pretty fast pace downhill, Thor immediately noticed that she was no longer next to him. Thor stopped and faced his mom and waited for her to get up. She got up, picked up the line and Thor matched her pace as she limped down the hill to a bench.
Thor leading a run through the pasture at our farm with O’Reilly and Lucky following him
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.
In addition to continuing their dressage training Thor and his mom took more horsemanship courses. This led them to doing some amazing liberty work where Thor had no halter or line. Thor would stick with his mom even with others riding around them. He would change direction at different gates, trot when she trotted, canter when she cantered, he learned to do spins, open gates with his nose, and even learned to back onto a horse trailer.
Thor (center) grazing with his friends at Paradigm Farms
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.”
Thor and Lightening galloping through the pasture at our farm
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
Luckily we were able to meet all of his mom’s requirements and Thor joined us several months ago in the spring. We have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know Thor during that time. I always tell his mom that their work together shines through as Thor’s ground manners are impeccable. He is always an incredibly friendly and polite horse to live with. Thor has taken well to the retired life and loves to hang out with his buddies, graze, nap and sometimes go for a gallop through the pasture.
We hope you have enjoyed getting to know Thor as much as we have!