Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Shifting Focus

Though Bombay and I still have a ways to go before he is a safe trail horse and I can react with the proper moves instinctively, I wanted to shift focus in my horse training lesson today toward my issues with Gabbrielle.  The methods my horse trainer is teaching me should work with all of my horses, but I wanted her to see Gabbrielle's quirks and help me figure out what needs to be done to fix them, because I'm just not seeing it.

My two biggest sore spots with her are that she is the master of bolting and ripping the lead rope or lunge line out of my hands and, quite ironically, she tends to stop, turn toward me and lock up after just one circle on the lunge line.  So, basically, she goes to two extremes -- either running as fast as she can away from me or stopping and not moving a muscle, and she does both of these without me asking her to do so.  It's like something clicks in her brain and she spazzes out or freezes up.

So, our horse trainer started out by asking her to move off to the right or the left by picking up the lead rope and pointing in the direction she wanted Gabbrielle to go.  If she got no response, she pulled the rope lightly in the direction she wanted her to go. If she still got no response, she waved her stick in the air at the shoulder that she needs to turn away from her.  She'd wave the stick stronger, and then finally tap, tap, whack on the shoulder until Gabbrielle moved off into a circle around her.

I learned two valuable things with this first step:  First, it helps to have a solid stick as opposed to one of those floppy whips that bend, because my horses have been ignoring my whacks due to my whips being wimpy.  My trainer has never tried to sell me any particular training tool.  She just explains the difference between what I have in my arsenal and what she has in hers.  When I used my whip, the horses acted like a fly was landing on their shoulder.  When I used her stick, they responded.

Second, it is more important than one might think to keep your horse's nose tipped in toward you and to get some bend at the rib cage while lunging.  I always thought trainers pushed that because it was a more natural way for the horse to move, but it actually has to do with maintaining control and taking the power away from the horse.  The reason why Gabbrielle kept bolting on me was because she had all the power in the world as long as her nose and body were straight.

Gabbrielle gave my trainer a run for her money by trying to rip the rope out of her hands and by avoiding moving in the direction she asked by running backwards.  The trainer said that we humans can always walk forward faster than a horse can back up, so just follow her as she's backing up until she goes in the direction you ask, all the while waving the stick at the shoulder she needs to move away from you to go in the direction you want.  If she tries to bolt forward and push past you, yank the rope and back her up.

Once my horse gave in and lunged politely in circles, then my trainer fixed the problem with her randomly stopping and turning toward her by sending her off right away and keeping her moving with a wave of the wand at her rib cage.  I think my timing and body position was always off when I worked with Gabbrielle in the past, so stopping became a habit with her.  She thought I was asking her to stop, because there was something I was doing with my body after she circled just once that communicated to her that we were done.

To stop her, I have always stepped in front of her head and said whoa, but sometimes if Gabbrielle was having a grand old time rabbiting around, she'd completely ignore me.  The trainer taught me the technique of pulling the lead rope into my belly button while stepping out toward her tail and swinging the whip.  That automatically makes her turn her hip away and face me.  By the end of the lesson Gabbrielle was being very responsive, even though I was fumbling through the movements.  It will be a while before they become one fluid motion for me.

When the horse is stopped, she must keep both eyes on me.  As soon as she looks away, I have to pull her face back.  Stroking her with the stick helps her keep her focus on me, is a way of praising her, and also helps her learn that the stick is not something to fear.

So, in one lesson I learned how to clearly send her off without anymore of this B.S. of her bolting away from me, I learned how to keep her at a consistent speed without her randomly halting to face me, and I learned how to clearly signal her to stop and make it harder for her to ignore me.  This is all stuff that I've seen on TV, in videos, in clinics, and have read about in books, but it makes a whole world of difference to have your own private lesson with your horse.  The trainer can experience what you are doing and what your horse is doing first hand and address it immediately.  One lesson with this trainer costs less than a horse training book, which takes longer to read, and is a lot less than either participating in or auditing one of the commercial trainers' clinics.

We're working on controlling Gabbrielle from the ground in the arena, so that I can start taking her for walks out in the desert before the rattlesnakes come out and not have to worry about her getting away from me, and then eventually we'll start riding her in the arena and then out in the desert.  I don't know whether the whole process will take a few weeks or a few months, but hopefully what I'm learning will stick in my brain and muscle memory so that I can figure out what I need to change in my body language and timing to fix future issues on my own.

A lot of my problems with horses have stemmed from not having clear expectations or rules.  For instance, I have never minded if my horses point their butts at me at feeding time, because they have never kicked me.  They only kick other horses.  Only recently Bombay has started following me around while I hand out the hay.  I recognized that if I walked into Gabbrielle's stall while her butt was toward me, and Bombay was following me, she might kick out at him, not realizing that I am between the two of them.  So, I've been shooing Bombay away.

However, after today's lesson, I walked into Gabbrielle's stall, saw that her butt was pointing toward me, and decided that was never a safe scenario, regardless of how nice and friendly my horses are.  So, I waved my finger at her hip and clucked, and she instantly swung her rear away from me and faced me.  From here on in, none of my horses will get their hay until they are facing me.  Just seeing the types of expectations that my trainer has had toward my horses makes me realize what a deadhead I have been over the years.

Sometimes trainers and books say, "Never let your horse do this," or "Always make your horse do that," but they neglect to mention how.  Other times trainers and books tell you specifically how to do something, but don't explain why.  Still other times trainers and books neglect to mention what kind of rules and boundaries horse owners should enforce.  I suspect they think it's common sense, but a lot of us don't even consider it until there is trouble.


Reddunappy said...

Its great to read about your journey and finally finding a trainer that really is helping you!! Awesome!

fernvalley01 said...

"A lot of my problems with horses have stemmed from not having clear expectations or rules. For instance"
Nailed it my friend!

Cheryl Ann said...

Good information! I'm going to have to do that at feeding time, too.

Breathe said...

I'm glad to hear you are getting answers and constructive help. What a jewel you've found in your trainer!

gowestferalwoman said...

consistency - youre on the right track! Now the hardest part is making sure this crazy thing called "life" doesnt get in the way...

achieve1dream said...

I don't have the problems you're having, but some of the stuff you are saying applies to my problems too, so I really appreciate you taking the time to share all of this with us. Thank you!!