Monday, January 21, 2013
I'm Glad That's Over
I was trying to remain optimistic, but I knew we would run into some trouble with it being a holiday and there being kids home from school and neighbors home from work. To add to the challenge, I found out that the reason why we are suddenly having cars racing up and down our street early in the morning and late at night, and why I keep hearing kids playing in the bushes next door when I'm riding is because a neighbor who lives two doors down from me just opened a day care business out of her home. Whoopie. Where I used to live, it was the law that neighbors had to be notified if someone was going to open a day care business, but I guess that's not a law here. It should be, because it affects everyone in the neighborhood, especially if the day care giver does not supervise the children.
I rode Bombay in the arena before my horse trainer showed up, and as soon as I mounted, one neighbor began revving his engine. I hoped it wasn't the guy who races his motorcycle up and down our dead end street to avoid being spotted by the cops, because I'd never get my horse off the property. Fortunately, the engine revving stopped a short time later. My trainer showed up and my husband thanked her for all she's done to help me, and then we headed out.
Bombay was pussy-footing his way up the driveway. He got looky once we were on the trails, and she said that was okay as long as he kept his feet moving in the direction I wanted. He wasn't too bad on the way out, but I could tell he was confused whether to pay attention to me or our trainer. She sometimes walked on the right, sometimes on the left, sometimes behind us, and sometimes in front of us. He was walking like a drunken sailor trying to figure out if he should be moving closer to her, so I had to be strong in my cues to let him know I was in charge.
I picked the widest trail so that I could spin him if need be without smacking into her. This was the same trail Cut-N-Jump and I rode on where he wanted to run for home when we turned back, because he had this big open space. I warned the trainer that he gets silly when he's in wider, more open spaces than when we take narrow trails. I wanted her to see him when he has his moments of independent thought, but at the same time I was feeling like crap and really did not want a hard ride.
I told her that I wasn't sure how to handle him when he wants to run down hills. Normally, when he runs, I turn him in a circle, but I can't do that on a steep slope, and sometimes pulling back on both reins makes the situation more dangerous. A horse needs his head to keep his balance. So, I want to train him to always slowly pick his way down a hill and pay attention to his feet.
She found a small hill and had me practice on it. She pointed out that sometimes what feels like running is just him slipping, and I have to let him slip. She had me stop him at the bottom, and then instead of going up the other side, she had me turn him to the left. That taught him not to assume that when he goes down, he will automatically go up the other side. We went around and she had me stop him at the top of the trial and make him stand. As soon as he moved without my permission, I had to spin him in circles, back him, and make him stand and wait until I said it was okay to go down. Eventually, she had me practice backing him up and down small hills.
She wanted me to bring him around into this open space where he took off on me previously and started bucking, and sure enough, he started getting silly, so we had to do a lot of stopping and backing and spinning. While all that was going on, I felt him getting very tense, and I didn't know if he was thinking of rebelling against all this hard work I was putting him through or if something else was going on. Sure enough I heard a strange whirring noise off to our right, and a bicyclist came racing along the trail. She had me make him face it. The bicyclist waved and we said hello back. Bombay handled it pretty well. He tensed up, but didn't freak out.
We got down by the main road and another bicyclist came along. She had me turning him to face cars. We were entering a trail I was unsure about. There were a lot of cacti close to the trail, and I wasn't sure where it went. Bombay wasn't on his best behavior. I didn't feel like I had control, so I let my trainer know that I felt really uncomfortable going that way. So, she took the lead rope to get us through that section, but stopped and said, "Pull his head around to the right, please."
I didn't know why she wanted me to do that, but I did. It turned out that this big dump truck was passing on our right. She said, "You weren't paying attention that time, so that would have been a wreck. You have to always be listening to everything going on around you and be ready to show it to your horse."
She tied the lead rope back onto the saddle horn and let me take over once we were away from the street and back on a wider trail with less cacti. When we turned toward home, I had a lot of trouble maintaining Bombay's speed. He wanted to jig, and the trainer wanted me to correct that. I'd swear that we spent 15 minutes heading out and 45 minutes just getting back to the house. He could not stay at a relaxed walk, so she had me stopping him and backing him every few feet.
Things really went south with Bombay's attitude when two girls on horses rode past on a trail to our left and began cantering. He wanted to run with them. My trainer kept grabbing his lead rope and backing him up with more and more force and he just looked over her head at the other horses. At one point we were headed toward a cholla tree and I said, "Stop! Cactus!"
She had just been telling me that if you know your horse is going to head into a cactus and you can't prevent it, bail off because a horse will buck and kick and do whatever is necessary to get those thorns out of him. I was hyper-aware of the cacti after that, so if she told me to stop him between two cactus plants, I'd ignore her and keep walking until we were clear, then stop him. She told me that was okay. She understood that I'm still not confident enough in myself or my horse to believe that I can keep him standing still between two potentially dangerous objects.
It seemed every trail we picked was loaded with cholla and that didn't do much to help my nerves and let me concentrate on what my trainer was saying. She figured out that his signal that he was about to move off without my permission was that he would chomp at the bit, and then start throwing his head around. Since that was the case, she said to never ask him to walk when he was throwing his head around. Wait it out. If he steps forward, spin him and back him, then try standing again. As soon as he's quiet or distracted looking at something off in the distance, ask him to walk forward.
The best lesson I learned was this: Bombay finally started walking nicely with his head low and his neck stretched out and I was finally getting a chance to relax when the trainer said, "Okay, stop him and back him right here."
I said, "Why? What did he do?"
She burst out laughing and said, "You're thinking just like your horse. He doesn't have to do anything wrong. He has to stop and back simply because you want him to stop and back. Stopping and backing doesn't always have to be a correction."
As we were approaching the street to home, some kids at the daycare were banging on a trash can or something and he got a bit antsy. She had me stop him, back him and make him stand a few times. We got back to the barn and my hour was up, so I was expecting to dismount when she said, "Now let's have you ride him down the hill into the arroyo behind your house."
She sensed my hesitation and she said, "That's a scary spot for both of you, isn't it?"
I said, "Yes."
She said, "Okay, good. Then let's go," and she hiked off purposely toward the arroyo.
I said, "Darn. I should have said no."
She laughed and said, "It didn't matter how you answered. I would have made you do it either way."
So, all this psychology she's been teaching me to use on my horse, she was using on me. Bombay was walking toward the back of the property in a relaxed manner and I let my guard down, so when he spooked sideways and ran forward, I did my old habit of pulling back on both reins. My trainer said, "He stopped his feet before you even reacted! You have to be faster than that and pull his head around immediately. You let him take way too many steps."
I couldn't argue against that. I didn't even see any signs that he was about to spook. We made it down the hill into the arroyo, but Bombay was nervous with the mares screaming for him, so we got into another battle over getting him to stand still. Going up was rough, because our trainer walked in front of us, and he just kept ignoring my orders for him to walk and he tried running her over. She threw her hand up in his face and gave his lead ropes some yanks. Once we were halfway up, she stepped out of the way. He felt like he was running, but she said he was just getting his footing and heaving us up the bank.
So, I need to learn how different movements a horse makes on a trail feels in the saddle. When I'm in an arena, I can easily figure out what a horse is doing with his feet, but going up and down hills is completely different. All I know is that he's not walking anymore, and I have to keep him at a walk. So, I had to rely on the trainer to tell me if his movements were acceptable or not.
When we finished with our lesson, Lostine wanted me to take her for a walk, but I was totally wiped out. Every muscle in my body hurt. It was not a fun experience, but I'm hoping that's the worst of it and the trail rides will be at least generally better from here on in. I know that today was all about breaking old habits and practicing new ones until it becomes muscle memory for both me and Bombay.