My last couple of rides on Coriander have been miserable. Unfortunately I haven't been able to ride him enough lately to establish the new protocol so every time there's a break between rides he reverts back to the old pattern of rushing off whenever he pleases. The pattern where it was okay to ignore me in favor of following his own agenda.
He seems to be particularly bad about it this week, the only reason I can think for it is that, ZOMG, Gwen's in heat. Apparently he feels a pretty strong need to get back and protect his mare. Too bad she's started clinging to Butch when she goes into heat (maybe that's part of it too). Either way, he feels the need to rush off A LOT. We did A LOT of circling in the each direction until he'd stop and give to the rein. Immediately after I released him he'd rush off again. All I wanted was for him to stand still for the count of three, it's amazing how long it took circling in each direction before he'd finally stop moving his feet for that long. Half the time after that I'd ask him to walk on and he'd take off trotting so we had to do it all over again.
Lest you think that maybe I was unconsciously cueing him - I was being very careful about my legs and energy level, trying to broadcast to him very clearly "stand still" by stopping my body and not touching him with my legs at all. I was even trying to avoid thinking anything other than what I wanted right at that moment in case he was picking up my subconscious cues. But honestly, I sincerely doubt he was paying enough attention to me to pick up those tiny cues. I mean, come on, the horse is ignoring my clicks, that's how tuned out he's gotten. Because of that I've put clicker training him on the backburner, he knows full well what the click means he just doesn't care.
All I can say is thank goodness I learned how to use single-rein riding because I couldn't do this without that technique. The beauty of riding with a single rein is that it's really hard for the horse to brace against it, unlike riding with two reins where the horse can use his skeleton to brace against you. Let me tell you, Coriander started out with one hell of a brace, but he got tired, and as he got tired he started to soften- just a little bit- and listen. It wasn't much, but it was a start. Still, I hope he gives this up soon because it's getting really old.
Because I'm having to do this I've had to rethink a lot of my work with him and I feel like I've come to an epiphany, possibly even a paradigm shift. For most of my life I've been content to just go along for the ride, but Coriander is proving that he needs more from me. As my dressage trainer told me, which I unfortunately didn't understand at the time, "you need to ask him for more, he can do it. He wants to do it." I think I get what she was trying to tell me now. He needs me to keep his mind busy, otherwise he's going to find another way to amuse himself, which means I need to change the way I ride. For him I can't be a pleasure rider, I need to have a purpose to give him a purpose. The easiest way I can think to do that is transitions, LOTS of transitions, then we'll add in lateral work. It's time I started getting picky, really picky.
Maybe I'm already on the right track: After I finished working with both of them and was walking down to the bottom pasture to find Gwen's missing flymask I saw him looking at me, I passed him and he walked after me. I stopped and waited for him to stop next to me, which he did, so I clicked and gave him a treat and scratched him in his favorite spot behind his ears. It was the first time all day that he paid attention to me.