Monday, November 28, 2011

Learning respect

I have managed to put a fairly sizable dent in the big man's belief that he's the boss of me.

There is definitely something to be said about good, solid groundwork that keeps a horse moving and thinking and constantly responding that gets their little equine minds working good and hard. Not only did I require him to use his brain quickly and frequently, the poor guy worked up a sweat and I wasn't asking him to do anything terribly strenuous!

We did lots of yielding the haunches, changing direction, backing away from me, halting as soon as I asking and popping over 12" crossrails with quick changes of direction after each little jump. Lots and lots and lots of lip-licking as well as him having "two eyes" on me the entire time. It took a bit of work to get him responding correctly, but once he figured it out, he was asking how far? How fast? Which way? each and every time I asked him to move his feet somewhere else. And most of the time, I never touched him...just pointed to where I wanted him to go, moved his haunches with my eyes and body posture and moved him backwards by lifting my hands and "marching" my arms. I asked him things in rapid succession to keep his brain working, then gave him a chance to stand and just think about it afterwards.


After 20 minutes of groundwork I got on and worked exclusively on him yielding his neck without moving his feet. "Control the body and you control the feet." He's never really understood just giving me his head/neck without moving his feet, a la' Clinton Anderson. This weekend, he finally got it. Sure, we did lots and lots and lots of little circles with me only releasing his face the instant his feet stopped moving. He threw a few fits because he didn't understand at first, but once he got it, he GOT IT and relaxed while he yielded his head and neck. Yay! More success! So, he's begun to really understand the lateral suppleness, relaxation and yielding...we'll work on that a bit longer before I start introducing longitudinal suppleness, relaxation and yielding. Bit by bit, body part by body part, we're putting it all back together and fixing some of the holes that I've found.

I wish I could work with him every day, but this danged fall/winter lack of sunlight and abundance of mud makes that a big of a challenge. Not to mention working and going to school at night. Ugh. Big outdoor lights, even a floodlight or two, would make my riding/training life so much simpler.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Mr. Pushy Bites-A-Lot

After spending most of Saturday clearing the woods for a new fence (and a new pasture!), we didn't have a whole lot of daylight left to get to the groundwork I wanted to do. But, in spite of the quickly darkening day, my daughter and I pulled out our horses and managed to get about 20 minutes of work in.

Kayleigh (my 10-year-old daughter) has never done any kind of ground work with the horses before. She used Calypso for this new adventure and was quite thrilled with how responsive Calypso was to her. She had her backing up with the twitch of her lead rope, moving her haunches and shoulders easily just by motioning towards her and stopping on a dime. That mare was following her at a respectful distance and had her ears and eyes stuck to her the entire time, watching her every move and waiting for the next task.

The need to explain to Kayleigh WHY we were doing the things we were doing with the horses on the ground really helped cement my need to really work with Gabe on those basic fundamentals.

Calypso, while a very bossy lead mare in the pasture, really likes to have a strong leader in her person and responds very quickly and very well to even a tiny kid like Kayleigh. Kayleigh was thrilled to death and was having a lot of fun working with the mare. She said she can't wait to do it again!

Gabe, on the other hand, is easily bossed and moved around the pasture by Chief and Calypso but pushes me and other people around more than he should. I notice it with other people and get on his case about it, but as with most things, I was the last to notice he was doing it to me, too.

I never really realized how pushy he had become with me until I got him on the ground and started trying to move him around. Backing up was pretty much nonexistent when I asked him for it. Funny, considering backing up while in the saddle is our biggest safety issue - he does it when he decides he doesn't want to do something I've asked and he's dangerous about it. Instead of backing when I asked, he came towards me and nipped me more than a few times. He got smacked and backed hard and fast for biting. He kept moving into my space and trying to push me around. I can only surmise that the biting and the moving into my space was his way of telling me HE was the boss, not ME.

Which is a great big fat no go.

He refused to move his haunches or his shoulders over when I asked. That big fart stood there with his feet planted and completely ignored me. Ugh. I had to go to the stick to get him to move even a tiny bit. Hugely frustrating.

This is a different horse than he was when I first worked with him on the ground when I brought him home as a three year old. At three he was much more willing to let me be the leader and moved where I wanted him to. Which is why I never imagined I'd have these issues now.

Now, he's not so willing to let me be the leader. Somewhere along the line I've failed him, in his eyes, as a proper leader and he's felt the need to take over the role. Probably because I've let him get away with coming into my space and being pushy for the past year.

Re-establishing my leadership in this relationship is now a top priority. I'm just so frustrated with myself for letting it get this out of control and not even REALIZING it had gone as far as it's gone. UGH.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

And the conclusion is...

I like to believe I'm a "thinking rider." I do a lot of thinking about the ride, the horse, the training, the problems, both in and out of the saddle. Sometimes, I believe I do think too hard about it and make some things more difficult than they need to be.

I've been rolling last weekend's fit-throwing by Gabe over and over in my head: Did I handle it right? How could I have handled it better? What was going through his head? Why? How can I get him over this with the least amount of battling with him? Would he have pulled this crap if he trusted me more? How can I build his trust? Am I a strong enough leader or do I need to work on being stronger so he has more confidence in me as a leader?

See how that works? I'm driving myself crazy!

But, I have come to a conclusion. When I start adding up all the little things he does from time to time I've determined there is a lack of respect and trust in my leadership by him of me. That's something I will have to remedy.

And that means I'll be going back to groundwork with him for a while. I haven't done any kind of groundwork or ground driving with him for about a year and it's been about six months since he started noticeably trusting my judgement less and less. So, it's time to brush back up, get his butt OUT of my space and get him moving his body and feet in the direction I want them to move when I want them to move, not when and where he thinks they should move.

The timing is actually just about perfect. We are entering that time of year when my ground becomes more bog than dirt and makes riding rather sloppy. But it's fine for ground work for the most part.

No, I'm not going to stop riding to concentrate on groundwork, but I am going to fit groundwork in for every single session. He still needs as many wet and icky saddle pads as I can possibly muster up!

I think it will make a difference. I HOPE it will make a difference.

Monday, November 7, 2011

We have issues

Trail riding is definitely a training tattle-tale.

Just because your horse is as good as gold in the controlled environment of an arena does not necessarily mean your training is sticking and making the impression it should be.

Yes, Gabe has been absolutely wonderful in the arena, a nice, mostly-controlled environment where I can keep his attention mostly on me most of the time.

But take him out into a completely uncontrolled environment where anything can happen at any time and his attention often wanders from me and some pretty big training issues are revealed rather obviously.

A friend came over to go riding with me Sunday so all three horses got to go out. We were out for a couple of hours, the wind was HIGH, the air chilly, leaves flying all over the place and all the horses on high alert.

Gabe, for the most part, was pretty good. Aside from the cantering sideways issue (yeah, I don't know, it was weird) and absolutely refusing to respond to my lateral aids, he was fairly good. On high-alert and snorting at unknowns was the least of my worries with him. I can ride his silliness through without much problem and usually, I laugh at him just because he's being such a goof.

But two huge training issues revealed themselves and made me realize that perhaps, just maybe, I'm not expecting nor requiring enough of him. I admit, I let him get away with more than I probably should. ie, not making him give me the right response right away every time. I tend to make excuses for him and I need to quit that, right now.

The things I've let slide aren't obvious in the arena, but become glaring problems on the trail.

One big one is turning. Yes, a basic one, but a big one I didn't realize was quite the issue it is. Let's just say this horse is GREAT at yielding his neck, not so great at following through with the rest of his body when he doesn't really feel like it or isn't quite sure he wants to go where I want him to go. If he has decided he doesn't really want to go where I'm trying to get him to go, he'll turn his neck all day long in the direction I'm asking him to go but the body stays put. Ugh. Big time training issue that I'm going to have to really get fixed yesterday. No more excuses that he maybe doesn't quite understand what I'm asking, because he does, I know he does, he just decides he doesn't want to and that's NOT AN OPTION. Not on the trail. Not when going where I tell him to go RIGHT NOW is absolutely imperative in some situations.

Secondly is his forward. We have stop and back up perfected, actually, way more perfected than it needs to be because he's using both of them as ways to avoid doing what I've asked. Forward has become a huge issue. I fought with that horse for nearly 45 minutes to get him to even get close to a cow pasture filled with curious dairy cattle. Yes, the dairy cattle again. I'm tempted to borrow a small herd of dairy cattle and make him live in the same paddock as them for a few months. Passing those cows was an absolute disaster. I think at first the cows were the issue, so I let him stand and watch them for a few minutes and he seemed to be fine with them. The other horses didn't give a crap about the cows but Gabe didn't take their lead at all. It then became less about the cows and more about him deciding he was NOT going forward, period, end of story. It was backwards backwards backwards sideways sideways backwards circles backwards spinning more backwards, more sideways more stupid crap but NO FORWARD. UGH!!! I couldn't get him to take one little step forward for anything, and of course, I'd declined to bring the crop on this ride since I hadn't needed it in the arena for quite a while.

When I first brought him home forward was an issue then, too, but instead of going backwards, he went UP when he decided he didn't want to go forward. I fixed the up, he doesn't do that at all any more, but now when he has determined he doesn't want to do something, no matter what it is, he goes backwards, very quickly. It's hard to steer a horse going backwards, especially when that horse has decided he is NOT going forwards. And it's dangerous, very dangerous. I finally had to get off and force him forward and past the cows. He flipped his lid and I think I saw his brain slide right out of his head and smash on the ground. Even with me leading him and the other two horses marching along and sighing with boredom and I'm sure a bit of annoyance at him, he didn't want to go forward, so backwards and sideways he went, into a ditch and he lost his footing and fell. I'm glad I wasn't on him when he pulled that crap but I think it scared him straight. He got back up, the whites of his eyes showing and he marched forward when I led him on. No problem. We walked right past those cows without another problem. I wanted to take him back and forth by them a few more times, but my riding companions had already been plenty patient enough with us up to that point and I wasn't going to ask them to wait for our silly asses any longer.

I don't even want to talk about the absolute lack of his response to the lateral aids. I think I was just about ready to cry by the end of the ride because a simple trail ride had exposed all the basic training crap I need to put my nose to the grindstone on and quit accepting half-assed responses from him.

So, I'll be working on his forward response and expect an immediate and energetic forward response each and every time I ask as soon as I ask, no matter what. Until we get this down he no longer has the option of declining my request. Although it goes against everything I believe in training philosophy, I'm going to have to take away his voice until we get these very basic issues fixed. No more giving him second and third chances. The same thing for turning and lateral aids. No more second and third chances. He knows what I'm asking, it's time I start expecting and requiring him to respond when I ask, not when he feels like it.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Tell tails

The kids are fuzzy, furry and quite full of themselves lately.

Fall has definitely rolled into our little corner of the world. Vividly changing leaves, browning pastures, a chill wind and horses acting like they are all hopped up on a wee bit too much espresso.

I love it. Fall is my most favorite time of year to ride: No bugs, no excessive sweat, wiggly, energized horses and the smell of fall just can't be matched.

My daughter asked me the other day if horses use their tails like dogs to express how they are feeling.

I had to think about it for a minute or they? Can you tell if a horse is happy, sad, angry, excited or scared by the way they hold their tails? You can certainly tell if they are being bothered by bugs or cold, but other emotions?

My answer was a definite yes! Just that morning I'd paused for a while to watch my three goof balls tear around the pasture like a herd of wild beasts, tails flying. Gabe's tail is the most expressive of the three. When he's excited that tailed is held straight up high and curling over his rump, much like an Arab's. Calypso tends to lift hers a bit, but not anywhere near as exuberantly as Gabe lets his fly. And Chief's tail generally doesn't do a whole lot when he's galloping around, it just kind of follows him, but when he sees something or feels the need to snort at something "threatening," he arches his neck and that tail lifts pretty high.

When Gabe is mad at me - and yes, he does get mad at me - he expresses that through his eyes, his ears and his tail. I've never been a big fan of assigning human characteristics to my animals, but he definitely pouts when he thinks he's been done wrong or not treated the way his highness thinks he should have been treated - his tail just hangs there, all rejected and dejected looking. When he's being chased off by one of the other horses, that tail is tucked up pretty snugly against his butt.

So yeah, I would say that while they don't use their tails to express themselves quite as frequently as dogs so, horses do use them, too. All you have to do is watch. And what better way to spend a beautiful fall afternoon than watching your horses express themselves so delightfully?