Hah, you'd think I am channeling Pat P again with all the P words! It's what's been on my mind lately. to be particular without being critical, precise without nagging, patient without boring my horse to death with inattention, and persistent that I stay in the game and support my horse until his tries for an answer to my question hit home.
As usual, the stuff of my blog crosses over into other areas of my life as well. Any of you who live on an acreage know exactly what I am talking about when I say the amount of work to keep one functional is amazing, and to keep an acreage looking nice in the process can be staggering. I am one to ride when all else fails, or when nothing else fails, so it's mostly up to my husband (he volunteered for the job) to do the outside maintenance around here. After three and a half years, he has admitted he bit off way more than he knew what he was biting into and needs help. My first reaction was "hey, I told you I don't do yardwork (or windows, or dishes . . .the list could grow) from the very beginning." Then, I look at our beautiful place, slowly losing it's edges to the ever encroaching weeds (why can't the pasture grow even half that fast???) and I know it's time to pitch in and lend a hand.
Being all those P words, plus a little pissy, too, at the start, I manned the push mower whilst Arron mounted the rider (Chrissy, we still owe you for that darned thing and I want you to know that is not a forgotten debt although it must seem like it by now! Christmas is coming, hon). Why does he get the rider? Well, we can't have those money making tattoo machine running digits sore and swollen from bucking a resistant lawn mower taking on the mutant weed crop, now can we . . . I mowed the easy parts, the hard parts and the ridiculously hard parts. At one point, I am pushing that thing up the little hill by our drive and thought my feet might slip out from under me, and the thing roll back and chop me into pate. Well, just be quick about it, says a small voice, then I don't have to finish mowing (and he'll be sorry, too, won't he. . . scraping my icky bloody remains off the mower so HE can finish the job!!)
Okay, enough of all that, this is a horse training blog after all, not a whine about doing what I need to do blog. The benefit is, this morning (why I am awake so ungodly early, I have no idea but here I am, and no one to talk to but the dogs who are outside and you guys.) I am looking out my window at a lovely well manicured yard, even mowed up under the gorgeous white blossoming bushes, have no idea what they are, and my beloved lilacs which are making a good comeback from that early killing frost last year. It was well worth the effort.
Which brings us to horses (at last, says the ones of you still with me, thought I never would, huh). My two training fillies, Ella and Knosie, tops on the priority list. Due to a really awful cold (yes, I was thinking OMG, I have it, I have SWINE flu!! I didn't . . .) I spent a few days in bed and not in the saddle. Knosie was lukewarm about the riding thing, last effort, and sitting a few days could have no good effect, in my mind. One of the things she showed me when my son was on her is that her gangly three year old legs and body are still not real connected to the brain between her ears, and she gets stuck and unconfident relatively easy, even doing groundwork. It's a natural fact, then, that she would also get stuck, under saddle, and amp it up a little with some fear and confusion about that top heavy weight up there (easy, folks, I am on a diet, for heaven's sake, I am talking people are top heavy to horses, in general!).
Pretty much by accident, shortly after we moved here, I discovered working horses on an incline affected miracles in some of the broncy ones. That is when I started paying more attention to why they were bucking in the first place. They'd get off balance, get stuck in their minds, get scared and buck out of it. Working on the hillside helped them collect themselves, use their bodies better and they gained confidence. Can't take credit for the idea, as I have few flat places to ride here and was mostly wishing for a nice level arena at the time, and would never have learned this valuable lesson, so good thing it wasn't up to me ;=)
So, Knosie did her groundwork on the hillside. I wanted proper circles, her not pulling me off center or causing me to travel around after her, an even cadence to her gait, proper arc to her body, the whole nine yards. I asked her to do the job, at an easy jog to start (this is not new for her, we walked at the very beginning) and once her lopsided ovals smoothed out, and she tired of running into her own resistance when her nose would get off track, I asked her to pick up the pace. This was much harder for her, but she tried, and we gained. Meantime I watch her eyes soften, she isn't wanting to leave, is looking into me, asking what comes next. I don't nag her to death with my requests, I tell her, set her to her job and leave her alone to get it done. (wow, wish I'd known this stuff when I was raising kids. It DOES work on my husband, by the by, don't tell him I told you! ;-)
I used some other exercises in the round pen that Sherry Jarvis introduced her colt starting students to, a different sort of synchronized riding from the ground than I use, and I like the sound of it and the results one gets. Starting from Knos's left stirrup, I bring up the energy in my body and ask her to move forward, as if I were in the saddle. She has NO idea what I want. A light touch with the training stick I am carrying that acts as my leg on her side and we move forward. We had some figuring out to do, to make this work, and it was an excellent preview of what the ride would be like. She was predictably jumpy on the right side, and when it smoothed out from the ground, it was smooth from the saddle as well. I asked her to keep pace with me, not run ahead or lag behind, to walk when I did, stop when I did and back up when I did. Again, all those P words. It was not terribly long, before all this was happening and she went from a tight, turned off worried look on her face to ears forward, open expression happy and interested, the same transformation I saw last Fall, and I was sure happy to see it arrive.
Riding was fun. I passenger rode her at first, asking only that she continue in the same direction we started. I didn't care if she walked or trotted, and she walked out with a fine, swinging pace but didn't volunteer anything faster. I changed sides and it was non eventful. Picked up a trot, also easy peasey. Had to ask a little and she was a little slower and hesitant at first, but lengthened her stride, of her own accord and felt really super, under me. I started picking up the reins and putting my legs on her, moving her hip out of the way on the turns This is where we had finished up last year, moving hip over to the left and then leading the shoulder through to the right, and vice versa. She got pretty light and supple, was following her cues like she did this yesterday instead of what, October? Stopped on one rein, then weight pressure, then with two reins, and asked for the back up . . . left rein, left front, right rein, right front. I was just delighted to see that these things still had meaning for her. We quit there, and she really make me smile when I dismounted. She turned her head to me and softly put it against my stomach. We stood there for a little bit, I petted her neck and told her I absolutely remember why I loved her so much last year. I am thinking we'll get some really nice stuff accomplished from here!
This had started out, in my mind as more of a Jack blog, but then it's all of a piece. I am being particular with him as well. Fixing as I am finding. We do a lot of this, he gets really afraid coming through gates (can you blame him?) and I am sending him through a lot of gates. I've done this from the beginning, and the improvements are there, but small and odd. At one point, when he'd get scared enough and not want to back through, he'd rear and strike a little. Not the slicing gonna cleave my enemy kind of a thing, but a timid "will this make you please stop asking me this??" No, it didn't. I have learned to pay attention to the behavior I want, and not get derailed with that kind of distraction. He might have to move his feet, not as punishment but to unlock his brain with motion and then back to the gate, and he'd always go through. Now, I almost never see that rear, but did yesterday evening when he got upset over the line pitched over his back and couldn't back out of the pressure. He rears about six inches off the ground, front feet carefully curled under him. Now, don't think I am an idiot and not aware those feet can come uncurled faster than I can see it done, I am fully aware, it's just a difference, and one, now that I think about it, has been in place for awhile.
Also. NO STRESS FACES yesterday. That's a first since rodeo day, and before that, too, but particularly since then as I have been asking more of Jack to build that emotional stability. I didn't even realize that until I was laying in bed, going over the day in my mind. No stress faces. Wow. We did some stressful things. I am asking him to back softly from halter pressure, nose down, chin in as he ought to. This is very difficult for our Jack, and he has to dive out the back often before he can settle and try again. A step in the right direction, right arc to the body, right softness in the face gets release. Nothing else does. I don't increase pressure, or do anything to make it harder for him. I just patiently persist and if he needs to run into his own resistance, I allow him to do that, just as I allow him to release himself when he comes off of it.
I have watched a lot of people work their horses, and they are doing way more work than the horse is, people's bodies are moving all over the place while the horse watches in bemused confusion and kind of moves to get out of the way. The more I learn, the less I move, and the more my horse does, and the more he moves, without me having to, the softer it all gets.
End of the day, I turn him into his pen and he leaves me before I can leave him. This will not do. I step to his side (I am about 15 feet away), kiss to get his attention, and step back. I have taught him to come to me with this set of cues. Jack stares at me with questioning surprise. He thought we were done! Nope, done when I say done, my fined hoovied friend. He does quite nicely take several strides my direction, starts to waver, looks away (when I lose his eye, I make noise to stimulate him and get him back. If he'd have to leave, that's okay, I'd help him go, then I'd help him come back again.) He chooses to come in the rest of the way. I stand, back mostly to him as he walks slowly up to me, nose out and friendly. I do nothing, let him acknowledge me, I smile and walk away. Jack stares after me, like okay what the heck was the purpose of THAT exercise . . . his ears are up and he watches me all the down the drive to where my husband smiles too. Get used to it, Jack, he says, if you aren't by now, she does things like that.
I really am having doubts at this point that Jack will ever be mentally healthy enough to have a job in the world, other than the one he has right now. He is teaching me to observe and pay attention. To stick to principles he can't survive without, and that other horses (and mebbe some people) will benefit from even more. He's teaching me the value and the reward of doing something without a real goal or agenda attached to the end of it, the joy of a successful moment. I don't know what the end of his story will be, well, I guess I couldn't, not without dusting off my trusty crystal ball and I don't know what box that's still packed in . . . I can't know the ending to any of our tales, but I can refer back to success being the quality of the journey, can't I. A well cut lawn and soft eyed horses may be the measure of no one else's success but my own . . . but hey, I'm the one writing the story!
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