Monday, March 31, 2014

Expanding the Comfort Zone

My horse trainer showed up at his usual time and asked who I wanted him to work with today.  I pointed out Bombay and said I would ride along on Rock.  Bombay was quite spooky the last several times I've worked with him, and I'm hoping the horse trainer can help him with his confidence while expanding his comfort zone.  I really need him to work on getting him to approach other horses, people and dogs on the trail with a purposeful stride, but the people and animals we've been sharing the trails with these past few months all seem to have flown the coop.  So, we went back to working him across roads with traffic.

Both Bombay and Rock crossed in each direction with no problems.  The horse trainer and I were deep in conversation about his upcoming clinic, when I realized that Rock was burying his nose in Bombay's tail, so I asked the trainer to remind me how to get Rock to back off.  He said that he gets him to back up a few steps and then releases the reins until he walks too fast or tailgates again, then he backs him up a few steps and releases the reins to allow him to move forward.  Eventually, the horse learns that he won't have to keep backing up if he just gives the horse in front his space and walks at the pace the rider requests.

My first couple of attempts at backing Rock up from a walk didn't fly.  He just pushed forward right through my rein pressure.  The trainer said that's one of the downsides of going bitless.  I was determined to make going bitless work, so I used my body and legs more to communicate that I wanted to back up.  Once I added in the word "back", Rock did back up.  I released the rein and he got right back on Bombay's butt, so we did it a few more times until all I had to do was lift the reins and Rock slowed down to give Bombay his space.

While we were still deep in conversation, we were approaching a trail that I have never taken my horses on for a reason.  It's steep, rocky, and it has a long cable that looks kind of like a python or boa constrictor lying in the middle of it.  I figured my horses would freak out about the anomaly on the ground, so I just avoided it.  Plus I haven't been outfitting my horses for steep hills.  I have breast collars, but rarely use them.  The trainer had put a back cinch on Bombay for the first time, and he seemed to be handling it well, but I didn't have a back cinch on Rock.

The horse trainer was riding Bombay right toward that steep incline with the long "snake", and I thought about interrupting him to let him know that this might make Bombay anxious.  I didn't want the trainer to be taken by surprise by one of Bombay's teleportations.  But intuition told me to say nothing and just observe what happens.

He rode Bombay right up that hill and never skipped a beat in our conversation.  Bombay showed no concern over the cable or the challenge of climbing that hill.  It was almost as if Bombay were so involved in the conversation himself that he didn't even realize that he was doing something new that would normally be a scary experience for him.

I started thinking about our mindsets when we were working the horses across the street and up the snaky hill.  We just rode forward into it, and the trainer distracted me (and probably the horses too) from any hesitation or fear we might have.  I think the worst thing we as riders can do is to stop and stand before a challenge and discuss whether we want to attempt it, and how we are going to attempt it.  It gives the horses time to think about whether they want to attempt it or not, and they might just say no.

The way I am handling crossing streets now is by thinking about getting to the other side.  I don't concentrate on the cars around us or what my horse's reaction might be to the lines in the road.  I just look at the trails ahead, and that really seems to make a difference in getting the horses across without worries and hesitations.  Plus, it helps to be engrossed in conversation with another rider, because the trainer led me through some sketchy areas that I normally would have stopped to survey before proceeding.  I think because I was focusing on what he was saying, we were through the tough spots before I even realized what had happened.

The trainer's confidence is definitely rubbing off on both me and the horses.  I'm liking his help a whole lot better than some of the help I've had in the past.  (i.e. Being threatened that I would be tied to the saddle without reins while the trainer chased my horse around with a plastic bag tied to a whip...)  This guy just models a good attitude, self-confidence, trust in the horse, and kind, but firm training methods for me to follow.  He doesn't tell me I'm being unreasonable or call me chicken.  He just leads and I follow, and when we are all done with our ride, I'm happy because the horses and I did something we didn't know we could do.

It's important that you feel safe with your horse trainer or equitation instructor, because chances are if you feel safe, your horses feel safe with him/her too.  I've admitted in the past that I would not ride certain horses around certain trainers, because the trainer made that horse so nervous that I didn't feel safe riding it in the trainer's presence.  Fortunately, I think all of my horses like my current trainer.

We often hear about the process of taking our horses out of their comfort zones in such a way that helps them expand that zone and feel confident doing it, but the same thing goes for the rider.  If the rider has an instructor who can lead her out of her comfort zone without pressure, the results can be successful for both the horse and rider.

While feeding tonight, the tiniest baby bunny that I've seen yet was hopping around the haystack.  It clearly had about a 3-foot comfort zone with me.  As long as I stayed more than three feet away, it didn't run away.

 I reached out and tried to touch it, but missed by an inch.


fernvalley01 said...

Sounds like you have found a good trainer, shows you how to do things in a common sense way, and distracts you from the spooky stuff as well. Nice work ! both of you

BrownEyed Cowgirl said...

I am very happy to hear that you found someone that gives YOU confidence.

I've long suspected and often tried to tell you...although it wasn't communicated well...that the majority of the problems with the horses was rider induced. If the rider's mindset is, 'I'm going over there' and you point at some destination ahead of where you are, you WILL get your horse to that point. If the rider is concerned about every obstacle in the path, so shall be the horse.

And someone really threatened to tie you to your horse and chase you around?

What an A**Hole. That is seriously NOT cool!!

Sam said...

He does the same thing for me too. Sometimes I hem and haw over doing a certain thing and ask him for help - and he makes it so easy. I have to laugh at my own silliness! He will be taking Baron to Cottonwood for the Verde Valley Equine Festival this weekend. Baron goes on at 8:30am on Friday - any chance you are heading up that way?

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

BEC - I know you've been trying to tell me that. The way people most often phrase the advice is along the lines of "don't get nervous" or "don't expect your horse to spook" -- all don'ts, and the advice never totally rang true to me because some of my worst near wrecks happened when I wasn't nervous or expecting anything to happen.

But the experiences all build on each other, and eventually you do start noting things up ahead that have spooked your horse in the past, or you've just had several bad rides in a row and it is hard to have confidence in your horse. Even if you are not nervous about the horse spooking, you still had the thought, and we all know how horses can read our thoughts.

What this trainer did, whether intentional or not, was to distract my thoughts from what was going on in the environment. Maybe I should read a book or listen to music when I ride alone in the future.

I also need to keep practicing Tae Kwon Do from the saddle -- meaning that if I expect to break a board in half with my head, I have to aim for the space behind the board, and not the board itself.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Sam - I've been trying to work something out so that I can go. I've got to make sure that someone is willing to help take care of my horses and dogs while I'm gone. I'll send you an email.

Water Girl said...

It warms my heart to hear you found a trainer that both you and your horses like. It really makes a difference. It sounds like you really enjoyed yourself on that trail ride too. Keep enjoying them, I love to hear that other people are enjoying their trainers and horses with no demands. Reading about your ride was a lovely way start off the morning.
P.S Someone ACTUALLY threatened tie you to the saddle and chase your horses around?!?!? That gives my trainer a run for his money in the a**hole department.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Water Girl - Yes, it's true. I had one trainer from a long time ago threaten to do that. I fired him before he could. Then I had a second trainer say that she was going to do the same thing minus being tied to the saddle. Hers wasn't so much of a threat, but an honest belief that it would help me learn to ride out spooks and bolts while desensitizing my horse at the same time. I have actually seen horse trainers on TV do this. I think one show was in a prison where they were breaking wild Mustangs. A prisoner mounted a wild horse for the first time, and the trainer kept the horse moving forward by shaking a plastic bag on the end of whip at it from behind. In that case, they wanted forward movement for training purposes as well as the rider's safety, and it was being used in a systematic manner.

BrownEyed Cowgirl said...

Tae Kwon Do from the saddle...That's outstanding!!! I love it!!! That's exactly the mindset I was trying to impart. LOL.

And that's exactly why I don't say things like, 'Don't get nervous' or 'Don't expect your horse to spook'...because it's ridiculous. Of course people get nervous and of course horses spook. My personal nemesis is 'Just trust your horse'...That's what people kept trying to tell me with Moon...And it doesn't help one single bit...I could trust Moon with every fiber of my being...but he was still going to hit the barrel. LOL. I had to learn how to get him past it...Think through the obstacle. I'll remember the Tae Kwon Do reference for sure from now on. That's just awesome!!

Cut-N-Jump said...

It sounds like you have found someone with a way of getting you last the sticky parts before you have time to worry about all of the What If's?

Tying someone to the saddle not only improves their ranking in the Azzhole department, but dayum that's a HUGE liability if anyone ever gets hurt. Sadly that is what it will take for jerks like that to realize what kind of danger you are putting someone in over a stupid stunt like that. It's amazing that creatures like that even exist. It's only a matter of time before a horse that is the product of their mentality removes then from the planet. Karma baby, Karma. Sadly though, the horse will be blamed for it. :-(

Cindy D. said...

All I've got is


achieve1dream said...

Yay!!!! I'm so happy you found a great trainer! Thank you Christine hehe.

When your trainer can't be there have you thought about ponying Bombay so he gets out more but you can feel confident because you're on Rock? I think in the ponying post that you said the geldings are fine together right? Just make sure to have identification on Bombay in case he gets away. Every time I had one get away they wouldn't leave the house I was riding as long as I didn't try to chase them but better safe than sorry.