Thursday, January 17, 2013

Bombay Doesn't Get What He Wants

Fortunately, my horse trainer and I have about the same leg length, so she can hop on Bombay to demonstrate what she is teaching me at any time without us having to adjust the stirrups.  Here she's taking a phone call and making Bombay wait for her next instruction.  He's got one ear on me and one ear on her.

First she rode him in the arena to test him out for some more advanced maneuvers, and she said his previous trainers did a good job with him.  He side passed with no problem, and she was impressed with how he voluntarily keeps his head set.  All of that comes from Arabian horse show trainers who have worked with him over the years.  Then she took him out on that land behind her in the picture.  It's just a bunch of desert brush and critter mounds filled with holes.  She wanted to see how he handled moving away from his mares and the barn.

All the training we've been doing with him in the arena, and me taking him for hand-walks out into the desert has helped a lot.  He was perfectly behaved.  She kept trying to get him to misbehave so that she could show me how to correct it, but he wouldn't.  So, she just showed me what maneuvers she would do should he decide to rush back to the barn.  It was exactly what Mikey had me do:  Pick a couple of bushes and circle them.  Do figure 8s.  Only when you decide that he can rest, you let him rest, but as soon as he takes a couple of steps forward, you start circling those bushes again.  She let him shift his weight and take one step to redistribute his weight, but as soon as he starts walking off without her cue, it's back to work around those bushes.

She also trotted him fast away from the barn, stopped him, and made him stand at the end of the property line with his back to the barn.  Then when she was ready, she turned him and walked him back to the barn.  But she didn't let him rest at the barn.  She immediately turned him away and trotted out again.  She said that if I ever get him out on the trails and he's acting dangerous again, with rearing, bucking and bolting, I should take him back to the barn, but I should work him hard there.  I can even take him inside the arena as long as I keep him turning and backing and side passing, etc.  Then when I'm ready, take him back out on a trial ride for a leisurely walk, so that the trail ride feels like a reward since it is so easy.

After riding him on the flat part of our property, she wanted to ride him down into the arroyo, because she knew that was his scary spot.  I forewarned her I had never taken him down there.  She said, "I know.  This is where all the boogeymen hide."

It's where all the coyotes, stray dogs, hikers and horseback riders travel.  There's this sheet or pillowcase that has been tangled in some tree branches back there ever since we moved in.  We would need some really long pruning shears to get it down.  Bombay spotted that and teleported sideways.  After checking to see if I was out of the way, the trainer pulled his head around to face the sheet in the tree.

When we reached the head of the trail that we don't want people to use anymore, Bombay balked.  It goes downhill at a good angle, is very rocky and narrow with thick brush on both sides.  The trainer urged him forward until he took a step, and then left him alone.  If he stepped backwards, she spun him in circles and worked him hard until he reached the last spot he stood at, and then she let him rest.  Soon he learned it was easier to just go forward down the trail.  He had his neck arched and his ears pinned forward, so she was ready for a spook.  Much of her philosophy involves watching the ears and heading the negative behaviors off at the pass by reading the horse's signals.  I guess that explains why in so many pictures the riders are always glaring at their horse's ears.  It's a part of their training.

I think because Bombay knew that his rider was monitoring his behavior so closely, he did not spook again while she was riding him.  He was nervous down in the arroyo, so she did a lot of circles and backing up.  Her goal was just to get him to stand still and relax down there.  He kept moving off without a cue, so she had to keep him circling and backing.  Only when he stood for a couple of minutes did she take him back up the bank toward the barn at a walk.

I can't tell you how many horse training books I have read that have said, "Don't let your horse run back to the barn," but they fail to mention how.  Pulling back on two reins isn't going to do it if the horse is determined.  Watching my trainer ride my skittish horse in a scary area made me realize just how much work goes into training him to stand still or walk when he's convinced that something is going to come flying out of the trees, jump on his back and gnaw on his neck.

My trainer felt confident enough on him to then take him out front by the street.  While we were out there she saw how close the gate to the trails was, so she just kept going.  He showed signs of thinking about spooking at the statues in my neighbors' yard, so the trainer turned him away from them to get him to focus somewhere else.  If he's about to spook at something, she distracts him by turning him away, and if he has already spooked at something, she turns him toward it and makes him look at it since he wanted to get away from it during his spook.  She was always making him do the opposite of what he wanted to do.

She didn't take him all the way out on the trails, but worked on getting him to stand on the other side of the gate while the mares screamed for him.  He popped his head way up in the air and pinned his ears forward to listen to them, so she made him do circles.  I noticed that he started giving her a cue when he was going to move off without permission.  He'd poke her boot with his nose as if to say, "Come on, lady, give me a squeeze so we can go."

When she didn't tell him to go, he went anyway, and she circled bushes at a trot.  He didn't learn to stand still by the end of the lesson, but the trainer felt that there wasn't anything he dished out that I couldn't handle, so next week I will be the one riding him on the trails and she will walk with me and talk me through the rough spots.

After the trainer left, I rode Bombay in the arena and worked him in all the maneuvers she taught me so that he would learn that he doesn't get to rest and have all his tack removed every time he returns from the trails.  One thing this trainer has me do that is really alien to me is that she wants me to keep him on a loose rein as much as possible.  If he is standing still, she wants me to feed out the reins so that his nose can touch the ground.  When I ride, she wants the reins loose, but she wants me to keep my hands forward on his neck so that I can quickly reach down and pull his head around if need be.  She says the only way he will get soft on the bit and respond to my rein cues quicker is if he has total relief on his mouth when he's doing the right thing.

All of my previous horse trainers and equitation instructors insisted that I always have direct contact with the mouth of the horse.  If they saw any slack in the reins, they yelled at me to tighten up.  The faster I wanted to go, the tighter I had to hold the reins.  One trainer even tied knots in my reins to prevent the reins from slipping through my hands.  When my new trainer rides Bombay, those knots are hanging down on the sides of his neck.

I'm finding that the cruising exercises do allow for me to keep the reins loose.  While my previous trainers had me control my horse's speed with constant adjustments of squeezing with the legs and pulling or giving with the reins, the cruising exercises teach the horse to take responsibility for maintaining the speed I ask for. I move him up to a trot on a loose rein.  If he slows down, I squeeze with my legs until he returns to the right pace and I release.  If he speeds up, I pull his head around, which automatically slows him down, and send him off in the opposite direction.

Obviously, in the horse showing world, you can't just keep turning your horse in the opposite direction anytime you need to slow it down, so those trainers teach you how to constantly be communicating with your horse through rein contact.  Their goal is to get the horse sensitive enough to feel you tighten and loosen your hand grip on the reins without having to pull.  However, I figure that since I don't plan to show my horses and just want to ride on the trails, I'll give this loose rein approach a chance.  It means re-training my horse, but I'm sure he'll eventually figure it all out.

One thing I really like about my trainer is that she is constantly repeating her instructions without anger.  Some old instructors would give me the instructions once, and if I didn't respond or remember them, they would raise their voice, and usually the third time they'd be yelling in anger or frustration at me.  I have a memory problem, so I need to have information repeated to me constantly, and I can listen and absorb better if the emotion is taken out of it.  This trainer seems to understand that part of her job is re-training my brain to remember what she's teaching me when she's not around, and she's just as patient with me as she is with my horses.

She says this whole thing with teaching the horses to stand and wait for the next cue takes the longest amount of her time.  Remember how I was worried about having to do one-rein stops all the way home since they only temporarily stopped my horse, and then as soon as I gave him his head, he'd just take off again?  Well, if we can get him to learn not to move his feet until we say so, and to take responsibility for maintaining the speed we ask for, then I won't have to keep doing one-rein stops all the way home.  So, we are at a critical part of his training, and it's going to take some time and consistency.  I can't just take him out on the trails and ride like a passenger to our destination.   I have to constantly be reminding him to not do anything unless I specifically tell him to.


Cindy D. said...

Can I just say that I am so glad you are sharing all this information with us. Some of it really hits home for me (especially the one rein stop stuff)

Marissa said...

Its funny, when i first began taking lessons, I was trained to ride with a VERY loose rein. They were all neck reined horses, so it made it easier to still have direction but have NO contact on the bit unless i REALLY needed it. I was forced to use my body and nothing but my body and not rely on the bit, once I got more advanced we worked on adding contact. Its so much easier to add contact when your used to riding with none, than it is to relax the reins when your so used to having a grip on them.

Also, I think that even when your showing horses, you should be able to communicate with them with a loose rein, my point being that down the line Bombay could totally show and he would be so much more sensitive to his mouth since he'll be used to having his mouth all the time! its really a better relationship to have with your horse!

Sounds like you three are moving along nicely!

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Marissa - Yeah, and I know in some of the horse showing classes I have seen the judge will ask for the rider to walk on a loose rein. I think my previous trainers probably felt that it was important that I keep a death grip on the reins because my horses spooked and bolted so much. I've noticed that when we approach the mounting block, all of my horses start nervously champing at the bit. My trainer noticed it too. While my old trainers would have told me to make the horse stop chewing the bit by see-sawing the reins, my new trainer makes me loosen the reins until the horse stops chewing.

jill said...

When a horse is carrying its head level or down towards the ground it is a relaxing position. Watch horses when they are relaxed in turnout or pasture, they walk with their heads low.
An alerted horse will carry its head high.
Thats why she wants to get your horse to the point of just being loose and on a long rein, you're asking him to relax.
Good luck with your new trainer!

Cheryl Ann said...

This is a lot of information for me, too! I like your trainer! Wish I come come out to your place and watch!

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Great post! I love how she is patient with you and doesn't mind repeating everything. I sometimes require instructions repeated to me, too, because often I am still thinking about something that was said previously, and haven't totally focused on the new information yet.

I also like how your instructor is teaching you to ride with a loose rein. YES!!! Your horses will appreciate this so much.

I ride trails with 10 foot long cotton trail reins just for this reason. My reins are always loose, so my horse focuses on my seat and legs instead. If I want Apache to back up, I first use my seat and legs, and will follow it up with just a squeeze (like milking a cow) on the reins, with no tautness on the reins at all.

Apache has rarely ever tried to take off on me, or trot when I want her to walk, but if she does, I do the same thing...gentle squeezing of the pulling. And I tell her in a low voice: 'Waaaalk'.

The one time during the Christmas Parade where she became excited and a little prancy because we had been out in front leading, I just one-reined her head around and circled her to the back of our group. And she immediately stopped being prancy, and became relaxed and remained at a walk.

One of the best things to come out of riding with a loose rein is how it has helped my mare go from being dead-sided to being sensitive to my leg cues. Seriously, the first 2 years I had Apache, I (and even my instructors and friends, too) could squeeze and kick until we had leg cramps, and Apache wouldn't respond at all.
I had to use my quirt to swing over her shoulders or tap on her hip just to get her to walk faster or trot...and then she would often go right back to a slow walk or just stopping, as soon as the quirt was put away. ugh! It was so frustrating.

But that doesn't happen anymore and I don't even need my quirt now. Yay!

I feel for you with barn/herd sour horses because it might always be a struggle. Baby Doll was like that and I would bring her back to the barn, work her hard and head back out on the trail..and usually we'd have a good ride. But sometimes not.
Sometimes, she'd still buck, crow hop, spin, bolt, and run backwards, and we would argue a lot as I made her circle trees and bushes.

And then the most frustrating of all, would be that every single ride required this same routine of having to bring her back, work her hard, and then head back out on the trails again.
She literally took all the fun out of riding for me. It became such a chore.
Which is why I will never take my Apache for granted ever. lol! She makes riding so much fun. And that is why I have fun. :)

Keep up all the good work with Bombay and I hope some great progress is made each day :)


gowestferalwoman said...

I rider huntseat - does your trainer do too occasionally?

One thing I learned early on as a young pup was that we were to have light contact, but "stay out of their mouth" esp. when taking jumps - so you learn how to adjust your hands/reins constantly without being "heavy handed" - thats why braided reins are so important to me when i ride :)her reasoning is right on target - reward compliance with "light hands" and they will be able to understand what you are asking them to do when you take up the reins...

that comment of yours about watching ears constantly " made me laugh - ears and shoulders for the right lead... its evil it is...LOL you will ride right past beautiful views without seeing them because of it LOL

achieve1dream said...

Yay Bombay! He is improving by leaps and bounds. :D Keep up the great work!