Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Let There Be Light

Many interesting things are happening with my horses now that three different people have been working with them for a while.  Factoring new people into the equation is kind of like switching from a 15 watt light bulb to a 120 watt light bulb in a small room.  You can see everything much clearer.  When it's just you working with your horses year after year, you can't quite comprehend the training dynamics that happen between you and your horses.  But once you start observing how your horses change their behaviors based upon what other people have and haven't let them get away with, you realize that everything wasn't as fixed as you once thought.  Things change fast and almost effortlessly... in both good ways and bad.

I met a lady recently who said, "I won't let anyone ride my horse because I don't want anyone ruining all the hard work I put into training him."

I thought, "Really?  You think someone can ruin your horse in one little ride?"

Interestingly enough, someone can.  Or they can make the horse better.  I see differences in my horses each time I ride them, and I always think back to who was the last person to ride the horse and what did they do that was different from what I do.  

Today the horse trainer came by and I had Gabbrielle saddled up and ready for her.  I reached out to pick up the lead rope to start her lateral flexation exercise, and was shocked to see Gabbrielle bring her own head around and touch her belly with her nose... and KEEP IT THERE BEFORE I EVEN PICKED UP THE ROPE!  Wow!  Wowsa!  The Parelli Student has been doing at liberty work with Gabbrielle and it is truly amazing watching this "sign language" or dance take place between the two of them.  I think Gabbrielle is on her way to being a trick pony.

Bombay had been chasing me around all morning, bugging me to ride him, so I saddled him up and joined the trainer in the arena.  She was working Gabbrielle at the trot.  When I did Bombay's lateral flexation exercise, he flipped me the bird.  The trainer saw it and came over to coach me through his attitude problem.  She said that since we know how he can collect himself and how light he is on the bit from the saddle, there is no reason to expect any less from him on the ground.  As soon as I touch that lead rope when I am in position for the lateral flexation exercise, he should already be bringing his head around.  To have him keep his head straight while I'm pulling on the rope is totally unacceptable.

So, I stood next to his hip and had my arm over his rump behind the saddle, and she told me to pull the rope up toward the saddle horn.  Somewhere along the line, I got into the habit of pulling the rope straight back to the fender.  So, I pulled it up to the saddle horn and Bombay started moving backwards to avoid the restraint.  I moved with him so that he wouldn't get any release from the restraint on his own, and then he stopped and touched his own belly with his nose, and I released the rope.  

She had me do it again, and that time I had to pull his head around.  She said bump the rope repeatedly to get him to pay attention to the cue.  He was better after that, but not anywhere near as responsive as Gabbrielle, who does the exercise by herself.

Then when I started to mount, he swung his hip away from me and walked off.  Lostine used to do that all the time until I corrected her the right way, but Bombay has always been great about standing still for the mount.  This was a first for him to pull that stunt in recent history.  I wondered if my horse was just seeing how much bad behavior he could get away with since he has had different people riding him lately.  The trainer told me to just tip his nose in and don't pull the head around so far and see if he does any better.  That fixed it.  I realized that the problem wasn't that Bombay was avoiding the mount, but that I basically gave him the cue to disengage his hindquarters by pulling his head around too far and bumping his side.  Just when you think you know who is at fault (the horse or whoever rode him most recently), you discover who really is at fault (me).  

So, the trainer caught two habits I have formed that were working against me.  I thought I was doing everything the trainer taught me to do, but when it comes to horses, the subtleties are endless.  You may be mechanically doing everything right, but with the wrong pressure or at the wrong angle or with the wrong timing.  I seriously think that universities should offer a doctorate degree in horsemanship because there is so much to learn beyond just the steps.

The trainer showed me what she has been doing to teach Gabbrielle to back up.  Right now Gabbrielle just plants her feet and throws her head around when the trainer pulls back on the reins.  So, she turns her head, disengages her hindquarters, then pulls straight back and holds the reins while Gabbrielle backs up.  Once she takes a few good steps, she releases the reins and pets her.  So, apparently, Gabbrielle is still in that baby stage of under saddle training where you have to get her moving one way before you can get her moving another way.  It's easier to get her to turn or move sideways than it is to ask her to back straight from the get go.  I remember when I was training Gabbrielle under saddle the first time, I couldn't get her to do anything but back up, so I just rode her backwards until she ran into a railing and jumped forward, and then I tried to work off that momentum.  So, I find it ironic that after having two other professional trainers, she now moves forward with ease, but won't back up.

The trainer is going to show P.S. the backing steps too in case P.S. rides her, so that we are all on the same page.  I'm kind of looking forward to seeing what results P.S. will get with her from the saddle, because she has made a lot of good things happen from the ground.


Crystal said...

Oh I love your comment about so much to learn beyond the steps! Seems like the more I learn, the more I realize I dont know. And all horses are different so it makes it even harder.

fernvalley01 said...

Seems like the teamwork is paying off

Marissa Rose said...

It's so true what Crystal said...

I felt like I was doing sooo good with Pony, and then I rode a horse that has very good training on him, and couldn't get him to do anything, because I've never rode well trained horses and it's a whole new ball game...

The more i learn, the less I know!

Dreaming said...

I am enjoying reading about your revelations. Horses can be very humbling! You are so right about having more people work with them and work with you. Each person sees something different and brings something different to the equation.
It sounds like you are making great strides with the horses!

achieve1dream said...

That's weird! Chrome backs better than he goes sideways... but that may have something to do with his stifles and he knows the word "back" from our groundwork so he's connected that with the rein cue. :) We just need more work yielding his haunches from his back.

I love this post! Very interesting seeing the differences. And the whole thing about one ride "ruining" a horse's training... there is some truth to that. It only takes someone letting your horse get away with a bad habit once for it to become a big problem. I'm glad you have talented people to work with you and help you out. I don't think they are ruining your horses at all. I think it just depends on how experienced the other rider is.