Thursday, July 31, 2008

Reversed Expectations

Notice how Bombay can relax when out at pasture while Lostine paces the fence line whinnying because I moved her too far away from my neighbor's mares.

She paces and paces until she works herself up into a sweat. It is because of these behaviors that I chose Bombay to be my partner in both equitation training and trail riding. He is always relaxed at home while just about anything can throw Lostine into a tizzy.

I had my third equitation lesson on Bombay today, only this time we rode in my neighbor's larger round pen. Though gelded, Bombay is very popular with the ladies. When I walked him off my property, Lostine and Gabbrielle raced back and forth screaming out to him. As soon as I walked him onto my neighbor's place, her mares began whinnying. Bombay seemed pleased with all the attention.

I lunged him in the round pen for a while, but he wouldn't settle down. He wasn't as bad as he had been at the Fairgrounds, but he definitely wasn't as relaxed as he is at home. Ironically, as soon as my trainer showed up, Bombay dropped his head and relaxed. He did really well until the llamas came up the hill to investigate. As soon as Bombay spotted a llama, he spooked to the side. My instructor told me to whack him on the flank with my riding crop when he does that. I said that I always thought that would just make the situation worse if the horse is already scared. He said all it does is make the horse think twice about spooking next time.

I spent most of my lesson practicing balancing while standing in the stirrups. He was having me stretch out my calves, perfect my balance, and get a better understanding of leg position all in this one exercise. My instructor wanted me to master my riding at a walk, jog, and trot before attempting to canter, however in my effort to keep Bombay up at a fast trot so I could post, he broke into a lope. I stayed standing in the stirrups and slowed him down. My instructor said to go ahead and lope him, but while sitting down. He seemed interested in how I ride at a lope. I guess it was odd that I didn't panic that he changed gaits while I was up out of the saddle, but I actually breathe a sigh of relief when my horses break into a lope. It's way more comfortable than endless trotting. My instructor didn't say much about my lope and canter other than that I did a good job and kept my seat in the saddle. He said he was happy that we got to do that today.

My equitation instructor has a way of silently watching me ride while taking mental notes on all my faults. The next time we do the lesson he starts changing my habits one at a time so that I'm not overwhelmed. I really like that he gives me time to correct myself by keeping quiet. A riding instructor I used to see barked orders at me non-stop until my brain was on overload and I just had to halt the horse and sit still a minute to soak up everything she said. The guy I see now allows me the chance to remember what he said previously, and then as soon as I do it on my own accord, he praises me. I think part of why he's so good at what he does is because he also works with handicapped students, which allows him to gain a better perspective of the differences among a variety of human bodies and human brains.

I told him about my adventures at the Fairgrounds, and he said that he's taught a lot of students there, and it has always been quiet and vacant. He's never been there during barrel races or when ATVs were around. I guess I'm just unlucky.

K and I were supposed to go to the Fairgrounds tonight for another ride, however Bombay was dripping with sweat when I got done riding him at our equitation lesson. I didn't want to stress out his body, so I decide to take Lostine to the Fairgrounds instead. K was too tired to go, so my daughter came with me.

I had very low expectations for Lostine since she's so herd bound and known for being a very hot halter horse. Amazingly, she met me at the gate and allowed me to halter her, which she only does if she knows she's going to pasture. Otherwise, if she knows I'm catching her to ride her, she runs away. Then she put icing on the cake by marching right into that horse trailer like a pro. Once at the Fairgrounds, she backed out with such precision and confidence that she took my breath away. I didn't have to put any pressure on the lead rope at all. It was like I was holding her on a slack, lightweight piece of thread.

Once in the arena, she seemed relaxed. I had taken her to that arena years ago, so she probably remembered it. When I rode her at first, I had the reins as tight as they would go but she would not slow down and walk. She trotted all over the place and ignored my cues to halt. I finally gave up on stopping her and just decided to enjoy the ride. Her trot was not out of control. She just had no brakes. I remembered what BrownEyed Cowgirls said about letting the horse long trot its apprehensions out until it gets its sanity back, and I did just that.

Eventually, my mare had to poo, and that resulted in her coming to a stop. After that she walked. I walked her around the barrels and she was not in the least bit concerned about them until we got to the third barrel and a moth flew off it in front of her face. She jumped backwards and I got whiplash. I could feel pain dripping down my neck, shoulders, and spine, but we had to move on. I walked her in half a dozen circles around the barrel until she accepted it. I didn't think to smack her on the flank with my riding crop for that spook until it was too late. The timing of the punishment is important, otherwise the horse can't make the connection for why it was smacked.

While I was helping her gain her confidence around that mean barrel that spits moths, some jerk in a pick up truck started doing donuts in the dirt nearby. Lostine humped up her back like she was ready to throw me and bolt. I yelled out, "A-HOLE!" and walked her to the other end of the arena where we could get some peace and quiet.

I then brought her up to a controlled jog, then a controlled trot, and finally allowed her to break into a lope. I think both she and I had a good time. She loaded right into the trailer on the way home, and backed out beautifully a second time. I guess my expectations of both Bombay and Lostine were way off. The way Bombay has been behaving in a strange place is what I expected from Lostine, and the way Lostine behaved is what I expected from Bombay. Go figure.


Flying Lily said...

I love your riding instructor! What a great approach, and how much better than the constant yapping. Isn't it funny how horses "do the opposite"? Do you think they know what we expect, and have fun surprising us? If Gabbrielle chugs off like a steam train, can you turn her/bend her into control, one rein pressure? That often works for me.

BrownEyed Cowgirls said...

Good for you. Sounds like you are really getting some confidence and that makes all the difference in the world on how your horses react to things.
Darn those "killer" moths though-LOL.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Lily - Yeah, giving the student a breather to think for herself is an important part of being a good riding instructor, I suspect. I forgot to mention that my steering was broken too. When she was at that trot, she was ignoring all steering cues from both legs and reins.

BEC - It's a lot easier to be confident on a horse that doesn't have her tail up over her back and blows air in voilent blasts through her nostrils. I was amazed at how quiet she was, save that non-stop, non-turnable trot. But she got her normal self back after that.

OnTheBit said...

I have heard of the crop used when a horse spooks and although I have never practiced it I would imagine that it would work if the horse was only startled. If they were really scared I, like you, would imagine it would do more harm then good. If they are just being naughty they really should be reprimanded. X is the first horse I have ridden in a long time where I could even cary a whip!

Grey Horse Matters said...

Your riding seems to be getting better all the time and giving you confidence. Jerks in trucks huh? What are they thinking when they see someone riding a horse and decide to do donuts. Glad it all turned out okay.

Twinville said...

You said: "It's a lot easier to be confident on a horse that doesn't have her tail up over her back and blows air in voilent blasts through her nostrils"

NM, you described Arabians to a 'T'.

I so love watching Arabians because they are so athletic, proud, noble-looking and so amazingly spirited, but as a new horse owner I had to talk myself out of buying one of my own. I just knew that an Arabian would be too much horse for me.

Maybe one day my horsemanship and skills will be strong and confidance enough to handle an Arabian, but for now I just watch and admire :)

I like how your Instructor is with you, too. My Riding Instructor tend to give little tips about adjustments and position while I'm riding, but mostly is always telling me how wonderful I'm doing.

While I appreciate the postive encouragement, sometimes I feel as if she's just laying on the frosting and that I actually stink like rotten eggs. haha!
Sometimes too much kudos is too much and even feels fake somehow, kwim?

I know what you are saying about reverse expectations, too. I'm learning that most of my fears revolving around riding, are unfounded.

This made me spend a moment thinking about how when we expect our kids to be good, they usually do. And when we believe our kids will be naughty then they often are.

Have you ever seen "The Secret"?

It's all about how we attract what we are wanting...even if that is negative.
If we have negative energy and think "With my luck, only bad will happen", then it usually does.

If we think positive thoughts and visualize what we want, then it will happen.

It sure can't hurt to think positive and believe good things will happen, right? :)

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

OnTheBit - Thanks for the feedback on use of a riding crop.

Gray Horse - I don't know if it is just ignorance regarding the nature of horses or if they think it would be funny to cause an accident to a horseback rider.

Twinville - The tail up and nostrils snorting is very Arabian, but all breeds spook, run away, buck, rear... I've just been taken by the Arabian breed my entire life, though I didn't even know that all those horses I was attracted to over the years were of the same breed. Isn't it fortunate that I just happened to move in across the street from an Arabian horse farm?

Anyway, I have not seen "The Secret". Can I think positive and be cautious at the same time?

Twinville said...

Yes, I agree that all breeds of horses can spook and buck or rear, but Arabians are just bred to be so much more spirited. They are endurance horses that can go and go, long after we humans give up and tire out.
I've been to two Arabian shows this past year and I have to say they are never boring. I am in awe of their huge nostrils flared and puffing, their tails spread and carried high, while they prance, run and act like they still have a bit of the wild left in them.

Arabians are always so exciting to watch. That's probaby why so many people love to ride them. It's like harnessing the wind.

While I think caution around a horse is always a good idea, when it comes to "The Secret" you have to let those feelings fly into the wind and trust in only your positive feelings that only good will happen. Even a concern or worry that something bad might happen can taint the outcome.

Good luck, my friend :)