Thursday, November 24, 2011

Back to Basics

In my search for all good things horse I sometimes find myself wandering a bit far afield. How do I know? Things start to go inexplicably wrong. At first I have no idea why. Then, when I go back to my first teacher, the horse, I get my answers. If I am open and paying attention, they will always tell me what is troubling them.

Subject at hand right now is my lovely grulla filly, Riata. Brief history, I bought her at a sale last March on the rebound from what I thought was losing Royal. I picked up a horse that seemed gentle, good minded and had a striking color. The thought behind the purchase was that this was one I could mess with a little, and if she didn't trip my trigger, her color alone assured that I would not lose my money and she was in the bank in case Royal did somehow manage to come back onto my horizon.

Day one, she was cautious and wary, but allowed me to catch her, do a little groundwork and I called it good. Day two, I could barely so much as put a hand on her before she spun and tore wildly away. Day three, I build a little pen in the arena that was her temporary home, thinking to lure her in with hay and then do the round pen work I do to help horses learn to face up, hook up and allow themselves caught. She follows me in, no luring involved, and in fairly short order, I have hands on, and she is sinking her head into my arms and we are having a moment . . .

Busy with my Spring book, she goes where all my horses go, straight to the back burner. I pull her off to ride a day with Kerry Kuhn when Purina brings him to town. I know the filly rides, walk, trot and canter but I don't see what happens before what I saw happen. She was jumpy and goosey enough, I thought, maybe something . . . We get through the gooseyness at the clinic with a TON of sacking from me in the beginning. She gets gentle, accepting and I ride her all day. End up on cloud nine. We both know what we want from each other and it looks like a wonderful partinership is in the making except . . .

back to back burner she goes. Then, I move my horses this summer and she promptly gouges a hole in her side and is laid up for almost two months. Riata gets handled every day with wound cleaning and again, she is gentle, accepting, friendly and trusting.

So, why the purpose of this blog? Because something happened. I am still not real sure what. I rode her in Peter Campbell's clinic as I blogged before and we ran into trouble there. She had learned really well to not be bothered by things flying around her, and had also got pretty stuck and lazy about her responses. The cowboys want their horses to MOVE when they are told, and I do too, so we really got after it. I want to make clear I am not blaming Peter for our problems. It is solely in me, my timing, my not being in sync with my horse. I was hard on her, at times, looking for that amped up response, and if I had been where she was, I could have cued her in a way that she understood. I don't think that happened. From what she tells me, there is no way. Riata is confused . . . when to stay, when to go, and what happens if she messes up? Now we have sullen and withdrawn or goosey and ready to blow. Great.

Riata came home from the clinic not wanting much to do with any of us. Walt who is my old business partner, made mention of what a changed attitude she had and not in any good way. She was sullen, did not want touched, flinched and ran away when she was reached for. She had started bucking when saddled the week before the clinic. Total mystery to me, who prides myself on being able to read my horses, and proceed at their pace to get where I want to go with them in an efficient, timely manner.

Saddle fit is an issue. I have had to use a much tighter cinch, front and back to keep the saddle from flipping up in back and ending up on her neck. Not just this saddle, but a bunch of them. In this process, Ri has become very girthy, and last night, I notice several things, one of which is a healing cinch area from the ride last week. Reaction to the neoprene? Fungus? Dunno. After me not being there for almost two weeks, she is gentler and friendlier than she was last time I saw her and rode her around the lake. She approaches me but as I step towards her, the head comes up and the eye widens. I slow down. AND THEN THE LIGHTS BELLS AND WHISTLES GO OFF IN MY HEAD. I need to slow the f*ck down. Pardon the language or don't but that's the case. I have been in a hurry with this filly almost every time I have handled her. I have not sought the relaxed attitude, the gentle trust, that is the first thing I do with each and every one of my training horses. That is not established through hugs and pets, but through exercises in which there is release at the right moment and only enough pressure to get the job done. Yes, what Peter said. I didn't learn that there, but I did forget it, some. This does not mean poke around, pussyfooting so as not to upset my horse. This means REALLY reading her and going at her pace. I can ask for more but I have to aware and not blow through thresholds on the way to some place I think we should be. This is kindergarten stuff for me, but sometimes I think I am way smarter than I actually turn out to be.

I do some walking work with her, getting Riata to stretch and reach equally with all quarters. A tense horse really cannot reach under themselves and allow this to happen. There is a cause and effect of relaxing the body, relaxing the mind, relaxing the mind, relaxing the body. As her stride loosened up, her eye remained soft and dark, calm, unconcerned, I knew I was back on the right track with this pretty young horse.

Sometimes, wanting my horse friends and peers to approve of me and what I am doing gets the best of me. I want a spectacular riding horse that shows off the very best of what I can do. Yes, that is ego talking and it is not the best friend of the horse, or me or anyone. I am back to wanting the natural level headset of the horse that is carrying themselves correctly, that is totally at ease and comfortable with what I am asking. For me, it starts slower and builds up. I am no fan of the sour, ears laid back, stoney eyed look I see on horses that are tuned out and turned off, and I was putting that very look on Riata, every time I handled her. Done with that. Sorry, Ri.


Anonymous said...

She sounds like a good teacher, and you're fortunate to have one another. Hope things are back on track - your attention and self-awareness will go a long way to solve the problems I think.

Horses Are Our Lives said...

slystospGood for you to slow down. I found the same thing from the Peter Campbell clinic, that the "move now" mentality with my quiet Shaggy did not work. He needs quiet reinforcement in time, and now, a year later, he is awesome. Take the time you need to keep both you and your horse happy!

Anonymous said...

I dont think Cowboys are the only ones who want a responsive horse. I think it is necessary in any discipline. I see a lot of people do the "quiet reinforcement" and never teach the horse how to handle pressure. Quite often, these are the horses who become pushy and resistant.

Good Hands said...

Martin Black writes an excellent article about "boiling frogs". He says you do it by increasing the temps just a little at time. Frog becomes numb to it and before you know it, or he does, he's cooked.

I think a lot of us train our horses like that. We want to be kind, and increase pressure in tiny increments but the horse becomes numb to it. I try to time my release so that the pressure is effective but I am really having to break new ground so they don't fall apart when I really want something from them.