Sunday, March 18, 2012

Making Changes

Not flying ones, not yet, but yesterday was a fantastic day of riding, horse training and hanging out with the best of friends. Days like that are nothing but good for the soul . . .

Year before last, I started a sweet little black horse for my friend, Corie. He’s the one pictured going through the noodle obstacle at the end of his 60 days with me.  Soxie is one of the good ones, kind, calm, steady, built in his nature to be more of a thinker than a reactor.  The flipside to that nature is a more confident type of horse that will push on you, lean on you and slowly but surely start telling you how he thinks things will be.  Then, if things go south, you have a horse that’s entirely willing to take matters into their own hooves and are not looking to their rider for their solutions.

That said, he’s pretty low key about the whole thing, our major complaint with him is that he has always been heavy in the bridle and was getting more so. Time to add another piece to the puzzle.

One of the big pieces I brought home from the Peter Campbell clinic is to get the feet in motion. Do it right, have them land in the right places but keeping it slow all the time just makes things fall apart when you ask for more. I would have argued that to my death prior to that clinic but I saw for myself, both with my own horse that DID fall apart when asked for more, and other’s, equally green who were handling themselves much better. Doesn’t mean to get rammy with your horse. I DID that, misinterpreting my instructions and was called out for it. “We do NOT harpoon our horse with our spurs!”  We do NOT accost our horses with the bit!”  Smooth, quiet but get in there, ask and get it done and keep the feet correct.

So, yesterday, as best I could, I did that with Sox. From the moment I haltered him, I started letting him know what was up.  You will move your feet, you will not hang and drag on me.  The little black horse was rattled at the change in the rules, and got a little mad at me.  He sulled up and wouldn’t give his hip. He was stuck in his body and his brain.  Concerned that I was going to push him into a wreck, trust me, I do NOT have Peter’s sense of timing and feel for how far to push a horse and when to step back, so I stepped back probably a little late but there I was.

I would lift the rein, step into his hip, and ask that hip to move. He would tighten, and lean back into me, pushing back. Swish with the dressage whip, and the hip would stutter over, head hanging heavily on the rein. No release there.

I know I was not that smooth in what I was up to, as it took too long before he was stepping through calmly. I analyze these things not at all to beat myself  when something isn’t as good or sound my own horn when things go well.  I look things over carefully to see what I can improve on, the next time, so that things are better for the horse.

Back on, I took a Matt McLaughlin mane hold.  Short outside rein, hand locked in the mane to keep him from rooting them out of my hands. Inside rein almost as short, but live in my hand. Matt and some others have taught me, rather than throw the whole thing away when the horse gets it right, it’s in the little releases from the fingers on the inside hand. Pitching the reins to the horse to release (something I do still teach to beginners who are just learning their timing, feel and what release really consists of) causes the movement to fall apart, the horse loses it’s way, and while I am busy congratulating myself that I got some thing right, my horse is now all strung out, lost and I have to put him back where we started from. Not efficient or effective, it turns out for either of us.

Soxie leaned heavily into my hands, weighting me, thinking surely I would carry his head for him as he likes to have his rider do.  He champs, fusses, is unhappy. That’s fine, Soxie, I want you happy but you will  have to go through this to get to the really right places, where you are soft, pliant and carry your own darned head, and the rest of you too!

I sit quietly, encouraging him to move forward into the pressure. He doesn’t give at all to it, yet, is still struggling with trying to figure out what to do to get it gone.  Matt had me work in a smaller circle at first, keeping my horse as straight on the arc as possible. It’s easier for the horse to get soft, if the circle is right, as that inside hind HAS to come up under, causing the belly to raise (thanks, Colleen for reminding me about that step in the process) the back to raise and round, the neck follows suit, the poll joint softens and the horse can give to the bit, and the jaw relaxes as the mind realizes it all feels so much better that way than flomping around in a nose out, strung out, rear end 100 miles behind the rest kind of fashion. That is not a balanced way for a horse to move, and they HATE being out of balance. Causes most of the grief I run into with a horse and see around me.

We work both ways. I am explaining to Corie as I ride, how I keep the inside shoulder from collapsing in, the ribs from cutting across, the hip from swaying out. It is a combination of seat and leg cues. my reins are essentially in place, with my fingers beginning to have conversation with Soxie’s mouth. He is starting to ask questions, is moving beyond the bully stage and we are getting somewhere.

We rode out 11.50 miles yesterday, working on that communication for much of it. There are so many things a person can do, outside of the arena to improve their communication with their horse. It’s easier to learn this stuff in an enclosed area but once I have  an idea of how to get it done, I take it out in the world. More fun for me, and I think for the horse too.

Soxie and I progressed from tug, pull, drag (him, me holding and waiting) to a place that I could tighten my fingers on one hand, get a soft little dip from him WITHOUT him immediately taking his head back. In between times of me asking for different things, when we would hit a  pretty sweet spot, I would throw him slack, allow him to stretch his head and neck down, which stretches and relaxes the back as well. Like any kind of muscular development and exercise, you have to give a horse a break or you will make them so darned sore, they will hate you for it and never want to try again.  Several miles from home, I pretty much left him alone to soak. He was quiet, compliant, and had a lot to think about. We had cantered with balance and the beginning of collection, he was riding on a loose rein but was alive in my hands.

I know of MANY horses that the riders think are soft in the bridle because they ride them with long loose reins. It’s not that which makes the case but what happens when you pick those reins up and ask for that soft feel . . . what is the answer that you get?


Soxie, one tired little black horse

Soxie after a long, hot ride. He worked hard!

Axel, one tired little blue dog

Axel is out of shape too, and his poor paws got awfully sore. Dang it!


Went on to work with my beloved Riata, Made great changes and I have high hopes we are back on track. That’s a whole another story.

I wouldn’t call her svelte just yet, but Junebug is showing some conditioning! And yes, that’s Riata, standing quietly saddled back there!

The crew

Rode Junebug, the Quarter Pony. Our big breakthrough was that I asked for a lope and for the first time since I have been riding her, she gave it to me happily. Her tack fits her now and she’s getting into a little better condition, could have a lot to do with it.

Royal got his turn as well. Also happy in his properly fitted saddle, but WHY O WHY do I wait to ride the TALL (for me) horse last??  He was full of spunk and vinegar as has had a few weeks off. Fine, says me, we will use that energy big boy, We got the best trots maybe ever, and there are moments where I feel that extension and it feels like flying! 

My lovely boy!

Royal gets a turn today

His ear and eye kept flickering to the girls at the barn. My dog sored his paws on the long ride (dammit, sorry Axel) so we stayed close to home for these legs.  Fine, says me, run to the barn, go for it. He did and once there, we loped circle after circle. These were not the pretty little 8.2 mph hour show lopes but really stretching out and moving. I love the Longhorn Cutter saddle too, and the borrowed fleece tush cush may be just what the doctored ordered for my tender derriere. I know, you wouldn’t think it would be . . .

Lope circles, ride away to rest, lope circles, ride away to rest . . . doggone hard to wear out an Arabian with an agenda! I ended up changing my tactic as I was running out of time and didn’t want to leave him with the wrong idea stuck in his head . . . where you quit what you are doing, that is where you teach the lesson!

Riding away from the barn I would let him turn us around and as soon as he would pick up speed, I would not shut him down but picked up my inside rein and deflect us into a small circle. He was fairly surprised to find himself trotting like mad and not getting any closer to the barn! Did this a few more times, found a place where I could ride him away from the barn, ears up, straight and pointed forward. That was the place to stop and so we did! Love love love my spotted goofy NSH!!

Anyway, there were tangible changes made in all the horses, and I felt the good juju flowing from my fingertips once again.  There is a rightness to the world for me when I am teaching people who want to learn, helping horses figure out just what the heck we are asking from them, and a certain harmony to my soul when this all comes together that I am pretty darned sure, life would not be worth living without . . .

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