Friday, January 3, 2014

Rock's Stellar Progress

Quite frankly, I've been riding Bombay lately more than Rock because I wanted to be on a horse that could move out when I asked him to.  The only problem with Bombay is that when he gets excited, nervous or scared he can't stop moving out or simply slow down.  So, I decided to work on Rock's issues today.  It's nice and a privilege to be able to switch between two completely opposite geldings.  When I feel like I've hit a wall with one, I can switch to the other, and often times, I learn something while riding the other horse that helps me to understand what I need to do to break through that wall.

I came to the realization that when I ride Bombay, I tend to freely give out praise to him, however with Rock, there are way more corrections.  Bombay does everything I ask until something happens along the trail to put him on mental overload.  Then he becomes dangerous.  Rock seems to resist everything I ask him to do by trying to muscle what he wants out of me, but I feel comfortable riding him because he never loses his mind.  I've never seen Rock show any sign of having a bad temper.  I also noticed today that whenever I shifted my weight or bounced in the saddle, Rock immediately slowed to a walk to let me get situated.  Either someone trained him to slow down when his rider loses her balance, or he's just a caring, sensitive horse.

Before riding him I led him up the driveway to bring in the trash can.  Normally, Bombay, Gabbrielle and Lostine lock up and refuse to move forward when they see a strange object.  I have to push them toward it, and then something as simple as swinging the trash can lid closed causes their flight instinct to set in.  I've had to work with them in walking next to me while I drag the trash can in from the curb without freaking out.  This was Rock's first time bringing in the trash, and he fell in line behind it and actually pushed it with his nose while I pulled.  How's that for being a brave, smart horse?  I suspect he was hoping I would drag it down to the paddock so he could kick it around and play with it.  You can't tie him anywhere near a trash can, because he'll start pulling stuff out of it and shaking it around with his teeth.

I remembered to remove his rope halter before putting on his side pull bridle today.  I've been experimenting with adding and removing tack around his nose to isolate what exactly is rubbing the fur off his nose and leaving behind bumps.  I wrapped faux sheepskin around the nose ropes on the halter, but it seemed there was still some rubbing and bumping.  I decided that the combination of how the halter lays on his cheeks along with where the knots are in the rope halter were causing the rope halter to pull and saw back and forth on his nose.  Taking the rope halter out of the equation seemed to fix it.  He didn't have any new rubs or bumps after this ride.  I can lead him with just the halter and reins since he no longer carries a bit in his mouth, so I was just leaving the rope halter on underneath the bridle out of habit.

Riding out, he was slow and hesitant as usual.  I contemplated bringing a riding crop and even desensitized him to it, but in the end followed my intuition, which told me to leave it at home.  I wanted to work out my leg communication with him.  So, I was squeezing and pushing him forward, and he was moving forward very slowly.  I was praising him for at least staying underneath me as opposed to wandering.  I worked on teaching him that an equal, steady squeeze from both legs means stay on this trail.  Go straight.

He spotted two ladies on horseback coming up a trail to our left, and it was a struggle for me to keep squeezing him forward away from them.  He gawked and even stopped to study the other horses.  I turned him left on another trail, so we could pass each other and I could continue to work on keeping him moving with the distraction of other horses.  All of my horses pop their heads way up and puff their chests out upon meeting new horses, as if saying, "Check me out!  I'm too cool for school."

The other horses I meet on the trail are often well behaved.  They just keep trucking along and show very little interest in my horses.  My aim is to get my horses like that.  Some days when I'm in the mood to train them while riding, I'll seek out other horses, hikers, and bicyclists on the trails to work my horses through their quirks.  Other days I just want to ride without hassles, and I try to take the less traveled paths.  Today I took the more popular paths and came across the two horseback riders, a hiker and a loose dog.

I worked with Rock on not eating while working, as well as not stopping to smell the roses (manure).  I have been saying, "No, no, no!" while snaking the rein against his neck, but I switched over to steering him away from the bushes and then petting and praising him for passing them without eating.  Eventually, I steered him into the bushes and he chose not to take a bite, so I praised and petted him.  I also praised and petted him for staying on the trail, and we both learned that it is possible for him to look around and walk straight at the same time.

The really exciting part was when he began listening to light cues regarding which trail to take.  The last time I rode him, I'd pull right and he'd go left.  I'd circle him to take the right trail, he'd start going that way, and then try to turn around to go the other way.  I dreaded every trail intersection because he turned it into such a process.

This time I concentrated really hard by looking in the direction I wanted to go, lifting one rein loosely in that direction and turning my torso toward it.  He understood that and made some really nice turns without making them into a wrestling contest.  I suspect that previously I had not even been clear in my own mind on which trail I wanted to take.  I'm always thinking, "Well, this trail is rocky, and that trail is steep, and that trail always has people on it..." and by the time we reach the intersection, I'm still weighing the pluses and minuses of each path.  This time I decided which path we were going to take before we reached the intersection, and I stuck to it even if I saw something up ahead that I would have preferred to avoid.

Case in point, and of course I didn't get this on film, but I took him down a trail I had never explored before and saw that there was a steep drop off into a wash.  This drop off was the surface of a boulder, so he could easily slip on the way down.  I knew I had to stick to the trail for communication's sake and not be indecisive, so I was going to help him down it.  He saw the difficulty level and veered away, turning around to avoid sliding down that boulder.  I circled him and pointed him at the boulder again, petting him and assuring him that I would help him.  That time he stepped right onto the boulder and slid down it into the wash without falling.  I gave him a ton of praise and his ears went forward, as he was visibly pleased with his accomplishment.

I was amazed at how quickly he progressed from making decisions on his own, probably in response to me being indecisive, to listening to me and following each direction with minimal resistance once he knew he'd get petted and praised.  I'm posting two videos for you to see the difference.  The first one is the very beginning of the ride when he was pussy-footing around and gawking at the other horses.  The second video was more toward the end of the ride when we had worked out stronger communication with each other.


Cindy D. said...

Oh that is very cool. Don't you love it when we figure out just what we need to do to communicate clearly to them...and even better when they gladly accept the communication as leadership.

I have to admit that I could only watch a small portion of each video. I found my self getting motion sickness. It seems that the older I get the worse it is for me. ugh!

Cheryl Ann said...

I'm so glad I have Lucille now to ride! I'm learning so much from her! Glad to hear that Rock is such a calm horse...we "older" folks need a calm horse, right? I can't even imagine riding Scout...I really need to think about what I'm going to do with her.
Thanks for the Malware tip, too!
~~Cheryl Ann~~

Grey Horse Matters said...

Looks like a great start to the new year. Rock is a very cool horse and I like his personality. I think he likes to be praised, but who doesn't .

fernvalley01 said...

well done