Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Doing My Homework

My homework is to practice catching Lostine with the halter using the trainer's method, and then practice riding her at the walk/jog/walk/jog until she's better about waiting for my cue to trot and responding quicker to my cue to walk.  At the same time, Bombay, who I'm trying to prepare for a trip to the cattle ranch, has been sitting on the sidelines for the past couple of weeks because Lostine has monopolized all of our attention with her trouble-making, and I wanted to put in some time with him before he forgets everything we've been working on.

I started off the morning by trying to catch Lostine.  I walked purposefully toward her with halter in hand, ready to throw it at her shoulder when she spun and ran away.  Boy, was I shocked when she walked right up to me and stood still.  I petted her, praised her, and stroked her with the halter, and she still held still.  I walked off, petted Gabbrielle with the halter, and then returned to Lostine.  She stood there obediently and allowed me to toss the rope over her neck.  I thought for sure she would make a break for it once that rope was around her neck, but she didn't flinch, so I haltered her and took her for a hand-walk out in the desert as a reward.

That was fast.  I think back to all the advice I've received on how to catch a horse that runs from the halter, and nothing was as effective as this trainer's method.  I've tried herding the horses into corners.  I've tried clicker-training.  I've tried simply having a treat in my hand every time I halter her.  I've tried taking the halter out with me even if I have no intention of catching a horse.  The best method I knew before the trainer helped me was for me to whack her on the butt with the lead rope and chase her around until she decides it's easier to just stop and let me halter her.  The problem with that is it tires me out.  This trainer said to just throw the halter at the horse and walk over to pick it up.  Approach the horse again.  If it runs off, throw the halter at it again.  There's no chasing involved.  It involves just casually walking around, so you don't expend all your energy.  I guess Lostine doesn't like being hit with the halter and rope, so she learned not to run off to begin with.

For those who worry that throwing an object at a horse could hurt it, we as humans cause way less pain to horses than when other horses kick and bite them, and kicking and biting is how horses behave in their natural setting.  I would say just be careful not to throw the halter and rope at the horse's head, because you could scratch an eye.  If the horse is cantering, aim for the shoulder and you'll probably hit the hip.

Our walk went well.  I found a new path.  Each time I think I've walked every path in that place, I find another one.  We saw the mysterious jackalope again.  Upon arriving home, I saddled Lostine and rode her in the arena.  The neighbor at the back of our property was up on a ladder working on his deck with all kinds of power tools, but Lostine was fine with it.  There were a lot of one-rein stops and repeated flexing of the neck because she kept running off from the walk and walking off from the stop without a cue.

I realized that I was part of the problem because I needed to be quieter with my body and my voice.  She was interpreting every move I made and every word out of my mouth to mean, "Go."  When she stopped moving her feet, I had a tendency to say, "Good girl," and then she'd take off.  When she stopped moving her feet I had a tendency to stop bracing in the stirrups and relax my legs against her sides, which she interpreted as a squeeze to go.  When I rocked the saddle to straighten it out while she was stopped, she decided that meant go.  Quite truthfully, I think she just wanted to go and keep moving at her own will, but I was also complicating matters by bringing other stimuli into it, so I decided to just work on the walk/halt/walk/halt for a while.  That worked.

Then I moved up to the walk/jog/walk/jog, and she instantly got out of control again, pinning her ears back, trotting off and gathering her energy beneath her to let loose some bucks.  When I kept pulling her head around to cut off her bucking attempts, she pinned her ears back and tried running backwards.  This ticked me off, so I dismounted and lunged her hard, then got back on and she was better behaved, but far from perfect.  Once she followed three of my commands in a row without resistance, I dismounted and let her get some water and rest.

Then I rode Bombay.  He started out pussy-footing, so I gave him a lot of slack in the reins and pushed with my legs to try to get him up to a purposeful walk.  It was like trying to squeeze the juice out of an orange with my calves, so I started kicking him.  My trainer won't let me ride with a crop or whip anymore.  It used to be that all I had to do was hold that riding crop in my hand and Bombay did everything I asked.  I never had to use it.  I just had to hold it.  He knows the difference, so now he sometimes ignores my legs since I'm not carrying that crop anymore.

We got down to the end of the arena where the neighbor was working on his patio and by then I had completely tuned out all the noises he was making.  Bombay took me by surprise by jumping sideways and running back to the barn.  He got four strides on me before I remembered to react with the one-rein stop.  It was difficult to pull him around because I had given him so much rein in an effort to speed up his walk.

On the next pass, I slid my hand down the left rein by his neck, ready to pull his head around toward the neighbor should he spook again in the same spot.  He tensed up, but then relaxed, put his head down and let his ears get floppy, so I relaxed my grip on the reins, and Bombay suddenly teleported sideways again.  This time I pulled his head around before he could canter off, but he certainly didn't give me any indication that he was about to spook at that point.  The trainer says a horse will show warning signs that it is about to spook, and a really good rider can head that off at the pass.  Bombay gave me no signals in both those cases.  I think something caught him off guard out of the corner of his eye or he heard a scary noise and just reacted instantly without the ears pointing in the direction of the threat or anything.  He's more of a "run now, look later" kind of horse.

So, on every pass after that, I just slid my hand down the rein and waited for the spook, assuming it would happen, and he didn't spook again after that.  I walked, jogged, trotted him in each direction, and then zig-zagged at the trot back and forth across the arena.  I don't mind riding him at the faster paces, because he walks and stays at the walk or halts the second I ask (as long as we aren't heading home from a trail ride or as long as he isn't spooked.)  With Lostine, once she takes off, I lose her and then she getting silly thinking she's going to launch me off her back.

The only stunt that Bombay pulled was halting by the step stool when I didn't ask him to halt, and then refusing to keep moving when I kicked him.  I slapped him hard on the rump, and then he walked off.  He realized that I can use my hand as a riding crop and it stings just as much.

So, I got some horse training accomplished today.  Unfortunately that first spook jacked up that nerve between my shoulder blades, so now I'm sore again.  Hopefully, the pain will be gone by tomorrow so that we can do it again.


Cindy D. said...

I have the same nerve pain. Annoying as all heck!

BrownEyed Cowgirl said...

I like the throwing the halter at them tactic...although it's not generally something I tell others to do because it's hard to get people to understand that it's a valid training tactic and not ME having a temper tantrum. LOL.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

BEC - That's probably why I've never heard of the technique before. No one wants to talk about it, because they'll be misunderstood. I look more like I'm playing basketball than throwing a tantrum, and I'm a bad shot, so even the misses had an effect on getting her to stop running from the halter.

Reddunappy said...

Making progress!

Cut-N-Jump said...

>>When she stopped moving her feet I had a tendency to stop bracing in the stirrups and relax my legs against her sides, which she interpreted as a squeeze to go.<<

Why on earth are you bracing in the stirrups? Your legs should be relaxed and at your horses sides- "clinging as if they were a wet rag" as it was put in one of my dressage books.

Something to think about Nuzz

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Something that might be helpful the next time that Bombay won't move his feet fast enough under saddle, instead of whacking his butt with your hand, is to just take the ends of the reins and swing them back and forth across his shoulders when he slows down or won't move.
This is what I do with Apache and it always works.
I used to use a quirt in the same way, but now that I used 10ft long trail reins, I have plenty of reins to swing over her shoulders if I need to.
She's gotten much better about quickly moving off my seat and legs and not being a slowpoke now that she knows I always have the reins to speed her back up ;)

Had to laugh at what you said: "Hopefully, the pain will be gone by tomorrow so that we can do it again."

That's the spirit!! lol!


achieve1dream said...

Things are definitely improving! I'm glad she gave up the hard to catch game. One of the most annoying bad habits in my opinion. We always used the chase them until they gave up method, but the area was small enough and there were two of us (sister) so it wasn't that hard. Luckily I haven't had that problem with Chrome. When I first got him as a five month old foal he was kind of hard to catch, but I started catching him, leading him out of the pen and tying him up just to feed him twice a day long before it became an ingrained habit. When he realized he had to be caught to eat I never had a problem since. :)