Tuesday, March 1, 2011

There is no sideways, only standing

Sometimes when you sit in one position too long your foot or leg or hip goes to sleep and when it "wakes" up there is an incredible tingly, almost itchy feeling.

My legs, my arms, my hands, my seat are all tingly and itchy with this intense desire and need to be in the saddle. Gabe, of course, could really care less whether I ride or not, as long as I visit him every day with peppermints and plenty of good scratching.

Actually, that might not be entirely true. When I walk out to his paddock with halter in hand he's never walked away...he always comes to me, even after watching me get out all my riding gear and put it near the hitching post. I think he enjoys our rides as much as I do.

I have also come to the conclusion that there is a rather large hole in our training that I need to fix ASAP, a problem I CAN fix on the ground (in the mud, rather) while I'm waiting for my marshy swampland to dry suitably enough for riding.

Gabe doesn't get the "move away from pressure when I tap you" concept. Yesterday I was cleaning his run-in and of course he had to be right there, head hanging over my shoulder, grabbing the manure fork and trying to wrest it from my hands or stealing my coat from his feed tub so I'd have to chase him to retrieve it.

He started getting on my nerves because he just wouldn't move enough out of the way for me to chuck the scoopful of bedding and poo out of his shed without making some rather interesting contortions while lugging 200 pounds of poo and pee-soaked shavings.

I pushed him and told him over. Nothing.

I did it again, using two fingers stiff against his side and told him over. Nothing.

I poked him in the side with the butt end of the manure fork and told him "over."

No response. I did it again. Poke.

Still nothing. He turned his head and gave me that "have you lost your bloody mind?" look and relaxed a hip.


Poke. Poke. Poke. Poke. Poke. Poke. Poke. Poke. Steady. Repetitive, hopefully annoying enough to get some response from him.


Well, he flinched a bit with each poke and leaned into the end of the manure fork instead of away from the poking. I couldn't decide if he was being a stubborn oaf or truly not understanding what I was trying to communicate.

And I started thinking. When he's tied up I have a similar issue. He doesn't move over with a slight touch of my fingers, as he should. I have to put a shoulder into him and move him over.

This is not a good thing. This is a serious, serious oversight on my part. This lack of understanding to move away from pressure is going to put a serious crimp in any further training, and, it also explains why our leg yields, TOFs, and TOHs suck royally.

I felt like poking myself repeatedly with the manure fork to get it through MY head that I'm a great big dunce. Duh.

This is basic training stuff. How could I have overlooked it? I have a few ideas about how/why I overlooked this basic training concept, and most have to do with some other more serious issues I was dealing with such as the rearing and running backwards problem we had in the beginning as well as the spook, spin and gallop sideways for no apparent reason issue I had to deal with quick and in a hurry.

I guess we'll be taking a few great big steps backwards to fix the hole before we can start moving forwards again. Gabe is just smart enough that I don't think it will take too terribly long to get him where he should be so we can get back on track again. I need to also re-evaluate everything to be sure I haven't inadvertently left another hole somewhere along the line.

Good thing my mind kicked into gear now and made this realization before we got much further along, which could have made going backwards to fix it a more difficult issue.


  1. Good for you that you recognize there is an issue.

    Try escalating the aid (poking in this case)) until you get some kind of response, even Gabe just moving one inch. Stop immediately!! - this is the key - the release is the reward. Praise lavishly. Timing is everything.

    If you stop the aid before you get a response it confuses the horse. If you keep the aid at the same intensity without response then you are confusing and nagging him.

    Good luck :)

  2. No matter how "trained" my horses become, I always begin a session with a little groundwork just to reinforce simple maneuvers - plus, it's like a little temperature check to see how their mind is on that day...we should never leave those foundational lessons behind, instead take them with you regardless of how far along you go with your horse. Good advice from your first commenter. Have fun with those lessons!

  3. Good for recognizing this before you jumped into spring season. Mud is a great time of year to fix this. Of course the bolting/spinning/rearing stuff is distracting, but it is frustrating to realize you skipped over a basic.
    I work them with a voice command (I think horses like verbal communication) and don't use force or even much effort on my part to move them around. If I place a hand on Nina's neck, shoulder, hip she waits to see what I want, if I say 'move over' the part that I am touching moves away. I did it with a whip, a stick really, and never got into a strength contest over it. It's a natural, hierarchy thing for them to learn. Hope it goes fast for you.

  4. All horses have holes - good to find and fix this one now, and as you said, fixing it should help with under saddle work too. Was he by any chance imprinted? This is a common issue with imprinted horses and it often takes a bigger cue at the beginning to give them the idea, but then once they have the idea you should be able to reduce the cue.

  5. Calm, Forward, Straight...there is such a fine line between teaching them the proper response and just irritating the heck out of them. I'm so worried about crossing that line that sometimes I don't give him enough of a chance to respond correctly. That's MY bad.

    C-ingspots...I've worked the heck out of lungeing and long reining and voice commands...but somehow managed to overlook this most basic, rudimentary bit of training. I'm actually looking forward to the lessons. Once it clicks with Gabe you can almost see the AH HA! lightbulb go off.

    Barbara...he is the first horse I've ever had that didn't move over with just a feather touch or even a glance and a word, so this is a whole new "problem" for me to address.

    Kate...I have wondered from time to time if he was imprinted just by some of the behaviors he exhibits and his occasional total lack of realizing/respecting that I am NOT one of his pasture buddies to play rough and tumble with. He has needed bigger cues for just about everything from day one, which also makes me wonder if he was imprinted at some point. I do know he came from a very small breeder (a WWII fighter pilot) who doted on ALL his horses and treated them all like kids, then went to a trainer who also treated all of her horses like big kids rather than just a way to make a buck. He's led a pretty charmed life for a track failure!

  6. If you want to try something that won;t irritate the heck out of him, try teaching this by "connecting the rein to the hip" : when you are giving the pressure cue on his side, take your lead rope or rein and tip his head towards you until he has to move his hip over, and that instant is when you release the pressure cue. Since you know that the pressure cue by itself doesn't work, this might help turn the light on for him, and then eventually you can decrease and then eliminate the rein/hip cue.

  7. Clinton Anderson has some very excellent videos addressing exactly these issues. We've been playing with some of his ground work ideas and even the old cowboy likes his stuff. I know it is fun to have Gabe pester you like he's a puppy while you are in his paddock, but perhaps a bit of this results from him not respecting your space? just a thought....

  8. Shirley...I'll give that a try and see how he responds to it. I know he feels the pressure, he just either chooses to ignore it or really doesn't know what it means, which makes zero sense because they instinctively want to move away from pressure.

    Kathy...oh, believe me, I've considered more than once the wisdom of letting him behave like a puppy, and there are times when he has ZERO respect for my space, which is a great big no-no. I've seen Clinton Anderson on Horse TV a couple of times and what he does makes sense. I don't have any of his videos...I'll just have to try to catch him the next time he's on Horse TV.

  9. Such lovely writing...you kill me with the poke, poke, poke, poke, poke... and then wanting to do the same to your head. grin. Thanks for the smile!

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