Friday, July 1, 2011

Not just a passenger anymore

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.


  1. I recently had this epiphany with Sugar. We have an outdoor arena here with all kinds of jumps, poles, barrels, and buckets. I made about 4 trail obstacles and took Sugar through them all, in different ways. I will take two out tonight, and try two old and two new obstacles.
    I had the best ride ever with her last night because I never did the same thing, walking, trotting, circles here, ovals there, obstacles EVERYWHERE. Maybe you can incorporate some of that into your riding. I'll be thinking of you!

  2. That's a great idea, thank you! My husband is making me some cavaletti too so hopefully I'll have those to play with in a bit.

  3. I'm dreaming of cavaletti...think of me at least once when you do them! haha

  4. Good post. Perhaps Coriander just needs a challenge to feel a sense of accomplishment?? Maybe he is thinking that the challenge that is presented to him right now is challenging you. :-) I found the last part of your post poignant. The fact that he wanted to be with you willingly means that he really wants to BE with you, no?

    Happy 4th of July!

  5. How long are your trail rides and are they always around your barn/pasture? I find that the more our horses work the less energy they start to expend at the beginning of our rides, but we haul out and take them for two-four hour jaunts. After a couple of those at the beginning of the riding season, they settle down. What Minus Pride said about variety works with mine, too. I guess the long rides kind of provide that variety and energy expenditure all at once. Happy 4th!

  6. You kept your cool. That is to be commended. I also like how you found an opportunity to reward him when he did pay you some attention. :)

  7. I find it very challenging to attend to all of the details of riding and keep things interesting for Val. He is quick to let me know when I am less than successful, and full of love and forgiveness just the same. Keep on plugging!

  8. I really like single-rein riding too. It did the trick in getting our half-Arab to stop going around with her head straight up in the clouds.

  9. Did you get to ride this weekend? How did it go??

  10. Wolfie- I think you're onto something there. He definitely likes a challenge. Apparently I do too ;)

    Hi Linda- You've got a point too. Unfortunately I can't haul him anywhere so we can have a really long ride (no trailer) but I can do more to get him tired for shorter ones.

    Thanks Val, I try hard. Most of the time I succeed.

    CFS- thanks, I will! You too :)

    June- it's pretty great isn't it? Just another useful tool in the box.

  11. He sounds a lot like Dusty to me. If I don't keep it interesting and make her work she just does whatever she feels like. I really have to mix it up with her and do something different everyday. Her favorite thing to make her pay attention is cavelletti patterns walking or trotting, doesn't matter, as long as she has to keep her head in the game. Hopefully, I'll be able to ride her again in the future, she's challenging but a lot of fun too.