Monday, June 16, 2008

Check Your Brakes

One piece of advice I took away from the Bob & Al Show starring Bob Avila and Al Dunning at the Western States Horse Expo 2008 was to check your brakes. Just because your horse stopped on cue yesterday doesn't mean it will stop on cue for you today. Before you take off on that trail ride or lope around the arena, make sure your horse is still halting when asked.

I went out to ride this weekend and discovered that not only did my alpha mare Lostine lose her brakes, but her throttle was stuck wide open. No sooner did I swing my leg over the saddle and she took off at a fast trot. The further I pulled back on my reins and the stronger I said "Ho!", the faster she went. I was trying to slip my right boot into the stirrup while she was cantering with her nose buried in her chest.

She eventually slowed to a walk when she felt like it, so I turned her this way and that since I still had control of the steering. I over-exaggerated my halt cues by leaning way back in the saddle, pushing my feet forward in the stirrups, saying "ho", and pulling back on the reins. She stopped, but only for a second.

I then recalled several clinicians using backing up as a correction. Each time she walked off from a stop without me cuing her to do so, I halted her again and bumped her backwards with my heels on her shoulders, saying "back", and pulling on the reins. As soon as she moved back as far as I wanted, I released the reins, relaxed my legs, and petted her. I only had to back her four times before she got the idea and stood still until I clucked for her to move forward.

Since this was the first time that Lostine's brakes completely failed, I asked myself what had changed. The answer was simple: A new, gentler bit. Bob Avila did say that your equipment doesn't matter as long as you have control of your horse through training. If you have complete control as a rider, you don't need a saddle or bridle or bit. Well, in my case I don't have complete control as a rider over my horse, so I switched to a more severe bit. It helped. Once I had Lostine stopping from the walk and waiting for her cue to move forward, I stopped her from the trot, and then from the canter. I made her do it again and again until her response was immediate.

Soon I didn't have to use the reins at all. A simple "ho" triggered her brakes. Unfortunately, her steering went out a short time later. Oh well, horses are always in the shop getting one thing or another fixed. Of course, as soon as I removed the tack, her radiator sprung a leak. All that pressure on her bladder had to lead to something...


Farm Girl said...

Your description of your braking problems were too funny! Loved it! Glad she is doing better.

Lulu said...

I have always made a practice backing every single time I ask my horses to stop. I've found that this causes more responsive stops, because the horse is anticipating the back. I guess I like to know that my "whoa" will work at all times!

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Farm girl - I'm glad the humor came through. There was a time when I attended a weekly poetry workshop over the period of about ten years. I brought in my humorous poems and people critiqued them. One day the founder of that group told me he had been reading some of my old poems and said, "You are really one funny lady! I didn't realize how much humor you use in your writing." That's embarrassing.

Lulu - That's a perspective I hadn't considered. If the horse is anticipating having to put itself in reverse, it will stop faster. It's kind of like breaking a board with your fist or foot by imagining that you are actually aiming for something beyond the board. Sort of.

Callie said...

Nice post! A great lesson!

Molly said...

A good reminder to check those brakes. Leaky radiators are a bother. You must keep adding water. LOL

Jackie said...

LOL ... thanks for that humorous yet informative post. I've been feeling that way with one of the horses I ride; as soon as we fix one problem we have three news ones. Horses are just like cars, except worse because they have brains to attend to as well!

Pony Girl said...

Luckily, stopping is My Boy's favorite thing to do, lol! ;) He was a reiner so stopping is important. I just think it, sit down, and whisper 'whoa' and he stops. I think backing them up immediately after stopping also helps them get their hind end under themselves? That is what My Boy's former trainer told me.

Tracey said...

Brakes are ever so important! I always stop and ask for a back up immediately. Not a huge, long back, but two steps just to get the horse thinking that's whats going to happen. Makes the stop much quicker. Even with Sandy, I find I'm still having to remind him from time to time what that lovely four letter W word is all about!

Twinville said...

hehe. You are so wonderfully funny. It is a joy to read your blog. :)

My instructor loves to remind me that a horse is not car or a bicycle. You can't just hop on and expect it to work like an engine and do everything like the computer in a car makes it do.

I think losing horse brakes is one of my biggest fears. That losing control thing.

Baby Doll has very good brakes so far, but sometimes her steering gets jammed and sometimes she goes when noone applied any gas.

The running off usually happens when I don't lunge her first before riding and the steering issues happen she starts to get tired and bored in the round pen or arena and wants to head for the water trough or gate.

She likes to test me everytime, but once I keep persisting that we are going to do what I want to do, she finally complies and calms down.

But still it's always in the back of my head, that she's an 1100 pound horse...and I'm just.....well.... not 1100 lbs (thank goodness, actually).
And she can easily overpower anything I ask her to do. A little scary for me, but I'm trying to move beyond that and hopefully build more confidance.

Your post reminded me of this in that "If you have complete control as a rider, you don't need a saddle or bridle or bit".

Thanks for another great lesson and your wonderful insights.