Thursday, September 11, 2008

Speed Machine

My equitation instructor and I were finally able to get together this week. He worked with me on Lostine, my speed machine. I explained the trouble I have keeping her slow within each gait because she plants her chin into her chest and just goes faster. If anyone has a "problem horse", I recommend that you take some equitation lessons on that horse. Mostly likely, there is some habit of your own you can change from the saddle that will correct the problem. Then you will discover that the horse is not a "problem horse", but it was simply reacting out of confusion to something you were doing (or not doing) each time you got on its back.

My instructor spent some time observing us together, and was able to pinpoint what was making my mare pissy. Lostine has always pinned her ears back when I've ridden her and sometimes bucked. Fortunately, all of her gaits are very smooth, including her bucks, so I've never had a problem sticking to the saddle. Her bucks are more of her way of communicating her frustration, and not really an effort to dislodge me. Years ago I figured out that she quit bucking if I kept quiet in the saddle -- my hands could not be bouncing, my seat could not be bumping her, and my legs could not be flopping against her sides. By watching us, my instructor could tell me if and how I was roughing her up.

His method that he taught to help me slow her down was one I had never considered. It involves pulling one rein, then the other, back and forth in a sawing motion, then holding the reins until she sets her head and slows down, and finally releasing to reward her. I had to do this maneuver over and over in that order until she held her frame and pace. We just worked on the walk, jog, and trot.

Lostine did everything in front of my instructor that she normally does when I ride her that I find to be a struggle to control. That includes moving off the rail and refusing to move back onto it, side-passing while I'm trying to turn her in a circle, going too fast and evading the bit, and stopping in the center of the round pen to order me off her back.

He taught me to be more aggressive in my cues to push past those problems. Amazingly, I only had to kick and spank her two or three times, and she totally understood what the correct behavior should be in each of those cases. By the end of our ride, she was a completely different horse. That was the fastest solution to a horse problem I've ever known -- one hour of my time and $50 of my money -- worth every minute and every cent. It beats what most people do when they have a "bad" horse, which is to sell or trade it, only to discover that the next horse has the same problems, because the rider has done nothing to change her behavior.

Here is a list of what I learned:
  • When Lostine veers off the rail, pull the inside rein, give with the outside rein, sit on inside hip, push with the inside leg, and if she does not respond, kick with the inside leg. If she still does not respond, smack her three times on the belly behind my leg with the riding crop. Once she gets back on the rail, release.

  • Keep the horse’s head set. Don’t let her pop her head up and don’t let her evade the bit by tucking her chin in. Pull one rein and then the other, pull straight back to hold, and once she sets her head, release. If she tucks her head in too far, give her some rein and drive her forward. Make her hold her frame.

  • Control her speed by pulling inside rein, then outside, holding both reins until she slows, then release. If she feels like she’s going to break down into a slower gait, put both legs on her while maneuvering the reins.

  • When reaching a point where she’s going to pop her head up or spook, ride her hard to keep her attention on me. Suck in my gut, sit up straight, pull her head back and forth, hold her head, lay some leg on her, wiggle my fingers and make sure that she points one ear back at me.

  • If she spooks anyway, whack her with the whip.

  • Insist that she jog slowly. Don’t settle for something in between the speed she wants to go and the speed I want her to go.

  • Make her more afraid of my legs and whip than of anything in the environment.

  • When hands bounce, tuck arms and elbows into sides. Lostine gets pissy when my hands bounce.

  • When going the right speed, keep lower legs completely away from her sides. Do not let them bounce against her.

  • If I drive strong and not be a passenger, Lostine will be a better horse.

  • After a lot of tugging on the reins to get her head set, walk her on a loose rein to help her relax.
During the lesson, several llamas came up the hill to the fence to say hello to my neighbor's horses. The horses reacted by bolting and bucking in their paddocks and pens. Lostine felt that she needed to spook as well, since all the other horses were doing it. It turned out to be a great challenge for me to keep her focused during that time, but I did it. My instructor does a good job making me more scared of being chastised by him than anything my horse is doing, so I did everything he said, and it worked. I really needed that kick in the butt to get me in control as a rider. Now I feel more confident about tackling those trails. I think the best equitation instructors know a lot about both horse and human psychology, which sometimes are one in the same.

Several readers have left suggestions on how to control her gaits. I'm not ignoring you. I just haven't had time to ride and try them out. As always, I thank you for your input.


Train Wreck said...

Wow now that is a good instructor! Quick results! Good for you, I am off to drill practice, I will try those tips and see if It helps me out. Lucky you for finding a knowledgable trainer!

ranchette said...

Sounds like your making great progress with Miss Lostine! Glad to hear it! Seems like your instructor is helping you guys move in the right direction.

Andrea said...

I am glad you had such a wonderful lesson. It's so nice to have someone on the ground watch and tell you what is doing on. I am with you on the "problem" horse. Right now I have a 3 year old that I got back from my "trainer" and I am having trouble riding him. I know it's not him, it's me. I just don't know what buttons to push and when.

I used to use the sea saw motion. Now I do a half hault. To set the head I will hold with my inside rein, slightly up, then take my outside rein and bounce bounce it back and down. It holds the horse's shoulder up and brings their head and chin in. Fun stuff. And great instructor!! YOu think he will come to Louisiana?

Twinville said...

Wow, sounds like you and Lostine are becomcing a true partnership. It's good that Lostine showed all of her behavior while your instructor was there, too.

He sounds like just what you are looking for. Thanks for sharing what you learned without even charging us the $50.00! hehe

Keep up the great riding. You'll be on the trails with Stiney before long! :)

Laughing Orca Ranch
New Mexico

Jenn said...

Sounds like a very productive, helpful lesson! And just from what you've described and what seems to work with Lostine, it sounds like she needs you to be a stronger leader for her. In my experience with many "hot and fast" horses, they slow right down and calm down once they don't feel like they have to be in charge. They are usually the ones who will happily hand over leadership if you prove to them you are worthy of taking it. :)

Hope things continue to go well!