Sunday, June 16, 2013

Heading for Collection

I've shown horses for a long time.  There were two things that my Mom was really good at spotting for me from the sidelines, head set and leads.  After I would come out of the ring she would always have a comment  for me about Cory's head set in that particular class.  It's a big deal when you are showing.  For the non-initiated, head set is referring to where that horse is carrying it's head.  In most styles of riding you want that horse to break at the poll (the top of the head) and carry his head vertical.  Depending on the horse, and the breed and the discipline the head will need to be set either at the withers of above the withers.   And we spend an awful lot of time worrying about that in the show ring.

That's been a very hard thing for me to let go of as I've explored this style of riding.  There is no "head set" in true Vaquero style riding.  Instead of focusing on trends in the styles displayed in the show ring we  focus on creating a soft and balanced horse by concentrating on their entire body.  You definitely want them soft in the poll and giving to your hands, but where they carry the head when they are working is much less important.

Collection is not a head set.  Head set can actually be detrimental to true collection when it is done incorrectly.  Many of the horses that you see in the show ring (I'm going to pick on AQHA western pleasure because it provides the most copious examples of this) have a beautiful straight up and down head set that is carried level with their withers.  However when you watch that horse move, they do not bring their hindquarters forward under their belly.  True collection goes from the tip of the nose to the hind feet, and when you are talking about building collection it actually starts in the  hind feet and not in the head at all.  Because we as humans are terrible at messing up a good thing, we have actually bred horses to look more naturally like what we want them to look like in the show ring.  So horses that have a natural level head and neck and a sloping hip that looks like they are already rounded and tucked up under themselves.  Those horses look like they travel along in perfect pleasure collection.  You can tell if collection is true or not by looking at their stride.  If the hind feet are not reaching forward under the belly to at least the back cinch then they are not collected and truly shifting that center of gravity backwards towards the hind end.

I think you can see by looking at that horse how heavy he will feel on the front end.  His butt is going to be higher than his head and whithers and there is no way he can round himself up enough to place his hind feet underneath him.  The other interesting thing about this style of riding is that because it shifts the weight so far forward and the pleasure seat of the rider so far back on these long bodied horses the rider is always behind the movement of the horse.  You can see it when they lope, especially.  Instead of the riders hips and shoulders moving in conjunction with the horse they move just a beat behind.  Luckily everything is happening so slow that it looks smooth anyway.  

Just to be fair, let's also look at the other extreme in Park Pleasure horses in the Morgans, Arabs and Saddlebreds.  Those horses are in a double bridle completely cranked into a hollowed out head set.  Their heads and necks are back and up creating a hollow in the back and forcing the hind feet out behind them.  They almost can't round and bring those hind feet forward.  This does allow for elevation in the front end and that exaggerated prancing gait, but it is definitely not collection in it's true sense.  If you watch these horses move and are able to take your eyes off their gorgeous elevated front ends to look at the back end you will find that they don't bring their back feet even under their hips.  Often all of the action in the hind feet is right under their hocks.  For these horses the center of gravity is still right behind the whither but they have inverted themselves through the back and neck so that they are able to move those parts of their body almost independently.  You can mimic this a bit if you walk with a severe reverse arc in your back with your butt sticking out behind you and your shoulders cranked back as far as you can with your head elevated as far as you are able. It's not near as pretty on a person!

Park pleasure riders ride so far back behind the center of gravity that the front end is completely elevated.  These horses have been bred with long backward sloping shoulders and heads and necks so naturally elevated that they have a difficult time moving any other way.   Here is another example of Park Harness horse in full collection that really illustrates the hollowness in the back.

When a horse is collected properly it shifts his center of gravity back closer to  his hind feet.  A horse's center of gravity when he is just standing around is about at his withers.  This causes him to carry the majority of his weight on his front end.  No problems, that's how the horse is designed due to spending the majority of his time with his head on the ground eating.  However when a horse has to stop and turn and move to avoid getting eaten by a tiger he picks his head up, elevates his shoulders and shifts that weight to his hocks to improve his athletic stance and get the heck down the road to leave the tiger in the dust.  This is all something that a horse does naturally.

All of the athletic maneuvers that we ask a horse to do (with maybe the exception of cutting where a horse is down low in the front staring a cow in the eyes) requires a horse to be back and his hocks, supporting at least half of his weight there so he can stop and turn, roll back, canter pirouette, hold a calf, etc.  But when you look at the current trends in many of the western disciplines that pretty and trendy "headset" has that horse's nose at his knees with his head at or  below level.  What that creates is a posture in the horse similar to a dowagers hump in an old lady that has had poor posture her entire life.  Try it for yourself.  Scoot your butt under you (you can do it standing on two feet) and then drop your head so you are looking at the world from the tops of your eyes.  Your shoulders will have to scrunch a little and your back will round at about the 5th thoracic vertebrae.  How athletic do you feel right about now?  That's the current stance in a horse doing reining.  Try and run forward and stop in that curved up ball.

Now, instead, elevate your head and relax your shoulders.  Scoot your but under you a bit and create a slight rounding through your entire back.  With your head and shoulders elevated more you should feel ready to turn, stop, go forward and react to stimuli around you.  Now run forward and stop with your butt tucked under.  If you had to stop and roll back your body and go the other way you should feel better prepared to do that.

Now, of course we are two footed animals so the analogy isn't completely accurate, but when we are riding the horse mimics our body position.  Your balance and position help the horse to learn how to carry himself. If you want freedom of movement in your horse's shoulders, you need to have elevation and freedom in your own shoulders to communicate that posture to the horse.  If your shoulders are hunched and heavy, your horse's shoulders will be too.  If you look at the rider in the picture of the reining horse you can see that his body is perfectly mimicked by the horse.

If you are up in an athletic stance on the balls of your feet in the saddle with your shoulders up and back your  weight is balanced and the horse is able to feel the movement of your body and mimic it.  They can them come up into your hands and move their front end around their back end with fluid movement.  When the horse learns that he can trust where your body position is to give him the right cues for what he should be doing with his body you'll be amazed at the harmony that creates. While it may not look like a pretty finished show horse it feels amazing underneath you because it is soft, and round and responsive. That's what a truly collected horse should feel like.

The other great thing about the vaquero tradition is that no two horses are going to look alike because no two horses are built quite alike.  You aren't trying to force your horse into a false frame of collection in order to fit the current trends you are trying to create the most balanced and correct posture that your particular horse is able to carry.  Here is a great example of Bruce Sandifer, a California horseman training using the principles of the vaquero tradition.  It looks a whole lot different that the sliding stop that is currently winning in the reining pen.

Notice how light that horse is on the bit.  A true spade bit horse will not experience much tension in the reins.  It's a lifting of the bridle reins, not a pulling.  This horse is also mimicking the body position of his rider.  His feet are pushed forward under his body and his head and shoulders are up and back in an open position making him ready and able to move his body for the next move of that cow. This horse is in the 2 rein set up and so has the bosal and mecate  under his bridle in case things get faster than what he is ready for in the bit.  

That's the kind of collection that we are working for.  Head set has no meaning to us anymore.  The horse should be soft to your hands (we call that soft feel) and should give at the poll but we aren't going to be picky about where that head ends up as long as the collection goes from the back feet, through the croup all the way to the head and shoulders and into our hands.  Here's a great example of it looking different because of how two horses are built.  The first one is me and Moony, the Morgan horse, the second is Dan and Salsa, the Quarter Horse.  Both are showing collection through their body and soft feel in the bosal.


Collection and soft feel go hand in hand, quite literally and I think I'll explore that connection in the next blog post.  Stay tuned!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Can't call them cowboy until you see them ride.

Ever heard that old saying, "you can't call them cowboy until you see them ride?"  It's very true that you can't judge somebody's horsemanship skills just by the boots they are wearing, but you can often tell their lack of horsemanship by the boots/shoes and tack they are putting on their horse.

This blog is probably going to make me sound like a tack snob and may offend some folks, so I apologize for that in advance.  If you do get offended, it's probably because I'm talking about you.  Instead of being offended, take what I say to heart.  Your horse will thank you and your horsemanship journey will take a definitive step forward. 

Dan and I recently had the opportunity to go on a group trail ride with about 30 adult riders who were strangers to us.  We didn't know a soul there and as we were tacking up it's normal to look around and assess what kind of folks we will be embarking on this adventure with. 

You can see all kinds of strange things in these settings.  Lots of small ruckuses as horses were being unloaded and tacked up.  Lots of "WHOA"s, "STAND"s and "QUIT!"s and the horses danced around or refused to be bridled. We watched one poor lady with a huge draft cross attempt to bridle her horse for about 15 minutes.   Of course, many horses don't get out much and this much excitement can sure get a horse acting much less trained than they would be at home.  

As the horses all gather around waiting to head out you get to see how folks have outfitted themselves for this little pleasure ride.  Obviously, this isn't a show so fancy tack and clothes are not necessary.  But we are going to be out in the hot sun, exposed to the elements and riding down what could be a brushy trail.  Lots of the women chose flounsy light weight sleeveless blouses and tank tops for the ride.  They all returned sunburned and scratched from brush.    

The other thing you'll notice is folks choice of saddle.  Lots of folks like the lightweight codura plastic saddles.  They are cheap, easy to clean (because you don't ever have to) and come in a variety of colors.  Unfortunately they don't tend to fit a horse very well, nor do they stay put on a horse very well and often cause sores, galls, and other issues for the horse.  Most of the time that's not an issue because they are so uncomfortable folks that use those saddles don't spend a whole lot of time in them.  Several of these saddles didn't even make it up the first hill. 

Australian style saddles are also a  popular alternative for some weekend warriors.  They are very cheap to buy (you can get a brand new one for 300 bucks) and they give a new rider a certain sense of security because they have those big things that lock your leg in.  Unfortunately they also don't tend to be a great fit and slide all around. They also put you in a weird feet forward lounge chair position causing the horse to lift it's head and hollow out.  Not much of a problem for cruising down the trail, until you are going uphill.  

The other thing a horseman will tend to notice on another rider's rig is their choice of bit.  You can tell a lot about a rider by their choice of bit and what their horse is doing with it.  You have the quiet old trail horses that just plug along in any old bit.  They are usually wearing something with large shanks, have a pretty decent callus in the corner of their mouths and don't seem to really notice the bit is there.  It's fun to watch those folks try and pull their horse's heads out of the grass.   On a group trail ride like this you really want to avoid anybody trail riding in a gag bit.  Those are generally the weekend gamers that decided to take their hopped up gaming horse out for a bit of a change of scenery.  If you see a gag bit, that's almost a guarantee that horse is going to be a prancer, dancer, and whirler.  It's the whirling you really have to watch out for.  We also were treated to the unique sighting of a horse wearing a bit upside down.  The shank pieces were about halfway up the horse's face.  I'm sure she had to punch extra holes into the cheek pieces on the headstall in order to get the sides up that far to accommodate the extra long shanks.  This bit was also a pelham that had another ring at the sides of the mouth.  That's where she attached the chin strap.  I pointed out to her that her bit was indeed upside down and made mention that the horse might be more comfortable if she turned it around.  She explained that it was a special gaited horse bit and that a professional gaited horse clinician had shown her how to put this bit on.  Uh huh.  I didn't get close enough to see if she also had the bit on backwards so that the curve was going the wrong way.  I hope for the horse's sake that she didn't.  

There are a whole lot of folks with horses just doing the best they can.  They are learning and attempting horsemanship on a budget and I do understand that.  I was there once too. I've ridden in tennis shoes and tank tops with nylon headstalls. It was fun when I was a kid.  I didn't really care if my horse was under his best behavior because that was part of the adventure.   But if you are serious about your horsemanship and trying to be the best you can be for your horse, you really should buy the best quality tack you can afford and take care of it and know how to use it properly and outfit yourself with the same care. 

A good quality saddle that is well made and fits your horse is important.  It doesn't have to be brand new, there are many many good used saddles out there that you can find.  Good leather and a solid tree are so important for the safety of the rider and the comfort of the horse.  You'd be amazed at what putting yourself in a proper position will do for helping your horse move to the best of his ability and keep you both happy and safe on the ride. You would be so much farther ahead to buy a used saddle for 500 bucks that was once a 3,000 dollar saddle than you would be to buy a brand new saddle for 300 bucks.  I guarantee that anything you buy new for less than 1,000 if it's a western saddle is not worth the money you paid for it.

Aside from outfitting your horse in tack that is of good quality, clean and fitted to your horse, you should take yourself seriously enough to dress the part of a horseman.  If you show up to ride looking like a gunsel, your mental state is already not in the best place.  When you take pride in  your appearance, your gear, and your horse you will take your horsemanship seriously and attempt to be the best that you can be for your horse.  That's a lesson that a lot of our younger generation could take to heart for more than just horsemanship.  Take yourselves seriously enough to care about your appearance a little and other folks might take you a bit more seriously as well. I, for one, honestly can't hear a word somebody is saying if they have a huge plastic spacer in their ear or have their pants around their anus.

It doesn't have to be fancy, just practical.  If you can't take yourself seriously, how is your horse supposed to take it seriously.  We always expect the best from our horses, but we need to be giving 100% as well. Once you learn to give everything you've got to your time with your horse, you can begin to expect 100% from him too.

But wait, you might say, I'm not going to be serious about this, I just want to trail ride.  Isn't the trail ride more enjoyable when your horse is a willing partner?  Let me tell you, for certainty that it is.  Those folks on that ride with us this past weekend had all sorts of trouble.  Saddles slipping off, horses baulking because of tack pinching, horses jigging, rearing, bolting, bucking, whirling and kicking.  It didn't look like much fun to me. Not to mention the women that got terribly burned and scratched from wearing the wrong clothes.  I'm guessing there were also some saddle sores from some designer jeans that were riding up.

So, do yourselves and your horses a favor.  Ride like you mean it.  The correct attitude about your horsemanship begins with you.  Care enough to make having the right gear a priority.  Wear proper fitting clothing appropriate to the activity.  Groom the stinking knots out of your horse's mane, for crying out loud. Wear boots or other proper riding footwear.  Wear a shirt that covers most of your torso and could be of some benefit if you were pitched into a thorn bush.  I shouldn't have to say this, but girls, if you are chesty at all, a riding bra is going to make your day much more comfortable.  

If you aren't sure if your tack is adjusted properly, ask.  But don't ask somebody else with a plastic saddle.  Look for the person on the best groomed horse, with a nice leather saddle that has boots and jeans on and has a horse standing quietly.  They will be sitting off by themselves somewhere keeping their horse out of the way of all the whirling, kicking, squealing and jigging.  Their horse will be standing quietly with a leg cocked.  They may be smirking just a little.  That's the one you need to ask for some help.   Believe, me, they will be happy you asked. 

Friday, June 7, 2013

Learn to let go

I don't know how many times I've heard it.  A million or more from different trainers talking about different things.  It's one of the fundamentals of the natural horsemanship movement and the foundation for what good horsemen have been doing with horses for years.

Horses don't learn from pressure, they learn from the release of pressure

Once you understand this, and I mean really understand it,  training horses is easy.  Super easy.  All you do, no matter what you are training a horse to do is release your signal or cue or pressure when they give the appropriate response.  Horses are pre-programmed to "get" that.

The hang up comes if you don't have a clear picture of what you are after in the horse or if you don't have the timing to release at just the right time.  Then you are rewarding the horse for behavior you don't intend to and the horse gets confused and quits responding or retaliates because you aren't making any sense.

I experienced a really good example of this tonight.  We got home after work and had about 20 minutes between thunderstorms to work with our horses.  We jumped out of the truck and grabbed halters eyeing the skyline the entire time.  I chose to grab my 2 year old colt because 20 minutes of groundwork with him is still productive whereas 20 minutes of riding my other geldings is almost counter productive.  You can barely get them warmed up in that amount of time.

So, I saddled my 2 year old to do some groundwork and decided to work on the exercise where you teach the horse to pick you up off the fence.  I've had nothing but frustration with this particular exercise.  I've watched Buck Brannaman do it several times and he makes it look incredibly easy.  You just bump the horse until he steps towards you. No biggie.  Yeah, right.  I've tried and tried to get the horse to step towards me.  All they do is stand perpendicular to you and the fence with their head in your lap.

But this weekend we watched Bryan Neubert teach this exercise.  I love Bryan.  He makes things so simple. He explained that the entire goal of the exercise is to release when the horse's hind leg (the one furthest from the fence) comes towards you.  Duh.  Why didn't anybody ever say that?  Of course that's what we're after because then the horse steps his hip towards the fence.  So, after attempting (unsuccessfully, I might add) to teach this to my other two geldings, I tried it with Kit tonight.  10 minutes.  Seriously.  All it took was 10 minutes for me to communicate to him that all I was asking was for him to move his butt towards the fence and me and then I was climbing on board from the fence.

Clarity in communication is so important in our horsemanship.  And in life in general, isn't it?  Once you are able to calmly and effective communicate what you are asking, horses and humans seem more than willing to comply.  It's not that Kit is smarter or more willing or more trainable than my other two horses.  It's that I finally had a clear understanding on exactly what behavior I needed to release for.

Another example of teaching by releasing was demonstrated to me by a client this past week.  These clients are new to horses and have their hands full with a couple of youngsters that they are trying to do their best with.  One of the young horses cut her leg a few weeks ago.  She is a yearling and a handful and only recently was halter broke.  Not good timing for having to do some doctoring on her.  I figured once we got her sedated it wouldn't be a big deal but this little youngster has a ton of fight in her.  She is a leaver.  Anytime you do something she doesn't like she bolts.  Past you, over you, through you, she's not picky.  Trying to keep her from bolting is almost impossible.

Unfortunately, these folks, in an attempt to keep her calm when she would get upset and need to bolt they would just let her go.  While I understand their thinking, "let's not contain her and make it worse",  but they were inadvertently rewarding her bolting behavior until you almost couldn't get near her without her leaving the zip code.  Eventually it got to the point that I couldn't even sedate her because I couldn't get anywhere near her.

So, I took the lead rope from them and let her bolt around me, but kept her in a circle.  I kept touching her and just asking her to key in and hang out with me but allowed her to leave if she needed to, but only in a tight circle around me.  It took her 3 or 4 minutes before she realized that bolting was no longer the answer and she decided standing still was. I never made her stay with me.  I just didn't release the pressure of the bumping on her nose until she stopped her mad dash around me.  I sedated her and we got on with our treatment.   I was amazed how fast she gave in.  She had initially started bolting because she was scared, but because she kept getting release from that behavior she kept it up.  Once she didn't get release from it anymore she quit so fast you would have never believed it had been a problem for her.

So, you can just as easily reinforce bad behavior as you can good behavior depending on when the release comes.  That's when timing comes into play.  And that is a whole 'nother topic!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Trying for Try

The desire to learn and improve and grow is a fundamental part of each and every one of us.  Some have it in greater measure than others.  All children have it.  Learning, when you are young, is fun and exciting.  Somewhere along the line, many kids learn to associate learning with work and many then begin to hate school and want only vacation and fun time.  When I tell a kid interested in being a vet that I went to school for 12 years AFTER high school I can watch their face fall.  That sounds painfully long and impossible to many.  The ones that I  know will make it don't bat an eye.  School is still fun for them.

In horses we call that drive to learn and grow, try.  It's what keeps your horse actively participating in the learning process.  All horses are born with some amount of try and if it is cultivated, it grows until a horse learns how to learn.  Those are the truly great horses.  They want to excel and learn new things.  They are often described as having a lot of heart, or being super smart.  I believe it all comes down to try.

There are so many things about the vaquero tradition that I love, but the attention and importance placed on maintaining try is one of my favorite.  It's so much fun to work with a horse that is actively participating in the lessons and "trying" to figure out what is being asked of it.  You can watch a horse with try search for the correct answer when they are asked to do something new.  If you have good timing and feel and can release your cue and reward the horse when his try has produced the correct answer you are on your way to building a horse that is light, responsive and content in it's work.

I think one of the best exercises to demonstrate try in a horse is one that Buck Brannaman talks about.  Your horse should already understand how to break the hind quarters over and how to flex laterally with the lightest feel on the reins to do this exercise.  When you ask the horse to flex and follow that lateral feel over instead of releasing with the flex you just hold it.  You don't change your body position, you don't pull harder, you wait for the horse to begin exploring.  Eventually the horse will start to try other things to look for that release which he should know is the signal that he found the right answer.  When the horse breaks that hind end over you release, pet him and do it on the other side.  Eventually that horse will break his hindquarters over as soon as you lightly pick up on that rein.  As soon as he is doing that you hold instead of release.

The idea is that the cue hasn't changed but the response that you are looking for with the cue has.  Now you hold until your horse's feet stop and he just gives to you laterally and then you release.  Eventually the horse will just bring the head around and flex and not move his feet.  If you continue switching back and forth between rewarding for flexing and rewarding for breaking the HQ over what will happen is your horse will only wait a fraction for you to release before offering the other option.  They begin to trust that you will provide the release if they provide the try.  It also demonstrates to the horse that you will wait.  You will wait, without punishment for them to figure it out.

The first time I watched Buck do this exercise I thought it would take a ton of time for my horse to figure out the difference and he would confused and anxious  not getting the release of pressure.  Not so at all.  I was amazed at how quickly Moony figured it out.  Maybe three attempts total before he was quickly switching from one response to the other.  Not upset in the least, just searching for the answer when the first one wasn't right.  Moony has a ton of try and trust that I will not punish him if the answer isn't the right one.

Chico, my older gelding didn't do as well with this exercise.  I've been riding Chico since he was three and I haven't always done the best job with my horsemanship with him.  I've cultivated braces and allowed for sloppy responses out of laziness and ignorance.  Chico has been ridden in such a way that I do all the work and he just goes along. I hold him in place with my aids when I ride.  It's not all bad and many many folks believe that's the way a horse should be.  They believe the horse shouldn't take a step that hasn't been dictated by it's owner.  You are responsible for each and every hoof fall.  Essentially, that style of riding removes the responsibility from the horse.  They give up and become drones.  Chico is still enough of a goof ball that he isn't completely at the drone phase.  He is in an unfortunate middle place as I try and bring him back into being responsible for his own body.

When I did this exercise with Chico and held the rein instead of releasing he did what he had been taught to do.  He leaned on it.  For a very long time.  Took a little snooze as a matter of fact.  He's so used to being held, drug around, and giving up the initiative in our activities that he just figured I wanted his head turned that way and he was totally okay with it.  Eventually something caught his attention and he went to turn his head the other way, ran into the pressure there and thought, maybe he should try and do something to get out of it so he gave his HQ in an attempt to at least move in a circle so he could see the other direction.  I worked on this exercise with him for about 20 minutes that day with very little change in his ability to try and search for a different answer.

Some might look at the difference in the two horses and say, Moony is just way smarter than Chico.  I can tell you that isn't true.  I know Chico is amazingly smart.  He can reason out all kinds of things when he is left to his own devices.  Unfortunately, because of the way I've ridden him for the past 8 years he doesn't always take initiative when we are together anymore.

Another reason that Chico has quit trying in our riding is that he often was punished for showing initiative or try.  Many folks believe that you should never let your horse anticipate.  If you are doing an exercise, say a figure 8 and the horse anticipates that turn you are supposed to go the other way.  Never let the horse pick which direction you are going.  You don't want that horse thinking for itself.  I've ridden that way for years believing I was teaching my horse that I AM MASTER, YOU ARE HORSE.  It's death on try.  I've heard trainers actually say, "just keep doing this (banging, yanking, thunking) until the horse give up."  Not gives, but gives up.  That's the kind of training program that creates drones, not partners.

Most of the folks that train the try into the horse want that horse thinking.  When the horse knows it's job and understand where it's supposed to be it makes the partnership that much more valuable.  Even if the horse chooses incorrectly sometimes you don't punish the horse, you just say thanks, but no thanks, we're going this way this time.  And then sometimes you go the way the horse is set up to go if there is no reason not to. Why punish the horse for being all set up to go one direction?

A good example of when you want your horse to be choosing where he needs to be is in trailing a cow.  That horse can understand and read that cow better than we can.  Their first language is body language and once the horse understands how to react and read a cow they will forever be better at it that we are.  If the horse is taught that it's good to try and we want some initiative from them, they will be more confident and ready for taking the lead on working the cow.

My horses are a great example of the result of two different styles of training and horsemanship.  For the most part I have brought Moony along using as much of the principles of what I understand of the tradition of Vaquero horsemanship sprinkled heavily with the teachings of Ray Hunt.  Chico has had more conventional training and most of that done haphazardly and unorganized.  While I have practiced some natural horsemanship on Chico with success it was more of the bully style.  I'm now attempting to retrain him in some things to again learn to follow my feel and not my aids so much.   I'm meeting with limited success.

Don't get me wrong here, Chico is an amazing horse.  Very well broke in someways and there isn't much I can't do with him.  It's just that once you've learned to ride a horse with light feel and try that holds itself together and ready to respond to your lightest touch, having to push one around and hold him in place all the time seems like an awful lot of work.

We are all inspired when we read about one of those older people that has decided to take the initiative and go back to school at 85 and actually excels.  They are bright and engaging minds.  They have try.  If you keep the try in your horse he will continue to learn and grow his entire life.  Who knows, maybe when your horse is 20 you'll decide you want to learn fox hunting, or mounted shooting, or jousting.  If your horse still has try he'll be as excited about that as you are.