Thursday, September 18, 2008

Reining in My Girl

I only got one practice lesson in on Lostine between last week's and this week's equitation lessons. Many of the corrections I received from my instructor were the same as I've had before. I'm beginning to realize that I have to eat, drink, and breathe equitation to really benefit from all these lessons. I can't just get another life between lessons and not practice on the side. With the days getting shorter, I've got my work cut out for me. Unless I skip dinner and run outside as soon as my office work is done at 5:00 PM, I won't beat the moon. Of course, there's nothing wrong with riding at night, except that my horses expect to be fed and in their stalls by dark. I myself like to be in bed with a good book by then too.

My equitation instructor and I talked a bit about that problem with the saddle riding up on the neck and withers. He told me to pull the pad up underneath the pommel and horn, so that there is some air flow running under the pad. He said that the pad should be molded to the saddle, not the horse. He was thinking that the problem may be that the tree is too wide. I'll have to go back and investigate the width of the tree. All I know is that it is an Arabian tree, which means it is shorter, but that doesn't tell me much about the width.

While I was riding at first, I was having a hard time getting Lostine to stop immediately. I was having to pull back hard on both reins. My instructor visibly saw my saddle slide forward when I did that. He told me to start pulling one rein and then the other instead of both at the same time to get her to halt. That's how tough this horse is: She can pull both me and the saddle forward with her mouth!

Because of that, we spent a lot of time working on softening her mouth and head. My challenge was to keep her head at the vertical at all paces. Each time she popped her head up, I had to rein her back in by squeezing one rein, then the other, and releasing once she set her head. I was having a problem understanding the idea of "releasing" at first. I thought it meant that you give her more rein. However, as soon as I did that, she popped her head up and picked up the pace. I was supposed to keep a hold of her, but just stop squeezing my hands. It's all very subtle.

I realized that another contributing factor to not being able to stop Lostine was that I use the term WHOA as a cue to both slow down and halt. So, she had simply gotten to the point where she is only willing to slow down on WHOA, but not stop moving her feet all together. I have to retrain her with new cues, and say HUP to slow down and WHOA to stop.

Lostine and I got into several battles. My instructor caught me giving up and letting her win on one of them. I just wanted to move on with the lesson. However, he pointed out that I HAVE TO WIN EVERY BATTLE in order for my horse to respect all of my cues and be confident in me. So, from then on, even if my instructor was telling me to do something, I finished out my battle with Lostine before doing what he said. He pointed out that she was much more cooperative once I won a few.

My instructor has started moving me from one arena to another in part so that I would get practice riding my horses past all the scary stuff. Lostine spotted some junk on the ground and started running sideways to avoid it. We were headed for a wreck, and my instructor was yelling at me. I had to tune everything out and just listen to my instinct, which told me to kick and whip her hard on the side of the direction she was running. That worked, and then I circled her back to the gate to start over. I really had to push hard with the inside of my calves to get her through that gate. She had walked through it while I led her plenty of times in the past, but I guess everything seems more scary with a rider on her back. Silly horse.

I used to prefer to ride Lostine, because she was more comfortable. However, I'm thinking now that I get more enjoyment out of riding Bombay. Bombay follows all of my cues well and has a sweet, slow jog and slow lope. Everything with Lostine is a battle. My instructor is showing me how to train her while I am learning to ride better, but it is difficult to concentrate on both at the same time. For instance, as soon as I start struggling to keep Lostine at a slower pace with her head set at the vertical, my leg position gets thrown to the wind. When my instructor points that out, I adjust myself, which Lostine promptly takes advantage of by stopping or going faster or coming off the rail. Then I have to correct her, and I lose my leg position again. That's why I need to practice, practice, practice. Someday it will all be second nature.


coymackerel said...

Oh I sympathize - I'm in the same situation with my horse as you are with Lostine. But you're right, someday it will be second nature.

Have you tried putting her in small circles when she won't stop, a la Clinton Anderson? This has helped with my horse - he gets tired of it real fast and decides that stopping when I ask sounds better. Has an added advantage of not giving your horse anything to brace her head and neck against either.

Andrea said...

I am with you on this. I have been off from riding for about 4 years. I have had three kids and now I want to get back on my three year old colt. I rode yesterday and I flet like a teeter totter. My upper body was all over the place. I hate it. I want to ride so well and all I do is flop all over the place. I am with you on needing some good old practice practice practice.

It sounds like you are really working hard! keep up the hard work, it does pay off.

kaylee said...

In 40 years of horse training
I have NEVER used a whip.
If you think you can get your
horse respect with a whip
you have an other think coming.
Why do you just but a horse
you can control and give this
so called trainer the boot??

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

coymakerel - Putting her in small circles is not one of the techniques that my instructor has me use, but my horse is really not that out of control most of the time. The sideways spook was a surprise to both of us. However, I will definitely use it if another problem crops up in the future.

andrea - I'll be interested in seeing if I remember everything I've been taught come next spring. While you have had to take a break from riding to raise your kids, I will have to take a break during the winter months. I hope I don't have to start from scratch, but can pick up where I left off.

Kaylee - Horses are not commodities to me. I don't get rid of one just because she needs more training and buy another because it is easy. I'd be bored with a "dead broke" horse. I love the challenge of working through the problems that come along with inexperienced horses. I wasn't born with horsemanship skills, but am learning as I go. That's what this blog is all about. The riding crop is an extension of my arm. When I use it, my leg and the saddle pad take on the majority of the blow, which is really the equivalent of having a horse hit you with its tail when it is swatting flies away. It's simply the movement of the crop that communicates to the horse that it needs to keep its attention on me and follow my less aggressive cues. Usually, it only takes one swat and I don't have to use the riding crop for the same correction again.

Jenn said...

My husband's horse can be a rough ride when she's feeling spunky and I've ridden horses that absolutely require perfect aids every single time. They ignore everything that's not dead on and act like they have no clue. I too enjoy the challenge they present and, BONUS! They FORCE me to really be aware of my equitation and be extremely consistent with the aids I am giving. You can thank Lostine for providing you the opportunity to really think about equitation and have to work at it. She's giving you the chance to get good at it, which makes riding the "easy" horses that much more enjoyable.

I hate the shorter days. I have to rush home from work and throw riding clothes on just so I can have some time to ride! Pretty soon it will be dark by the time I get home and riding will be relegated to weekends. *sigh* I seriously need some outdoor lights.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Jenn - I agree. I've always said that Lostine has been my best equitation instructor of all. She won't let me slack off for anything.

Lulu said...

I use the cue "easy" to slow my horse, and "whoa" is only used for a stop.