Thursday, August 14, 2008

Equitation or EquiSUCKtion?

I met my equitation instructor in my neighbor's back paddock, so that he could see all the spooking, whinnying, bolting, and bucking that goes on back there. Of course, the property was very quiet when he arrived, so my gelding Bombay behaved himself. I told him about the problems I had on previous rides in that paddock. His first piece of advice was that I didn't lunge Bombay nearly long enough. I lunged him for ten minutes, and he advised that I lunge him for half an hour before putting a foot in the stirrup. That surprised me. My riding partner K had been impatient with me when I spent too much time lunging, and she pressured me to mount sooner. My advice to everyone is to not have two people working with you at the same time. It gets very confusing.

Bombay did very well in the back paddock until we did the posting trot. Each time we got to the same spot near the llama farm, he veered off the fence. I reacted by applying pressure with my inside leg to push him back, and he took that as a cue to canter. I pulled on the reins and squeezed with my thighs to slow him down, he got frustrated and bucked. This happened every time we came to that same spot. My instructor pointed out that the spot is going uphill, so I am struggling more with my posting, which is giving my horse confusing cues. He told me to post until I get to the spot, sit down until we are past it, and then pick up the posting again. That fixed the problem.

I guess he wasn't feeling satisfied with my performance in the paddock, so he moved us to the round pen. I felt like I was being demoted or flunked when he did that. He said he was going to work with me standing in the stirrups, but he never did that once we got there. He just had me do the posting trot over and over. After being ill all week, that was the last thing I wanted. What I really wanted was a break from the equitation, and some solid advice on what to do with all the spooking, whinnying, bolting and bucking.

Fortunately, Bombay began spooking at some chairs outside the round pen. My instructor told me to apply my inside leg to push him back to the rail and smack him on the hip with the riding crop. Each time I tried to smack him, I missed and hit my own thigh. He told me to bring my arm and rein to the outside, then whack with the whip. I smacked Bombay's hip hard the next time he spooked and that did the trick. He only looked at the chair each time we passed instead of jumping.

I asked about using the whip with bucking and explained that all it does is make him buck harder. My instructor told me to just keep whacking him with the whip each time he bucks until he stops, and then praise him. I didn't like that advice. My back and neck can't handle too much bucking.

I asked what to do about the constant whinnying and calling out to other horses. He said to ignore it, and work on keeping the horse's mind on the work we are doing. Last night my neighbor advised me to whack him with the whip each time he whinnies. This is what I love and hate about the wide world of horses. Everyone has different advice, and these people truly are experts. They've bred, raised, trained and ridden horses their whole lives, and they give lessons to others. I don't want to ignore anyone's advice, but when it conflicts, I have no one to depend on except myself.

My instructor chastized me quite a bit for the first time. He felt I wasn't doing what he was telling me to do. That was because I was too busy trying to get control of my horse. I can ride or I can listen. One or the other. Each time I listened to him, I lost control of the horse, and he snapped at me and told me to drive. Each time I drove, he berated me for not listening. I began thinking that I might have just a couple more lessons with this guy, and then call it quits. He hasn't been teaching me enough new things at these recent lessons. I want to learn to pick up the correct lead on the canter, and he has only spent a grand total of five minutes on that. It's like he wants me to perfect that damn posting trot before moving up to the canter, but I don't have the time nor money for that. I also want him to work with me on my other horse, Lostine, and I want him to teach me how to feel more comfortable in my Dressage saddle.

He did say that I look like I lost some weight. He knows that is one of my goals. He's a strict vegetarian and has been trying to convert me. No milk, no eggs, no cheese, no meat, just vegetables and nuts. No more three meals a day, just constant nibbling. That would be a big change for me. He does look much healthier than I do, though, so I am considering it.

Our next lesson is in two weeks. I'm thinking I might surprise my instructor by showing up on a different horse in a Dressage saddle. That would throw him for a loop. Tee hee.

P.S. When I changed out of my jeans into shorts, I discovered that I had developed a blister on the back of my knee and it had popped! That's how hard he had me doing that posting trot. He kept pressuring me to squeeze with those knees and the friction of it actually caused a half-inch blister to form and pop. Gross!


Victoria Cummings said...

I just have to say that if I lunged either of my horses for a half an hour, they'd be too tired to do anything with me on their backs. And I an not a big fan of whips. Have you ever read any of Mark Rashid's books? They're fun to read and they do offer a very sound and effective way to ride and train without using fear or force. He also has a good website. By the way, your instructor should be your ally, not someone that you resent or distrust - You're paying him well to help you and if he is going to succeed at teaching you anything, it shouldn't be through intimidation or making you feel ashamed.

Jenn said...

The lunging before you ride issue is a much-debated one among trainers. The more you lunge, the fitter they get. The fitter they get, the more energy/strength they have to act like complete idiots when you get on. It can become a vicious circle.

It almost sounds like Bombay really needs a lot of "stuff" to do while you're riding to keep his attention on you rather than on anything else. My old OTTB mare was the same soon as her mind wasn't focused on me and on working, it was focused on all the scary stuff outside the arena and the meltdowns commenced.

AnnL said...

I usually ignore whinnying as long as the horse is still basically paying attention to me and isn't spooking, looking around or otherwise disobeying. I think your instructor is correct, just keep riding and try to get Bombay's focus on you.

As for hitting him with the whip when he bucks, well, that's a tough spot. In order for the whip to really be effective in this situation, I think you need to have a strong enough seat to be able to ride the horse through whatever he does, so that he knows that he is being reprimanded for the bucking and that he's not going to get out of working by bucking. But, I don't have the feeling that you're strong enough in your seat to be that effective. It's one of those "which comes first" situations. You need to be able to keep driving him forward while you reprimand him with the whip. Since he continues bucking, he doesn't believe you really mean it. By continuing to buck in response to the whip, he's basically giving you the finger. Like a little kid, saying "Nyah, you're not the boss of me"

One thing you can try if he's bucking is pull his head around sharply to one side. Literally try to get him to touch your knee with his nose. He can't buck in that position. Keep sending him forward with your legs and as he settles down, ease up on the rein and let him straighten out.

I know what you mean about your back and neck not being able to take the wrenching of those bucks. I'm getting too old for that stuff!


Katee said...

I think you are a reader of MiKael's blog, right? She has often said that you have to be an advocate for your horse and yourself. Yes, in the horse world there are always going to be people who DO know more than you do and even more people who THINK they know more than you do.

You know your horse and yourself better than anybody else. You are the person who interacts with Bombay each and every day. You know him and he trusts you more than anybody else. If some advice or training doesn't feel right to you, get different advice.

Ok, this comment is getting super long, but I'm going to give you one more thing to toss in your bucket of horse advice: having your horse run around you for a half hour doesn't teach the horse anything, it just makes him tired. When he's tired he will probably be less inclined to buck or spook, but at the same time he's also going to be less inclined to trot or canter for you. Lunging is a great tool, but as I've said before, I think it should be used to teach a horse something, not exhaust him.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Victoria - I do have some of Mark Rashid's books, but it has been years since I've read them. I'll have to pull them out and read through them for a reminder of his philosophy.

Jenn - That is the first time I've heard about the horse's energy building up during lunging. I certainly start feeling friskier after exercise, so it makes sense.

My goals with lunging are to get the horse to focus on me, to review basic concepts like whoa, to limber up, to get a feel for the horse's mood and health, and to get the bloat out of the belly so that I can tighten the cinch. I can do all that in ten minutes if we aren't in a completely new location where my horse is a nervous wreck. We were in a semi-new location during the lesson and Bombay had settled after ten minutes. I also didn't want to spend the first half hour of my lesson lunging him. Although, if I only spent half an hour riding, I might not have that blister. ;)

Ann - I'll give that a try. Thanks.

Jessie said...

I am sorry you are getting so many different opinions, my advice would be to try them all and find out what works best for you and more importantly, the horse!

As far as the whinnying goes... I would not suggest using the whip every time he does it because essentially you would be punishing a horse for simply being a horse! That's not quite fair is it? Follow the advice given by others and bring Bombay's focus back to YOU. Make him work in small circles, spirals, or figure eights. Anything to keep his feet moving exactly where you want them to move, not wherever he feels like going. Horses aren't good at multitasking so thinking about the other horses and the work you've given him to do will be difficult for him. So if you give him a job, his mind will come back to you.

When he spooks on the rail, take him off the rail and work him HARD in the middle of the arena. Again, keep his feet moving where you want them to move doing circles, spirals, and figure eights (done at the trot). Once his mind is back on you move to the rail and rest at the spooky spot. If he is still spooked and doesn't want to rest, take him back to the middle and work him again. He will learn that the place he once thought was scary is now the best place to be!

I am sorry for yet another opinion thrown your way, but like I said, you need to figure out what works best for you and the horse.

Good luck!!

ranchette said...

1/2 hour of lunging seems like A LONG time to me. Like you I've always used it to get the initial kinks out and that's it.

And I agree with Victoria's comments - it should be a good partnership between you, your trainer and your horse. This guy might not be the right trainer for you? But you never know until you try a few people out.

I've had those posting blisters before, but only when working without stirrups. Ouch!

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Katee - Thank you for the reminder of MiKael's philosophy. I don't believe everything I hear, but I'm open to trying different things to see what works. I suspect a lot of different approaches work, but it's best to choose one that does not damage the relationship between you and your horse, like others have said. What breed of horses do you ride?

Jessie - You provided a fresh idea on how to handle the spooking. At least, it is new to me. Thanks.

Ranchette - I agree with Victoria's comments too. My instructor won't let me use the stirrups when I post. He wants everything coming up from the knees and thighs, which is the correct way to post. I just wonder how many people post for an hour with only a minute or two of rest here and there. Maybe endurance riders?

The reality is that I'm a bit limited in my ability to try out trainers. Most only work with adult riders on week days when I am at work. This guy worked out perfectly because he came to my home on my hour lunch break. If I had to trailer the horse somewhere, it would end up being a two to three hour lunch break depending on how far I have to drive.

jme said...

ok, this is probably none of my business, but i feel like i have to say something here: please do not assume that just because someone is a trainer or has won in competitions that he or she is automatically an expert. more times than not, this is not the case. i could tell you horror stories of my own...

your instincts here are good - trust them! longeing to tire your horse before riding accomplishes only 2 things: it gets your horse tired, making him less responsive and putting him at greater risk of injury; and over time it gets him super fit so you'll have even more horse on your hands, and you'll have to longe for even longer each time.

using a whip on a spooking horse is NEVER a good idea unless you're standing on railroad tracks with a train coming. a spooking horse will learn to forever associate being frightened of something with the pain of the whip - he can't tell himself 'don't be scared of that or you'll get whipped' he can only put 'scared' and 'whipped' together and become more afraid each time. In an odd way, it puts you, his rider, in league with whatever scares him most, and you will lose his trust and confidence.

the bucking also is not likely to be solved by the whip as it seems to come more from your horse's tension and frustration from a clashing of aids. the fix depends largely on the cause, and there is no one-size-fits-all bucking solution, so without seeing him in action, i can't be more specific.

i would recommend starting with working out the spooking by confirming his lateral movement off your leg at a walk, then sitting trot, then posting etc, to really establish the response before you add speed and posting to the equation. Don’t feel rushed. there is also nothing wrong with circling on your approach to the offending object to maintain an inside flexion so the horse cannot as easily drift away from it, and so your horse does not feel 'trapped' between the object and your whip/hand - that will only cause him to panic and act out.

in lieu of smacking him every time he gets his eye on something spooky, you can also try jiggling your inside hand and/or gently nudging with your inside leg – not enough for an aid, but to subtly distract your horse and refocus his attention on you before he has a chance to spook – you’ll know it's working if his inside ear turns back toward you when you do it, which means you’re getting his attention away from spooking.

i hope all of that made sense. anyway, sorry to be so direct - it's probably not my place. i just want to help if I can… feel free to tell me to shut up :-)

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

jme - This is certainly your business and your place. The whole reason why I am posting my equi-problems is so that I can bring in a variety of feedback to help others as well as myself. All of that is excellent advice. My gut has been telling me that whipping is mostly likely making things worse on some level. Of course, as soon as I'd whip him for spooking, he didn't spook in the same spot anymore, but I didn't think it was the proper solution.

Nor’dzin said...

Wow you've had some really great comments there. I'm going to try Jessie's idea about spookie spots in the arena with Dee. If I had to lunge for half an hour before riding, I'd never have time to get out as far as the woodland trails! Also my mare can get a little crazy lunging, whereas she is fine riding out. I still cannot get used to this gripping with the knees for posting - is this standard Western riding?

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

nor'dzin - They are great comments. I too am strapped for time, so my lunging usually doesn't surpass 10 minutes. I'm hoping someone else can answer your question about posting from the knees being standard Western riding. I'm too new to the art of equitation to know.

Grey Horse Matters said...

I'd like to help too but it's hard without actually seeing the horse and you ride together. I'm inclined to agree with jme on all points. I've never been a fan of using the whip for correction as I feel it just exacerbates the situation. From your posts I have the feeling that your trainer is probably not a bad guy, but... I think he may be trying to take you and the horse along a little too fast, my thoughts on riding and training (especially for mature adults) is to take it slow and steady and learn one thing at a time, so maybe if you told him you want to train this way, things could slow down. Learn one thing first then move on to the next. Posting for an hour isn't good for either you or the horse. It should be interspersed with lots of walk transitions. A correct walk is the most important gait so working on that is good too and will give both you and your horse confidence in each other and a break from posting and blisters.
p.s. If I were you I wouldn't worry about pleasing the trainer, speak up when you don't agree or like something, remember he's working for you not the other way round.

Grey Horse Matters said...

Sorry to be annoying, I'm not sure if you visit my blog regularly but I recently posted an article on 'selecting the right trainer', there may be some info in there that you could use and of course some you can't, stop by when you get the chance and look it over. Hope it helps.

BrownEyed Cowgirls said...

NM-I am with you on the lunging. Lunging is an exercise to get a horse focused on you and the only people that I see lunging "forever" are pleasure type people. I do not have the time nor the inclination to lunge a horse for 30 minutes. I would suggest telling the trainer that you are comfortable with shorter lunging times and would actually like to get to the point where you don't have to lunge at all.

As far as spanking Bombay. I have had horses that it worked on...usually spoiled horses that don't want to do what is asked and I have had horses that it didn't work on...usually fearful, unsure horses. Bombay sounds like he is fearful and unsure. In this case, I have found that bending the head around and working the horse in little circles until they are focused again works the best. Here is the perfect time to work on using your legs to "drive" that horse.

Whether it feels like it or are making progress!!! You are determined to figure this out and find the best way for you and your horse. It will come, it just can be difficult to get it all to come together, especially on a hot horse like Bombay.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

grey horse - I do have you in my RSS feed. I'm not great about always leaving comments. I tend to get interrupted so many times while reading and writing that I give up and have to walk away from the computer. I need to be like Twinville and stay up really late after everyone has gone to bed so that I can leave coherent comments. At least with posts, I can save them as a draft and get back to them later, but my comments are often cut short or cut off completely. Speak of the devil... just then I was going to type something here and my dog started barking because she wanted in. Now I can't remember what I was going to say.

You perceive my trainer as possibly moving too fast while I think he's moving too slow. I have a kid to put through college so I can't keep paying him $50 an hour to make me do the same thing over and over at each lesson. I want him to teach me the concept of what I need to know to be a better rider, and then let me go practice on my own. However, you have a point in that one step at a time will help me - Hang on... another interruption.

One step at a time will help me get the basics down. I also think that he is wary of teaching me the canter, because he doesn't want me to get hurt. So, he's probably looking out for my best interests, and I'm impatient with him.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

BEC - Thanks for the encouragement. Having a lot to work on, and knowing what needs to be worked on is a lot better than just doing the same old thing, making the same old mistakes, and not knowing they are mistakes.

jme said...

i'm just noticing the picture below this post of the horse tied to the trailer wearing his saddle... does his saddle always fit this way? i am just wondering because, to fit properly and allow the rider to be in balance, the seat of the saddle should be positioned behind the wither and level, and yours is sitting on top of the wither and going up hill (and yes i know the picture is on an angle).

not only will this pinch the horse's withers and concentrate weight directly under your seat (and possibly make your horse uncomfortable) it will cause you to struggle with your posting, as your feet will want to push forward and your seat fall back, which means you will have to grip harder with your leg and fight to pull yourself up. you're probably working too hard! not to mention, sometimes positioning the saddle this way can cause a horse to be sensitive and 'goosey'. you might try placing your saddle behind the wither and see if it doesn't help you post easier and help settle your horse.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

jme - I noticed that too. It starts out positioned behind the withers. I was wondering if he might have been pulling on the reins and pulling the saddle forward, or if the saddle ended up in that position after I rode. I'm planning on paying attention to that after my next ride. It's a very expensive saddle and fit perfectly when I first got it, but it may have stretched out a bit since it's a Flex Tree. I've noticed that it sits lower than it used to. Thanks again.

Flying Lily said...

NM: I will put in another vote for not longeing that long. It is HARD on their shoulders to do any work in smaller circle, which longe lines tend to enforce. And, your goal as BrownEyed Cowgirls said, is to have a horse who can be tacked up, mounted, and ridden calmly at all gaits without longeing.

And I also loved what BrownEyed said about bending the horse instead of using the whip. Whip can be a nice aid if it is focused and light; using whip for discipline and control can be counterproductive. A little light smack "pay attention" is fine; but beyond that you go into grey area where you might be working against the horse rather than with, which is our goal..

From what you say, and knowing nothing more, I think your instructor is concentrating on building basic seat position and balance - and this is money in the bank forever IMO. I'd try to follow his directions for about 6 weeks and just see what happens.
The canter lead issue is going to solve itself when the balance and strength of leg is there....again JMO and I am no trainer!!

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Lily - Thanks for the additional thoughts. I know you are right about what my instructor's intentions are. He's just doing what I asked for, which is to learn how to ride correct. As time has gone on, my needs have shifted. I'm almost at six weeks of exercising his instruction. He has helped me improve my balance, but I'm in pain after riding because the "correct" position is not natural to me.

Callie said...

Don't get discouraged! Keep it up, you're doing great things! And it will come together!

Twinville said...

NM said: "I need to be like Twinville and stay up really late after everyone has gone to bed so that I can leave coherent comments."

At first I was thinking, Hey! are you picking on me?" And then I realized that it is 2:45 in the morning! haha I am a serious night owl and cannot even think straight during the day with so many interruptions.

Plus, the weather in New Mexico has been amazing with our monsoons. The temps have been in the 60s during the day and down to the 40's at night. And the grass is green and growing. I love to be outside when it's like this.

Ok enough about my weather. How's yours? Are the fires still raging?

I've learned so much reading all of the other blogger's comments. So much good and helpful info.

I think I told you a while ago what my neaighbor, Val, who has Arabians told me. "You can't tire out an Arabian with lunging"
They get fit and more excited.
They also tend to get bored just going around and around, and then end up ignoring you.

It seems better to keep an Arabian challenged with interesting activity and focused on you waiting for their next instructions.

You seem frustrated with your trainer and the layout of your lessons. If you are like me, you want the information and how to do it, but then you want to practice it at home....not over and over during the riding lesson.
That's alot of money to pay someone just to watch you practice.

Maybe you can explain that to him. Ask him to teach you several skills at each lesson, then allow you to practice between lessons.
Then at the next lesson, he can 'quiz' you by observing you executing your new skills. He can then critique you, and give you more pointers if he thinks you need more practice.

So, basically, you learn something new and valuable at each lesson, possibly even more than one new skill if time permits.
Then at the next lesson, you show your instructor what you've learned, and take notes if he has any for you. But then after the 'review', you go on to learn another new skill or two.

I hope I'm making sense. Maybe staying up too late doesn't really help with coherency? :)

I am feeling that you are wanting to 'get your money's worth' during the lessons, right? So maybe my suggestions will help with that goal.

Ok, so now I'm finally going bed.
Well after I read your next post. hehe

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Callie - Thanks for the encouragement.

Twinville - No, I am not making fun of you. I know your comments come in late, and they are well thought-out. Mine are always short, because I can't get two-minutes without getting pulled away from whatever I'm doing.

Yeah, the lungeing philosophies are something we've been twittering about for a while. I've heard a lot of different perspectives, and they are all logical.

I'm working on the best way to approach my instructor about what direction I would like the lessons to take in the future. It's always easier getting your way when you are a new student. Familiarity makes people think they can push you around.

The weather has been in the triple-digits, but I'm not having any problem sleeping at night, so it must be cooling off enough once the sun sets. The smoke cleared. No thunderstorms for a while until the next post.

Katee said...

NM: I ride a mustang. I grew up on my mother's totally broke quarter horses who could sit in a pasture for months and then be taken out for a perfectly behaved trail ride. I was more passenger than rider.

Adopting a wild horse was quite a leap for me and hasn't always gone as planned. Basically, his training process has been one of trial and error.

Make sure all of the advice you get will push through the screen of Love for your horse, Knowledge of your horse and Desire to keep all your limbs in good, working order! Using these screens, you'll never fail Bombay or yourself!

Shirley said...

You have some really good advice in these comments, so I'll just say that the lunging advive is good, and so is the whip advice. Jessie and BEC had great advice too; when a horse bucks or spooks doubling is one of the safest things you can do- to pick up one rein and bring his head around to your knee and at the same time use your inside leg to push his hip "out of gear" makes him unable to buck or run away. I suggest you practice this at the beginning of your rides for a few times until you are comfortable with the manouver and can do it automatically; remember not to lean forward when you go down the rein to shorten it up as that would put you out of balance and you might get unseated. Once you have it down pat, you will be able to do this when he starts to buck, and then send him straight back to work as you don't want to just stop after you do this or he will welcome it as a way to get out of work!
One more point, you mentioned wanting to learn to pick up the correct lead; to do this you will need to move your horse laterally, so perhaps you could ask your trainer to focus on lateral moves on your next lesson; and these are learned first at the walk, so you won't get so sore posting!