Monday, April 27, 2009

The Stars Might Be Aligning

My weekend did not include much riding at all. Unfortunately, Saturday required me to go into work so I couldn’t ride but Tom did ride him for me and spent quite a bit of time cantering. His only comment later that day when I arrived home was that JB needed a lot of canter work. JB tends to be fairly tense in the canter yet. We didn’t do a lot of cantering last year and so part of it is that he is unsure and has not developed the balance to canter easily. The other issue on Saturday was that there were three other strange horses in the arena at the same time. Archery friends had come over to use our arena that day and JB was much more interested in socializing than working.
Sunday, I was not feeling well but dragged myself out to the round pen, JB in tow with my syrcingle and long lines. Not having the energy to ride, I thought it might be a good opportunity to work on the canter without the added weight and burden of a rider. It has been quite some time since I had him in lines but he remembered quickly and listened quite well to voice commands as I took him up and down through walk/trot/canter/halt . He offered a couple of nice easy canters that I was very happy with. Last year, I couldn’t get him to canter on the lines for anything so I was pleased that he willingly went into that gait. After about 20 minutes of long lining I changed gears and revisited the “bowing” cue. I came prepared with baby carrots in my pocket which he smelled right away so it was a bit distracting for him initially.

“You mean I have to do something to earn the carrots?”

We are only at the very beginning stages of this trick but using his halter and leadrope, I tap his shoulder, then ask for him to pick up his hoof and with the other hand with the lead rope, ask him to rock back on his haunches. As he rocks back, I reward that by offering him a treat and letting him have his leg back so he can stand up again. As we go along, eventually I build up to where I don’t release and offer the treat until he rocks back far enough so that his knee rests on the ground. As soon as he offers that, then I release... and more carrots…The next step is getting him to stay in that bowed position a bit longer each time.
As we revisited this, JB quickly caught on. Last summer we left off where he was just starting to drop his knee on the ground. Pretty soon, when I tapped his shoulder, he picked up his foot and was willingly rocking back to put his knee on the ground. Almost too fast and leaving me behind a bit! We only did it a few times and I decided since he was doing so well , I didn’t want to wear it out so I called it good for the day. I have read with trick training that you can over due it as well so I definitely wanted to avoid that. I was pleased with how quickly it came back to him. I had also started teaching JB the cue for the Spanish walk last year but that was a little more difficult. We were both frustrated so I stopped until I could figure out how to better execute the cue. I hope to revisit that however so if anyone has any pointers please let me know!!
While I do miss the focus of the endurance training and conditioning, I am really enjoying my new direction with JB for this season. Much more that I thought I would. It’s nice not to have to feel like such a task master with him, no more stress of “I have to do blank # of miles this week . Now, I just catch him JB a few times a week and head out to the arena or round pen to do what ever needs doing. I try to listen and let him tell me what we work on for that day. Sometimes, we just walk around and work on some easy bending because he is tense, or bothered because the wind blew his hair sideways that day. Some days, we work around obstacles, the Garrocha or trot poles. Other days we get down to business and I ask for more, with transitions, leg yields, shoulder-ion and more cantering to help him build the strength and confidence to travel in this gait comfortably. My point is that whatever it is for each day, we work through it together. If it takes us an hour to get a nice soft up transition into a trot, then that's okay.
Initially when I opted to take a step back and focus on getting him “right” before getting him “out”, I felt like it was a step backwards. Now that I have had some time to reflect and have started seeing some of the changes he is making, I can see that it has definitely been the right decision for him and us. I suspect by next year, we will be miles ahead of where we would have been if I just kept the focus on conditioning. While I enjoyed being out there conditioning and fulfilling my dream and my goals, I really don’t think JB ever did. I didn't want that. He wasn’t mentally or physically ready for the endurance conditioning last year and I probably shouldn't have pushed him.
With our less strenuous training schedule this year, a trail ride or ride out down the road doesn’t have to feel like a chore anymore and JB seems much happier as a result. Everything feels right, moreso than things ever did last year. I can't describe it really, and sometimes there are no words. It just seems like JB is happy, he looks good, he feels good and that makes me happy. I don't know if its just the stars have finally aligned for us but I am seeing a lot of potential in this little horse that I would not otherwise have if I didn’t give JB the opportunity to show me. I am just glad I finally listened to him.


Stephanie - Siouxzeegirl Designs said...

Oh, your post really made me feel good! I am so happy for you and JB, sometimes it is a hard choice doing the 'right' thing but in the end it is so worth it!! And it really sounds like your choice is paying off.
I look forward to hearing about the training, you are very inventive and not afraid to try new things and different techniques. Always making me think of different things.

Catherine said...

Hi again Jonna. I'm not sure how you teach the Spanish Walk but I had a friend show me how to do it and my gelding does a pretty nice one now. Here's how it worked for me (note, it is a long process with many steps): Start out by positioning your horse by a fence, in a halter. Using a dressage whip, tap the back of a front pastern until they just lift their foot. Then reward with a rest. Alternate which foot you work on until they will consistently lift the foot (not a reach, just a pick up and put down initially) with a light tap. Depending on the horse you may need to tap/irritate them more or less to get the leg picked up. BUT, only work on this for short sessions--five minutes at a time before riding or something. It is a frustrating process for the horse and you don't want to sour them. When they lift on cue you want to increase the taps until you get a bigger lift with a reach. It won't be beautiful and at first it will come by accident on the horse's part--you're continuing to tap with the ordinary lift of a foot and,in frustration, they give you a bigger movement. THen reward! I throw in occasional carrots but not every time. Once you get the bigger lift of the leg you don't reward anymore until you get that from the whip cue. Work on each leg, positioning the body by a fence and working on the inside leg. After the horse consistently reaches on a light tap, begin to ask for foreward movement. It takes a bit for the horse to understand how to move the back end. Be patient and, again, the innitial moves will come sort of by accident and its a timing thing--release as soon as you get a couple steps. Eventually you can walk at the horses shoulder, cueing them with the whip and they will move forward while reaching with the front legs. This took me a LONG time. I'll take up too much space going into the other two steps/cues to get the under saddle movement but if you're interested further, let me know. It is a cool thing to do/learn. Now my horse uses the maneuver to "express" himself. If he gets bored with arena work sometimes he'll do Spanish walk on his own to show me his feelings. It's funny...any annoying! If you have a very brainy, expressive horse you'll probably get an expressive Spanish Walk.

Jonna said...

Steph- I tend to get bored unless I change things up so I guess it's by default that I try to come up with new things. Glad it's of some use for your training! You would laugh at some of the other things we do as well. We have taught a couple of our horses to get used to us drumming around them and on them (influence of the horseback archer husband) Its fun to irriate our irritating neighbors with an hour of drumming!!

Catherine- What are the chances that there is someone following my blog that has done this. Now I am totally excited. This sounds slightly similar to what I was shown, but I was told to tap the front of the cannon bone and it seemed to be confusing for JB. I will try what you describe below and see if I can make any more progress. Thanks again. I will let you know how it goes.Then I will be looking for the next steps for sure.

Catherine said...

I figured I'd keep my mouth shut after the vaccination comment but then your next post was asking for advice about Spanish Walk!:) I'm no expert but the method worked for my horse. Good luck; I'm sure you'll get it.