For whatever reason, I am completely unable to just ride. I have to either be training, think about training, or planning on training. It's a knee jerk reflex at this point.
I am still on my quest to successfully show my horses, train them myself and kick some butt. I also want my horses to be happy and healthy, enjoy their life and get plenty of the Big Four.
As I was trotting up the steep hill behind our barn I was thinking of ways to incorporate trail rides with training to improve Pete's performance.
Both of us are out of shape. Pete has a tendency to hollow out and string his hind legs behind him as he goes.
I stood up in 2 point position, or at least as close as my creaky boned, bad postured self would let me and encouraged Pete to really trot up the hill. He began to drive very effectively with his rear and picked up his back nicely the last half of our climb.
We sat at the top and aired up while I thought. Driving up the hill got him working his legs and back the way I wanted. Putting myself in a 2 point position got me out of his way and worked my legs and core. It was much more interesting than being in an arena for both of us.
So how else can I take advantage of being out of an arena and improve my show performance?
I began thinking about some of the discussions we've had recently. Spooking came to mind. Just being out alone, making my horse travel in the gaits I choose and picking a straight course along the way will help teach my horse to just go where I point him. Very simple, no tricks or buttons being pushed, no shoulders in or out, just git. As he becomes more willing to trust in my decisions he will become less reactive in the show pen.
As my ride progressed I worked on how I handle a spook in general. Because Pete really doesn't spook much I had plenty of time to think about how my horses react, how I react and what's the best way to handle both of us.
It occurred to me that a horse who is looking at something in the distance raises his head. Just because my horse stops and raises his head doesn't mean he's going to spook. It just means he's looking. Since I ride in an area rife with coyotes, bears, mountain lion and the last of the 60's era psychedelic crowd (wild Manitouites), it doesn't hurt for me to look with him.
I practiced dropping my rein hand when Pete stopped to look. Just to be on the safe side I rested my hand on the swell of my saddle to stop any reflexive rein clutching. I made myself relax. All he did was look. It was great.
In my thoughts I went a step farther. I thought about my yellow mare. I know exactly what she would do in the same situation. She would stop, look, not feel me responding and then she would scream, "OMG,OMG,OMG!!!!" She would flip her platinum mane, spin a few times at a high rate of speed and take off with a buck and a bolt.
Keep in mind, she wouldn't really be scared, it's just how she is. A molly-coddled arena baby.
I went back to our discussion on rollkur and other dubious training methods. The reining trainer in the photo I showed you was after a horse who would keep his head low and level, stay off his bit and continue to drive from the back. I did not feel this was a cruel or inhumane training method. It was an effective approach to teaching the horse to keep his head and neck level and his face supple.
At the very informative website http://www.sustainabledressage.com/ I had seen an interesting chart on how a horse's vision is affected by different head positions. By lowering our horse's heads we are limiting what he can see.
A reining horse will have to trust his rider to direct him through a pattern because if his head set is correct he won't be able to see much of the arena. He can't spook at what he isn't looking at. The horse will learn to depend on his rider, not himself, for his safety.
Which will help create the good reining horse AQHA defines as : To rein a horse is not only to guide him, but also to control his every movement. The best reined horse should be willingly guided or controlled with little or no apparent resistance and dictated to completely. Any movement on his own must be considered a lack of control. All deviations from the exact written pattern must be considered a lack of or temporary loss of control, and therefore faulted according to severity of deviation. Credit will be given for smoothness, finesse, attitude, quickness and authority in performing the various maneuvers while using controlled speed.
Great for reiners, not so great for cowhorses. We need them to see. They need to track and control a cow at a high rate of speed. They need to think. With us or without us. Somebody back in the comments said something about muscle twitch response? About it being higher in our twitchy little cow horses than in other horses. I would like to know more about that one.....It explains a lot.
So, my thoughts went on, if I could get my yellow mare out on the trail, give her time to look, but trained on her in a way that would limit her sight when I didn't get the reaction from her I wanted (as in deal with it), could I teach her to trust me to work through something scary by lowering her head and driving her? Hmmmm.
I do know, if I could get a conditioned response on the trail of take a look, then keep on going in the needed direction or I'll work you like a reiner, I would about eliminate all my arena problems.
About then Pete got bored so we went up a few more hills. In a few weeks I think I'll practice driving him towards his bit for a few strides, on then off, as we go up the hill. I'll take his face from side to side and soften his body when I don't like his behavior. It will be interesting to see what comes of this.
In my thinking on just that one ride I rifled through the file I'm building in my mind from the things I'm learning on this blog. I thought of riding simply with a purpose like a roper, driving with my legs and head position from dressage, keeping my horse light and responsive with almost no weight on my bit like a good spade bit horse and threw in the two point just for grins.
I would like to keep going with this thought process. I would really like to know the purpose behind some training methods, without getting into the abuse. I mean, is rollkur abusive in any context? Or can it be a tool used in moderation to benefit the horse? Can I use some pleasure horse training methods to get my horse to pick up his back? How else do I use the trail to train for the arena?
You guys now have a peek into my wacky brain. I can be a total pain in the ass to ride with because I'm like this most of the time.
My question right now? How can I use hill work to become better in the show pen? If we all get in on this it could get really fun.
HorseofCourse- What kind of shoes are you using on your horse? I saw pictures of you working in the snow on a shod horse with no snow-pack, what gives?