Monday, January 7, 2013

First Lesson

I met my new horse trainer today and she very different from the trainers I'm used to working with, but she sounds like she's exactly what I need.  In the past I worked with trainers who focused on Arabian horse show world.  They worked my horses in arenas, they worked on my equitation skills in arenas, but all I really wanted was just to have a trail safe horse.  I don't care about blue ribbons or looking pretty.  I want to climb mountains and explore new places and enjoy the scenery from horseback.

The extent of my horses' trail riding training was having one trainer gallop Bombay around in the hills for an hour to try to settle his nerves, and then Gabbrielle was encouraged to cross a stream at the dressage barn, and when she wouldn't, the trainer tricked her by having her walk backwards into it.  But no trainer ever worked with me on my horse out in the trails to see what I was doing wrong, and to throw me a life line when I freeze up and can't remember what to do.  I just had to hit the trails and see what happened.

So, today's trainer first tested Bombay on his responsiveness from the ground.  Right off the bat he kept crowding her, so she showed me what predatory body language to use while stepping toward his head, shoulder or hip to get him to move those body parts, and then how to step up from asking, to warning, to thwacking him with the whip if he doesn't move off.  She's a Clinton Anderson trainer, and I've seen Clinton both on TV and in person, as well as reading his books, but my brain has been on other things the past few years, so I need a refresher.  Once she started demonstrating the techniques, the memories came back little by little.

Bombay has a tendency to swoop toward me when I turn him in the other direction.  He has never hit me, so I haven't corrected him on it, but this trainer drew a circle around her and said, "This horse is not allowed to step inside this circle."

Then when he stepped inside the circle while turning, she pushed him back out with her body language and her whip.  She then had me lunge him in half circles on a lead rope and keep him out of the circle.  Amazingly, he did stay out of my space.  On one occasion he even came up in a rear while turning on his hind legs to avoid crossing over the line, which was good because it showed his comprehension of where the line was, but he was far enough away so as not to hit me with his front feet.

She then wanted to watch me saddle, bridle and ride him.  Saddling was fine, but she wanted me to make him lower his head and keep it there when I bridled him.  Then she scoffed at his martingale and said he didn't need it, but since he's had it as a part of his tack his whole life, I knew it would be weird for both him and me to work the reins without it.  She said we could do the first few lessons with it, and then when we had him soft on the bit, we could remove it.  That's fine.  I'd rather remove tack than to be told I have to buy more tack.

She started having me work on pulling his head around and flexing from the saddle.  He began spinning, so she had me ride it out until he stopped, and then release the rein.  We kept praising him when he held still when I pulled his head around.  Then she took a hold of the reins and pulled his head around and started poking his side to get him to disengage his hindquarters, but he wouldn't budge.  I said, "You just taught him to hold still when you pull his head around, so he thinks he's doing what you are asking."

She said, "Well, now I want him to turn when I pull his head around, so I'm putting pressure on his side."

It took a few tries, but he picked up on the difference pretty quick.  If I pull his head around with no leg on him, he needs to bend and not move his feet.  It I pull his head around with leg on him, he needs to turn in a tight circle.  Pulling his head around is what will act as his brakes should he bolt or buck, and it will also help keep his attention on me when he shows signs of spooking.

She wanted to see me ride him at a walk on a loose rein and asked if I could get closer to the fence.  I said I could, but sometimes he tries to rub me off on the fence, so I tend keep my distance from it.  She led him with me on his back over to the fence, dragged my knee along it and then pulled the rein closest to the fence around to his shoulder.  She said some horses will konk their head on the fence by turning them that tightly, but it only takes one time and they never do it again.  All these years I've just been trying to get him to move off my leg when he drags my knee on the fence by squeezing and kicking him over.  I never considered pulling his head around into the fence, but it worked, and it saved my knee a lot quicker.

I actually didn't get a lot of riding in.  It was mostly her pulling the reins and moving his feet from the ground while I just hung on, because I didn't know what she was going to make my horse do next.  She said one of the exercises we will do in the future involves me riding while she gets in front of my horse with a plastic bag flag and shakes it at him.  She's going to try to get him hopping from side to side like a cutting horse, and I'm going to have to learn to keep my seat.  She's says once I've been through that in a safe, enclosed environment, I'll be prepared for whatever violent movements the horse can dish out on the trails.

She wants me to practice lowering his head, moving off the hindquarters, flexing, backing, and turning him toward the railing while riding alongside it.  She felt that Bombay did really well over all.  I pointed out that is because we are in his comfort zone.  She really needs to see him out on the trails.  She swears that whatever he learns in the arena will translate to the trails, but she's willing to work with me out there too at some point.  Next week she wants to ride him to see what he's capable of, and then have me try to do the same things and see where my cues and timing are off.  That should be very beneficial.

I'm realizing that I give and take a little too much with my horses, and I need to learn to set boundaries and stick with them regardless of circumstances.  Also, she says that if you learn your horses body language, you can head every buck, rear, spook and bolt off at the pass by pulling his head around at the first signal of trouble.  It was kind of funny because she was pulling and pushing Bombay's ears in all directions to demonstrate what each ear position communicates.  He just took it from her.  It was pretty cute.

My biggest question with her methods was that she said that any time a horse doesn't do what you ask, you have to get its feet moving.  Well, when I lead Lostine out into the desert, and I want her to walk quietly beside me, she starts screaming and running circles around me.  So, it made no sense to me how I could correct the problem by getting her feet moving, because she's already getting her feet moving as fast they will go.

Well, the trainer explained that I need to take control of which direction her feet move in so that she's doing what I say instead of acting out of the flight instinct.  So, I need to be forcing her to change directions, back up, and just basically move in a different direction from the one she chooses.  It's part of getting her attention focused back on me.  But, first I have to practice it with her at home along a fence line by sending her in half circles and keeping her out of my own personal circle during the process, so that she will recognize my cues when she is in a terrified state of mind, and still respect my safety zone.


Breathe said...

Pretty exciting! I'm glad you're working with a trainer with a goal of getting out on those trails!

Katharine Swan said...

Wow! It sounds like it was a really great session, with lots of useful stuff. I agree with you -- I think she is exactly what you needed.

Mikey said...

She sounds very good! I think you'll make a ton of progress and be out there on the trails in no time.

fernvalley01 said...

I like what I am hearing so far, essentially she is helping you to learn to control him and his feet. Lots of trainers will say things like " move their feet " or take their back end away from them (if they seem to want to buck or bolt) but until you get the mechanics of it it may as well be greek

Marissa said...

She sounds like a good trainer for the most part! I like that she said you can work towards removing the martingale, rather than just taking it off! (Like some controlling trainers would do!) It's also nice that she worked with you on things you want to work with, rather than starting from basics, when thats obviously not what you are looking for!

BrownEyed Cowgirl said...

Haha-Your horses are going to be like, 'What the heck? When we act silly, this crazy woman just makes us work harder.'

lytha said...

wow. perfect lesson! sounds like she's repeating what mikey said too. and mugwump. she's a keeper. i enforce my personal space with horses, but strangely, not donkeys. perhaps it's like having a small dog, you feel like you don't have to be as strict cuz they're so small? (i've never had a small dog.) so i let the donkeys come right up to me, but there is one rule about that. they cannot make me move, not even a step backwards to rebalance as they beg for me to rub on them. bellis was very pushy when she arrived but now she knows the rules. there are only like 2 or 3 rules total, but the one about not making me move is the supreme rule of them all.

Laura said...

Sounds like a good first session - hopefully having her out regularly will help you guys get on track. Sounds like you are making progress already.

spotz58 said...

Sounds like a winner!

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Marissa - That was my biggest worry. I didn't want to spend weeks in the arena doing all of the C.A. exercises from step 1 until the end. This trainer, in her words, took us from kindergarten up to a fifth grade level in a one and a half hour lesson. If she recognized that neither the horse nor I needed to work on something, she skipped the lesson and answered my questions instead. She also would not move on until I acknowledged that her answer to my question made sense to me, and she always demonstrated it and then had me try it.

Cindy D. said...

I'm going to pretty much reiterate what everyone else has said. I'm liking this gal. I like that she tailor made the lesson to fit you and your horses.
I like the part about moving their feet. It was one of the first things my trainer taught me. It is amazing how quickly they want to stand still when forced to move their feet.
I am really looking forward to the ongoing story with your new trainer. Thanks for sharing your first session with us.

appydoesdressage said...

Congrats on the great lesson! It sounds like you and your horses are going to have a fun and new relationship, one that will be more enjoyable for you certainly! Finding a good trainer that works for YOU is hard so it is even better that you found one

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Good for you getting someone to work with you and your horses. Sounds like a positive step in the right direction.

What she said about pulling his head around into the fence, and it saving your knee, is spot on. This is a useful skill out on the trail, too, for those times when knee-knocker trees are beside the trail, or your horse wants to rub on a bush, or gets to close to a cactus.

Had to laugh about how she wants to shake a plastic bag at your horse to make sure you have a good seat. It sounds like you already do have a good seat after all the shenanigans your horses pull on you.

But I do agree that the plastic bag thing does work. My trainer would shake a whip at Apache, but it was mainly to get her to learn how to side pass. It also worked on teaching me to be more secure in my seat and more prepared for stuff that might upset my horse.


achieve1dream said...

Sounds like a great first lesson!! I can't wait to read more.