Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Alpha Mare Gets Her Assessment

Can you guess which two horses got worked today?

That's right.  The two who have two eyes each on me.  The horse trainer wanted to know if I wanted to keep our appointment today.  We had to cancel on Monday because of the rain.  Today the ground was still wet, but I didn't think it would hurt to do a lesson.  I told her I'd ride Bombay around before she came and see if there's anything we need to work on with him, and then we can do some ground work with the mares.

Bombay was pussy footing because a couple of kids were up on a balcony throwing stuff off it behind my arena.  As the things they threw down hit the ground they made crashing noises at various pitches.  I first hand-walked him back and forth along the fence and worked on getting him to pay attention to me and not spook at what the kids were doing.  When he spooked forward after a crash, I backed him up.  Then I rode him back and forth along the fence line where the kids where throwing things.  Later I was more concerned that he might roll in the sand, because he was walking so slowly and hanging his head down once he lost interest in the kids.

Then our trainer arrived and I asked her about horses that roll in the sand or water.  What are the signs and what should I as the rider do to stop it from happening?  She said they usually sniff the ground and start pawing before they go down.  My role is to keep the horse's head up and keep his feet moving.  I told her about his behavior regarding the kids on the balcony and how I handled it.  She said that rather than forcing him to walk back and forth along the fence closest to the kids, she would have worked him hard away from the kids, and then walked or trotted him over to the fence closest to them and let him rest there.

While deciding what to work on today, I said that I was curious about the horse trainer's assessment of Lostine, the alpha mare.  I tried the lunging exercises with her yesterday and found that I struggled with her more than the other two horses.  I couldn't get her to keep two eyes on me, she kept walking forward into me, and she wouldn't stop and face me when I pulled her head toward me and pushed her rear around.  Instead, she just kept running around me with her nose pointed at me.

She pulled all the same crap on the horse trainer, so I watched closely to see how she handled it.  First off, she needed to teach Lostine to stay out of her space or that 3-foot circle around her.  Even though Lostine is an old, sweet mare, the horse trainer perceived her behaviors as being potentially dangerous.  Because Lostine is used to pushing the other horses around, she very subtly does the same thing with me by walking into me.  She doesn't push me out of the way, but I automatically move my feet when she walks into me and that communicates to my horse that she's in charge.  So, the first step in dealing with Lostine was to not move my own feet, to hold my ground.

The next step was to get her out of that three-foot bubble.  I didn't have any success with that yesterday, because whacking her on the shoulder and chest had no effect.  The horse trainer says she tries the shoulder first, and if she gets no response, she whacks the horse high on the neck near the head to get her to move away from the stick, and thus away from her.  If she still gets no response, she whacks her on the soft part of the side of the nose.  Obviously, she doesn't hit the nose hard enough to break it, but that usually gets a response and then she can move down to the neck and eventually the shoulder.

Once she was able to get her out of her space, she could send her off in circles using the point, pull, tap the air, tap the shoulder method.  To get her to stop while pulling the rope to her belly button and stepping out toward her tail, she continued to pull the rope and push the hind end away until Lostine got tired of hopping sideways and stopped.  Then Lostine started the habit of coming in to the trainer and trying to move the trainer's feet, so the trainer worked on backing her up and only letting her stop when she was out of her personal space.

Shaking the lead rope violently had no effect on getting Lostine to back up, so she whacked the lead rope with her stick and then waved it back and forth at Lostine's chest.  Then my horse backed up.  By the end of the lesson Lostine was much more respectful.  Oh yeah, and the entire time the trainer was insisting that Lostine keep two eyes on her when she was facing her, because Lostine was bad about looking all around and pretending like the trainer didn't exist.  That was her way of snubbing the trainer and saying, "You're not important.  You don't count.  I make the decisions here."

So, the trainer shook the rope and only stopped when Lostine looked at her with two eyes.  Also, if she noticed Lostine looking left, she'd force her to go right, and vice versa.  The trainer had to make it clear to Lostine that the trainer was making the decisions.  When we started working with Bombay a few weeks ago, he was looking all over the place and pointing his ears at everything except me.  Now he just automatically always keeps at least one eye and one ear on me, which is heavenly.

I feel like the challenges I have had with Bombay revolve around his fear, the challenges I have had with Gabbrielle revolve around me not giving her clear cues, and the challenges I have had with Lostine revolve around her thinking she is in charge.  So, even though the same techniques work with each horse, it really helped me to get the trainer's assessment of what is going on with each horse from a psychological standpoint, and why these techniques correct any negative behaviors that stem from that psychology.  Now I know why I need to use these techniques, what each horse is thinking, and how these methods will fix it to make each horse safer.

I watched the entire ground work lesson from horseback.  My goal with Bombay was to get him to stand where I told him to stand and not walk off, so that I could observe the trainer working with Lostine.  I only had to back him and spin him in circles a few times.  Overall, he was really good.  He let me ride him for half an hour and then just let me sit on his back for over an hour.  The trainer had me practice a few moves in front of her and gave me some nice compliments.

Her perceptions of me and my horses are so different from my own perceptions.  First off, I always thought that Lostine was my safest horse, but she actually needs the most training and is potentially the most dangerous horse.  The trainer couldn't believe that I trail rode her for several years, because she couldn't even get her to move off pressure.  I was probably just a passenger and the only reason why Lostine was so good was because she's a confident horse.

Secondly, I don't consider myself a good rider, but the trainer said that I do a lot of natural moves that help the horse, such as turning my shoulders while turning the horse.  I wasn't even aware that I was doing that.  She told me that she was telling another one of her clients about me, how she has only been working with me and my horses for a couple of weeks and we've already made a lot of progress.  Her client got upset because the horse trainer has been working with her for several months and it's been slow going.  The trainer told her the difference is that I'm a good rider and my horses are Arabians.  She said that Arabian horses are a smart breed and learn much faster than most horses.  I was happy to hear her say that, because it seems that if someone isn't into Arabians, then they have nothing good to say about them.  I was also surprised that she thinks I'm a good rider.

She said, "Yeah, you look like you've been riding your whole life.  You just have some confidence issues."

So, I have to keep up the work with Lostine, because the trainer thinks she'll be back to the pain in the butt she was before the lesson in a couple of days if I don't stay on top of it.  She wants me to go ahead and saddle her up and see if she'll let me ride her after a few days of the groundwork exercises.  Then at our next lesson we'll work on whatever trouble she causes me with mounting and riding.


Cindy D. said...

Wow, very cool!

Paint Girl said...

Sounds like a lot of progress is being made!! Also great compliments from your trainer. Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

I think your step by step lessons are helping more people then you think. thank you for giving so many others free lessons. I know this blog is a diary for you but it is doing much more.

Laura said...

Great news! Lostine probably did not like having her status challenged! lol I'm so glad this trainer is working out for you.

I'm so happy to read that you are working with and enjoying your horses more and more each week.

A great compliment from the trainer about your riding ability too!

Mikey said...

So glad to see all of this! I'm glad to see you gaining confidence with your horses. Won't be long before we see you down at the Fourr :) I expect you there for spring works, 2 months away.
As you know, LT is here, circling bushes herself :) lol
I've been buried in yr end accounting, but finally finished and am back to riding. Least the weather is nice to do it. Thinking of you and wishing we were all riding together!!!

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Mikey - Yikes! Two months will be here in no time. I still have to get Bombay out on the trails by myself and get him comfortable in a moving trailer. I'm all over the map right now in working with all three horses, because I want to tap into as much of this trainer's expertise while I can. I told her I will be satisfied when we have a pleasant trail ride together with her on one of my horses and me on another. But now I'm thinking my goal should be to have that plus one of us ponying the third horse in a location where they have to be trailered.

I've got all these goals I want to complete with the horses before 1) the rattlesnakes come out 2) the cattle gathering at the ranch and 3) the triple-digit temps arrive.

achieve1dream said...

Don't get overwhelmed! Take a deep breath. You are doing so well. I'm so proud of you. I'm glad the trainer voiced her compliments too. :D And what you did with Bombay, sitting on him for an hour, is such a fantastic lesson for him!!!