Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Goodbye, Martingale

My horse trainer was due at 3:00 PM, and she wanted me to have already run through all the warm up exercises and be in the saddle when she arrived.  However, she has mentioned that she can be up to an hour late sometimes.  In fact, she had to call her next client at our last lesson to ask her if she still wanted to do the lesson since she had been running late with me.  So, I didn't want to start riding too early and then end up having to wait a long time.  I decided to start tacking up at 2:30.  Before I could catch Bombay my phone rang, and it was the trainer.  She was half an hour early and wanted to know if it was okay to come over.  She was just sitting in her car down the street.  "Of course you can come early," I said.  "Just don't expect me to be in the saddle by the time you get here."

So, I haltered Bombay and led him to the horse trailer.  I was hoping I could get his tack on in record time before the trainer could drive up the street, but a couple on horseback came riding down my driveway and called out to me because they wanted to talk.  They said that they had just moved into the area and were trying to find out the best route to get between their new home and the public land.  It sounded like they bought my third choice house, which has a horse facility.  I explained the history of the neighborhood and the present circumstances of our property, how we closed it off for everyone's safety since our horses and dogs have attacked horseback riders passing through.  I made a few suggestions on routes they could take, and my trainer drove up behind them.

They thanked me and excused themselves while I ran down and tried to at least get Bombay tacked up before the trainer could walk from her parking spot down to the trailer, but she was too fast.  She said she thought I had invited a couple of friends over to join in on my lesson.  I said, "No, I wouldn't do that to you.  They were just new to the neighborhood and needed help finding a route."

We talked about our experiences with all the different places we've lived and the neighbors we had.  She's had to deal with having a motocross facility next door to her horse facility.  I told her that Bombay and I had a couple of very successful walks out in the desert the past couple of mornings.  In fact, this morning was the first time he hung his head low.  He usually has his neck vertical like a giraffe when we go off the property, but this time he plodded along keeping his neck horizontal, he was very relaxed, and it was nice.  I just had to work on getting him to keep at least one eye and one ear on me.  I worry when he gets so engrossed in looking at our surroundings that he forgets that I exist.

We reviewed what I learned from the last lesson and I showed her how Bombay kept spinning each time I tried to flex him.  She said the problem was with my body language.  I was facing his hip when I was asking for his head.  So, she showed me how to stand with my arm and the lead rope over his hip, my body facing his head, and then pulling his head around and staying close to him as he turns so that there is no release.  The release comes only after he stops moving his feet and gives with his head.  Before, not only was I facing his hip, but I was following his circle at a distance away from his body, which was releasing the pressure and encouraging him to keep spinning.

With that behind us, we removed his martingale and she hopped on to test him out and see how hard or soft he was with various maneuvers.  He was difficult backing up, and I figured it was because the reins felt different without the martingale.  The trainer's method of backing up involves lightly pulling the reins back so that the head is set at the vertical, and then holding them there and waiting for the horse to figure out what you want.  You practice over and over until you only need to lightly tug the rein to get a response.  When I tried it from the saddle, he fought me, so she did have me pull back little harder and hold in increments until he backed up, and then I released him.  She asked me to show her how I usually back him up.  I usually push him back with my legs, alternating squeezes, as well as alternating rein pulls.  He stepped back much bigger with those cues, but she said I shouldn't have to use my legs at all.  I was working too hard with all the  leg pumping and rein pulling in rhythm.  The horse should just back straight up as soon as you put equal pressure on both reins.

With that said, a horse should also come to an immediate halt should you sit back and relax into the saddle, so she worked on that with him by sitting back and then keeping pressure on both reins so that he had to hold his head at the vertical.  Only when he gave some slack to the reins did she release them.  She even likes to see a horse take a couple of steps back when stopping.

She showed me how to spin him so that his front inside leg stays planted in the same spot.  She showed me how to work on cruising with no steering.  You drop the reins or hold them loosely and let him go wherever he wants at a pre-determined speed.  If he slows down or stops, you squeeze and cluck him back up to the speed.  If he goes faster, you bring his head around to disengage the hindquarters and head off in the opposite direction.

She also encouraged me to pull his head around to look at my foot each time he focused his attention on something other than me.  She noticed that each time he headed toward the east end of the arena, he perked his ears forward to listen to the activity on the bluff and in the arroyo.  I have a lot of problems with that, because it seems every time I ride him, someone shows up at the top of the arroyo to watch, and I can't get him to take his eyes off them.  So, she just pulled his head around, kicked his hip away and headed in the opposite direction.  She didn't even let him slow down and plant his feet to stare.

We worked on desensitization by having me walk around the arena with a plastic bag tied to a whip while she followed us on horseback.  Then I had to approach Bombay with the bag and when she felt that he was about ready to run from it, she told me to stop.  Then she pushed him forward toward it.  By the end of the lesson he was sniffing the bag.  She also had me jump out in front of her with the plastic bag while she rode at different speeds, and then she brought his head around to turn him toward the bag, and headed off in the other direction.  It was like I was lunging him and giving him the cue to turn, but with the scary object attached to the end of the whip.  She said we will reverse roles in some future lesson.

When I mounted, she wanted me to keep his nose tipped in.  I've had other trainers teach me to do that, but I've never had much success, because the horses always swing their hind ends away from me.  She said that if they do that, I have to get off my step stool and move their feet.  Then try again getting them to hold still with their nose tipped in for the mount.  I always felt that tipping the nose in was optional, but since Bombay is so good about holding still for the mount, I chose not to tip his nose in.  However, this trainer convinced me that it is a necessity for safety's sake.  A horse can't buck, rear, spook or bolt in that position.  She also wanted me to tip his nose to the side I dismount from as well.

She got a kick out of how Bombay always nickers and grumbles when I dismount.  I kind of encourage it because I always say, "That's so cute!"

She said that he was very good overall.  He just needs to be softer on the bit and quicker to respond to our cues.  I reminded her that he's had a lot of arena training, so he will be good in the arena.  But he's a completely different horse out on the trails.  Next week she will ride him out of the arena to see how he behaves.  She'll give me tips on what to do when he gets overly excited and nervous.  She said he's about 90% of where he should be in the arena, but we don't really want to risk taking him out until he's 110%, because once he leaves the barn he'll be about 50% to 75% of what he was in the arena.  That's why I have to practice all those safety and control maneuvers in the arena for a while until they are ingrained in both me and my horse.

The horseback riders who came down my driveway heading my horse training lesson off at the pass kind of set the mood for the rest of the lesson.  My mobile phone kept ringing and dinging as calls and text messages were coming through.  I was getting irritated, because as usual, the timing was terrible.  Nobody calls me for two weeks straight, and then as soon as I get submersed in an hour and a half horse training lesson, everyone and his brother decides they have to communicate with me.  I ignored all of it, and then I heard a voice yell out, "Excuse me!  Could I get someone to sign for this?"

A delivery man had come into my back yard with a package I'd been worried about, because it required a signature, but had no tracking number, so I couldn't  know when it would arrive.  I was hoping I'd see the guy drive up and get out the door before he knocked on it or rang the doorbell and sent my dogs into a frenzy.  But I had to be in a horse training lesson when he arrived.  I'm glad he did come around to the back instead of just leaving with the package, so I had to leave my trainer alone on Bombay's back while I ran up the driveway to sign for the package.

Fortunately, I was her last student of the day, so she wasn't in any rush to get somewhere else.  She even gave me an extra half hour for free.  She said she enjoys hanging out at my place because it's so beautiful.  She suggested that since backing him has been a struggle I should back him all the way from the horse trailer to the barn, down the aisle and only release him when he's out in the arena.  I did it... twice, and he backed up slowly, but he did the job without complaint.  He trusted me to steer him so that he wouldn't bump into anything.  It was a good exercise.  I think I'll start backing him every time I take him out of the barn and put him back in.  Not only does all that practice soften him up and make him more responsive, but it builds his trust in me.


Marissa said...

I like the idea of the drill of dropping reins and giving them free rein as long as they continue to maintain speed. I definitely think I will try that. Its kind of like longing but from horseback. Your giving them one command and then showing them that they can't deviate from that. Ok it made more sense in my head than it did when I wrote it down hahaha.

Marissa said...

By the way, I wanted to thank you for reminding me of something I had forgotten. In my ride today I remembered to 'keep her feet moving' when she got hot/antsy/spooky, and everytime when it was me that asked for a trot, she seemed to decide shed rather just stand still. Works so much better than getting frustrated with her!

Crystal said...

Wow. I like her! She seems so sensible, giving you help that is actually working :)

Lara said...

Sounds like you worked on a lot of stuff! I actually flex my mare's nose to the *outside* when mounting (away from the mounting block) as that prevents the haunches from swinging away. I've treated her a few times on the off side once mounted, so she just about sets her head up flexed to the outside on her own!

appydoesdressage said...

Am thrilled to be reading your horse adventures again, that means you are finally able to work with them like you have wanted to for years. Success!

fernvalley01 said...

I like most of what she is teaching you except the backing, it is the way a lot of folks back their horses, but... anyhow it is working well for you I will stay out of it

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Sounds like a very successful lesson for you and Bombay. It's great that she rides Bombay to show you what everything looks like, so you can do them yourself with her observing.

I'm not so sure I agree with her backing techniques, but if it works for Bombay better than what you already do, then it's worth trying as long as it doesn't confuse him too much.

I find that when you hold a horse's head tightly at the vertical, many horses will start to search for an escape and will get upset, toss their heads and even rear.

But I suppose if you keep holding tightly and they don't get the release by tossing their head, they might take a step backwards, and then if you immediately release, they will eventually figure out that's what you want.

But then the trainer says that to make him come to an immediate halt you should keep his head at the vertical....I see a problem with that. Won't he think that you are still wanting him to back up, since keeping his head at the vertical is how you originally cued him to back up?

Like you I lightly squeeze my legs right at the front cinch and then I lightly squeeze the reins when I want Apache to back.
When I first got Apache she had backing issues, too. But over time and working with her, she has gotten so much softer and quicker in her response to my cues.
I can ask her to back with just my voice or with just a barely perceptible squeeze with my calves.

I'm surprised that your trainer says legs shouldn't have to be used at all.
Legs and seat are the natural communication aids to use with a horse, otherwise a rider is just focusing on the head and mouth, and yanking it all around.

I have been working with Apache with the goal of going bitless and hopefully, eventually going bridleless one day. So, I ride lightly as if I don't even have reins in my hands. My goal someday is to ride like Stacey appear as if horse and rider are one...all communication coming from the seat, legs and mind.

Back to backing (lol!), I also don't agree with the trainer's opinion that a horse should take a couple of steps back when stopping.
This might work when you're in an arena, but out on a trail ride, taking a few steps back after stopping could be dangerous if a horse backs up and steps off of a narrow trail, backs into a cactus, or backs up into the horse behind you.

But perhaps she is just suggesting these techniques as a foundation in preparation for your future trail a useful bag of tricks to use when you might need them.

Oh! That's so cute that Bombay nickers and grumbles when you dismount. Now you just need to train him to nicker when you mount :)


Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Lisa - Ultimately, these posts are like my diary of what I'm learning, and just with two lessons, I've already learned that the trainer and I aren't on the same page sometimes. I think I understand what she's saying, and then when it comes up in the next lesson, I discover that I was way off base in my interpretation of what she said. Once she re-explains her reasoning or instructions, everything makes sense to me and I can progress with my horse.

With that said, no one should run out and try things I post about, because my interpretation of them could be wrong. Or what works with my horse may not work with your horse.

At the first lesson she was telling me to "use your hip -- push the hip." I said I didn't understand. She said, "HIP! Don't you know what a hip is?" At that point my brain was focusing on her insult and tone of voice and I couldn't listen to her words anymore. Bad memories came flooding back of my equitation instructor yelling at me in anger and my horse responding to his tone by charging him, and then him yelling at me to get control of my horse, and me thinking, "But that's what I hired you to teach me to do."

So, the next lesson I told her that no one has ever trained me on how to use my hips in riding -- only my pelvis as a unit. She said, "You only need to use your hips in advanced riding techniques. We're not doing anything advanced at the moment." I said, "Then why were you telling me to use my hip last week?" She said, "I wasn't. I was telling you to move your horse's hip over."

Duh. So, we came to the understanding that when she refers to body parts, she needs to specify whether she means the rider's body part or the horse's body part.

I hate it when people use pronouns incorrectly, because I take them literally. I got fired from a substitute teaching job because a teacher said, "I'm going to have to keep this boy after school." So, I performed my bus monitor duty, and then went to my dental appointment thinking she was keeping the boy after school, but what she really meant was that she wanted me to keep him after school in my room for her. She didn't communicate that clearly to me, but the principal just listened to her side of the story and put me on a black ball list so that I wouldn't be invited back to the school to substitute.

I actually didn't know there was a problem until long after the fact when I started asking around as to why headquarters had no classroom assignments for me. It's amazing how one poor choice of words can destroy a person's life. I had to change careers after that. That one teacher bitched about me not showing up to keep the boy after school to everyone who would listen and it was almost impossible for me to undo the damage. She actually was in the office at the same time I was turning in my key that day, and she didn't even talk to me about it to figure out where we had a communication breakdown. She just said all these nasty things behind my back to my coworkers, and convinced them that I was an irresponsible substitute teacher. I was hurt that they would listen to her despite my excellent past record.

So, when someone says "Use your hip," I think she means MY hip. And one someone says, "I'm keeping this boy after school," I think SHE'S keeping the boy after school. Since I'm learning that some people don't listen to themselves talk and don't realize they are muddying the waters, it will take many more lessons with this horse trainer until I know exactly what she is teaching me and why.

Since we have only had two lessons, and only worked on backing from a stand still, I can't respond your your concerns, but I'll keep them in mind for the future.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Thanks for your reply and for being so open about talking of your lessons. I didn't want you to think I was being critical of your trainer in a negative way, but just trying to understand what she is teaching you.

You're right about confusion in communication and how easy it is to misunderstand or worse, to misinterpret what someone else is saying.
That happened to me a few years ago with a blogger, whom I had met in person. But I started noticing that she was only leaving me very short comments with a difficult to understand cynical-style of humor. So I sent her an e-mail asking her if she was upset with me, and explained that her comments seemed kind of sharp, which was why I was worried. She immediately got offended and accused me of causing too much drama.

And all because I used the word 'sharp' instead of 'short'. ugh.

I think it's a great idea to journal your lessons. It will be helpful and interesting to go back over and read your posts as your lessons continue.


achieve1dream said...

It sounds like your lessons overall are very productive. You're learning a lot in each lesson so obviously you won't remember or understand every single thing she says, which will probably lead to some misinterpretations (especially with the pronoun thing), but overall it sounds great! I'm so happy you found someone who is helpful finally. I was taught to use leg while backing too, but that was in dressage lessons, so I don't know if her method will be fine for trail riding. One thing I thought was really cool is backing him in hand all over the place. That will build up his haunches and topline if his head is down and relaxed. :D I'm still trying to teach Chrome to back with his head down lol.