Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A monster of my own creation

I trail rode on a lesson horse yesterday. It was... um... interesting.

My lesson mates decided they wanted to do a trail ride instead of the ring lesson. That was not a problem for me- I'm much more comfortable out on the trail than in a ring. The issue was that the horse I was riding had no brakes, which became most evident when the trainer decided we needed to canter everywhere. The horse I was on got more and more worked up until I practically had to stand on the reins to get him to stop. I really don't like to have to do that.

I, of course, got all smug thinking that my horse is better than that. He stops when I sit back and pick up the reins. But then I remembered: Oh wait, no he doesn't.

He used to, but somewhere along the way I got lenient and started letting him get away with little things until finally he decided he didn't need to listen to me anymore. He started walking off without me asking him, trotting off without me asking him, and finally galloping off without my input. Worse, he'd started bucking when I asked him to canter. That is SO not okay.

But how do I address this problem? Even better question: How do I address this without alienating him? After all, it's my fault he started doing this. He was only doing what horses do- test the boundaries and push them as far as he could. I certainly don't want to punish him for that, that would be completely unfair. On the other hand, I have to do something about it because he's getting unsafe.

This is the part of horse training that nobody really wants to do, I certainly don't want to do it, but avoiding it is how you get into trouble in the first place. I want to work in cooperation with my horses but it takes two to cooperate; if the horse ain't listening I don't have anyone to cooperate with. I needed to prove to him that I was worth listening to.

What I want him to do is travel at the gait I choose on the buckle. If he wants to transition up he can suggest it and then I'll let him know whether it's okay or not. Right now he decides he wants to trot and just starts trotting, saying "la la la, I can't hear you."

Here's what I decided to do: Any time he rushed off without me asking for it he had to circle. I picked up the buckle in one hand, slid my other hand down, picked a point on his neck, and held the rein there until he gave to the pressure. Then I released and give him a chance to stop on his own. If he didn't, I did it again until he decided to stop. In the beginning it took quite a few repetitions before he started looking for the stop. When he found it we stayed in the stop for a while before I asked him to walk off on the buckle. Once he figured out that anytime he rushed off he'd have to circle he settled down and started listening.

Over all I think this worked really well, we got a canter without the bucking and a nice walk back to the barn without any rushing off..  He wasn't happy with me and I can't blame him for that, when you're used to getting your own way you naturally resent the person who changes the rules, but my mechanics weren't making him upset. And, as you can see from the post-ride photo below, this wasn't physically taxing for him.
certainly not dripping with sweat
For me there were two very important pieces that made this work: 1. the RELEASE and 2. NOT GETTING EMOTIONAL. Neither of these is particularly easy for me to do, especially the emotional part, but I desperately need to learn this. I actually have to thank Coriander for giving me the opportunity, this is something I need to get a handle on before I have to do it with Gwen. At least I can make a few mistakes with him and not get dumped for it.

In positive news, Gwen led calmly up to barn and ate her dinner in a relaxed manner while the rest of the herd was completely out of eyesight. That was a pleasant surprise, she's never done that before.


  1. I think circling, like you said, or anything that adds more work, is always a good thing. Horses are smart and figure it out if you're consistent. It will be hardest on you, I assure you! It took me 2.5 hours to ride home a few years ago when it should have taken me ten minutes--all because I was not going to let him get away with running or jigging or trotting home. I really wanted to give up because I just wanted to get HOME. But that lesson has lasted three years--so I guess it was worth it. (I turned him from home and rode him twice as far as we'd got every time he even started to jig.) I think that lesson sounds horrible. I would have been a wreck to be cantering on a trail on a horse with no breaks. :/

    Beautiful Mustang

  2. I quit feeling guilty about being an unfair dictator after I watched Dixie long enough. She is completely arbitrary toward her underlings (all creatures who are not me). She's not consistent and kind!

    No, I'm not unkind toward her. I just don't feel bad if I slip up and let her develop bad habits then change my riding style to correct them. Like you said, I'm dispassionate and focused on the correct release, and she really responds well to it.

    So don't feel bad about changing the rules on Coriander! Just be consistent and dispassionate about the new rules and he'll be just fine. :)

  3. Thanks for telling me about your experience Linda, that makes me feel better.

    I'm really torn about this trainer. I feel like I'm paying her for lessons just so I don't feel bad about using her ring. She does tell me when my hands are wrong, my shoulders are wonky or if I'm holding my breath but other than that...

    Thank you Funder, you're right. I shouldn't feel like a jerk for doing what had to be done. Especially when he's treating ME like an underling.

  4. Really enjoyed this post, thanks for sharing!!! I don't need it yet for Sugar, but as you know, bad habits develop far too quickly!!

  5. I hope it helps you should you ever need it :)

  6. I wonder, how long will you stay focused on this work, and when will you decide he has learned what you needed to teach him? I mean, do you think a horse can finally arrive at the bit of knowledge you are teaching and then stay there?

    This was a very interesting post to read. Thanks.

  7. Taking off is one of those things I just don't cope with very well so not getting emotional is definitely a hard one for me too. I know that every part of my horsemanship will improve if I can learn that one thing.

    BTW, thank you again for the Chrome tip! It really works!

  8. Oh good, Chrome took a bit of getting used to for me but I've been happy with it. No Blogger bugs and it's faster!