Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The “C” Word


Consistency. Almost as bad as the “P” word.

Enjoyed an opportunity at the 2013 Nebraska Horse Expo to speak for a moment with clinician Richard Winters. I met Richard a few years ago when he visited our Expo and very much enjoy his horsemanship and his calm manner.  Richard was gracious enough to hear my tale of woe regarding the series of wrecks Royal and I have engaged in, studied a couple photos of the process and then he said . . .

“Well, let’s start with something basic. How often does this horse get rode?”

Worst question in the world. My mumble of “not enough” was unsatisfactory. We figured out I have been on Royal a bare handful of times between the rains of February which closed out our winter riding and the moment I was standing in, right there and then.

Dang. No wonder I am having issues with my  horse. Pretty simple.

Richard said some gentle words about Consistency and idle hooves being the devil’s workshop. Consistency, like “Potential” have troubled me all of my days.

I have committed to riding my horse two times a week. I am embarrassed to admit out loud that’s all. I can barely manage that.

We have done some arena work, utilizing the good groundwork that Peter Campbell has taught us. I have heard Peter say “this is not to replace what you do but to ADD to what you do.” It’s the how and when, not so much the what that matters. I am a slow learner, but Royal is helping me sink it in.

When I have taken time to get the right answers the right ways we have had a couple pretty lovely rides. When I shortcut, I get what that gives you. Half measures avail us nothing.

My ride this past Saturday was not much to be admired. I got scared, my horse was jumpy. I was spiteful in how I asked for my serpentines and he was sullen in his delivery. We survived our first outing in the woods since my pre Labor Day wreck but it was nothing to write home about except to put down in words I don’t want to do it like that again.

Then, on Sunday . . .

MUCH better!! Took some time to really help Royal settle. The ranch stacks the picnic tables in a big pile for the winter (kind of Jenga with iron tables . . .). He thought they were pretty scary and really didn't like the squeeze (15 feet prolly) between them and the trash barrels all lined up.

On Peter’s facebook group, a gentleman had reminded me that when things are going south, neutral becomes a really good place to be. I was rolling that over in my head . . . We don’t know how to do that. I don’t know how many times I have heard Peter say not to try to get to something good by going through something bad and I surely do not know why I can’t remember that when in the middle of things going bad!

We worked around there what seemed like a very long time. Small circles, starting out at a trot, moving the circle around letting him get a good look at things from all sides and angles.

Slowing to a walk, asking for straightness in the arc. Asking each foot to reach with equal distance and relaxation =  all four parts moving equal. A tight horse can't do it and won't. Took a lot but we got there. Too much bend in the neck  . . . nope that's not it. Inside hind tracking to inside fore, nope that's not it   . . .

Finally the gentle C shape, from nose, poll, neck, ribs, spine and inside hind tracking to outside fore. Can't ask 'em to hold that long when they are not used to doing it. Big stretches. Then drifting the hind out a few steps without losing forward momentum. Good stuff.

Rode him in the big open area they build bonfires in during hayrack season. Daytime is turn out for the hunters in the big barn and the racehorses, so there will never be arenas for us during the day.

I knew I did not want to repeat the errors of the day before so we did things different.

I read on Facebook the other day about "reprises." A dressage term for repeating a movement three times. Things will either improve or degenerate.

If they improve, do it the other direction or "on the other rein." If it gets worse, adjust the aids, or figure out what you are doing wrong to get that response from your horse. I discover I am very bad at staying with things long enough for them to have an effect. Consistency again . . .

Trotted three circles to the right. My form was horrible and my horse could hardly stay straight. I was afraid he would jump out from under me and I was tight and forward in my position. I had to get right or this was never going to work.

Second circle. I am sitting back, breathing. Match my hip and shoulder angle to that I wished my horse to assume. He softens, reaches.

Third circle. We trot a decent working trot (Your horse is moving like pony!! I know, Jose . . .) I am urging him in my posting to lengthen his stride without quickening.

We change reins, I sit for more than a beat but not a thousand and pick up the proper diagonal. (I am in a western saddle but it matters not.

We do more things but what matters is we grow our trust in one another. I am not banging him in the spine, mouth or ribs. My spurs say gently “stay here.” My hands support, my body encourages.  His ear flickers once in awhile outside of our work area but it takes little or nothing to bring him back and no more of him leaves at all.

I sit back, take a breath, expect and ask for the canter. It’s rough but we make the transition. Wrong lead. Okay. I bend him slightly to the outside and ask him to counter canter. That’s hard work.

Ask again for the transition. Again out of balance. Again the wrong lead. Again the counter canter.

Next time, I take more time to figure out my ask, get better balanced. Correct lead and keep him in it . . . once, twice, three times around. Nice lope.

Sit up, whoa . . . not the best stop, a little forward but not running through or refusing either.

Change direction, correct lead first ask. Circles. Hmm . . . I wonder if we can . . .

Crossing the center of our work area we break to a trot, I am sitting on what will be our outside rail and  . . . ask for the lope. Lead change!  Awesome!

We do that several times. He is loping like a broke horse. Head and neck level, I am relaxed sitting back, reins long but not foolish.

I realize whatever I would ask him to do next, we are not going to top this. We are done.

My halter and lead are in a coil on the picnic pick up stix pile. Can I pick it up off my horse? Would not have been remotely possible at the beginning of the day. Took just a little asking and settling, letting Royal work out the scary mess, even with the dog moving around under, was not going to munch him down. When I cautiously reached for the rope, I moved it a little to see what reaction I would get before trying to haul it to me. A glance “are you sure” and then he  . . . well he settled his feet. You would know it if you felt it. I picked up the coil like we do it every day, which we should. Non event for the horse that can move sideways faster than a striking cobra and with about as much deadly result.

Cool out, stretch down and a much happier Royal and Terri call it a day.

We just might make it.