Wednesday, September 17, 2008

New Ideas, New Rides.

I've noticed that not cleaning stalls in the morning has seriously cut into my thinking time. It takes me longer to process my thoughts on horse training , and of course I miss the stimulus of daily riding problems to give me stuff to write about.

So how about sending me questions? All you want. I'll save them, catalog them and work on answering them. I'll use stories as examples when I can, and still keep talking about the horse world as I see it. As a matter of fact, if I don't know the answer, I'll see if I can find someone who can.....What do you think?

I have been doing a pile of trail riding though. I am riding Pete on my side of town, and have my yellow mare out at a client's ranch in Kiowa. I go help her once a week and get to ride my sweet mare, the rest of the time she's running like a loon with her ranch horse buddies. It's a well earned rest for her, (she's been in training since she was two) and I love seeing her fly across the prairie.

Pete needs to be sold and typical of a horse who has spent his life with a trainer, (that would be me) he knows a lot of stuff, but he's not as broke as he should be.

So he's the horse I'm keeping by my house, and riding the most. On the trail. Poor little arena baby, he's never had to take a single step on uneven ground, or contemplate the concept of a trail that may never end, and now he's in the mountains.

The Big K used to swear that if he was well trained enough, a horse would do whatever you said, without question. In his mind a horse that could run a reining pattern could certainly head down the trail.

Even though I had spent my entire training career, and my horse life before that, thinking all horses needed time on the trails, I bought it hook, line and stinker.

This is the first time in about ten years that I have been consciously taking a horse out on the trails with the intent of "finishing" him.

So right off, I decide to go on a ride with my daughter (who loves having her horse, Snicket, in the mountains so much she may never show again) and one of the boarders at our barn. The boarder owns a NATRC competing, trail chewing, been there done that horse. Perfect for taking our quaking newbies out with.

We took off on an "easy" trail, mostly park service dirt roads, with a little bit of trail thrown in.

It took us a while because at first Pete and Snicket couldn't walk two feet without finding something they had to stop, stare and snort at.

I kept the same rules I try to maintain in the arena. My reins stayed thrown out, and I didn't come in contact with Pete's mouth unless he wasn't looking at whatever horse eating beast he was transfixed by at the moment. If he tried to leave he got his head pulled in and his hip kicked out, and we'd go 'round until he stopped and faced the direction I wanted him to go in, then I'd drop my hand again. I didn't try to push him forward though. I just let him look. Pretty soon Pete realized he could either move forward, or stand there for eternity. He knows me quite well you see. So with a deep sigh he would agree to go along with the other, more experienced horse.

It was amazing to see how quickly Pete became interested in our surroundings, and wanted to see what was around the next bend.

He was so busy looking around, he didn't seem to realize a trail horse needs to watch where he's going. We'd be schlumping along, and he'd just walk off the side of the trail. It didn't matter if it was into the trees, or down a gully, off we'd go.

I couldn't believe it. After I'd kicked him back up to the trail for the fourth or fifth time I really started to think about it.

I know Pete's not stupid. He has always ridden on a loose rein. Why all of a sudden was he veering me into yet another mouthful of tree branch?

It occurred to me that this was his first time out of a controlled environment. In the arena, I rode him in circles on a loose rein, or a straight line on a loose rein, but I never just put my reins down and let him go along a path he had chosen. Ever.

You would think it was because I had been in charge of every step his whole life under saddle, and he didn't know how to think.

But I encourage my horses to think all the time. They're so much better on cattle than I am, that I try to get them working on their own ASAP. I teach them from the get go to carry themselves in a circle on their own, same for a straight line.

It finally hit me. Poor Pete was trying to hold a line. He was walking completely straight, as he'd been taught to do, and he was bravely trying to stay straight no matter the size of the drop off in front of him. Jeesh. The things we do to these poor horses.

As the ride went on I kept patiently pulling him back on the trail with a sympathetic pat. I kept my reins loose and didn't help him until we stumbled. Don't think I'm mean, Pete wasn't helping me ignore the snickers I was getting from my rotten kid and my friend. My daughter has taken off and ridden her horse like a proper child should her whole life, so Snicket has at least been out in the prairie and knows enough to duck a gopher hole.

By the end of the day Pete was doing better. He had learned to pretty much follow the trail. He started picking his way through the rocks instead of scrambling as fast as he could. He wasn't crowding the horse in front of him, and he actually flagged his tail in pure happiness when I loped him up a hill and across a ridge. He led, he rode in the middle, and he rode behind. He was cheerful and interested. I think this is going to be perfect.


Anonymous said...

I have a question?

When your first ask your horse to collect and carry themselves correctly how do you do it?

I have a colt who is voice trained and doing w/t well. (He'd be loping, but after a recent fall his mommy turned into super-chicken.)

He gives well, and is VERY sensitive in the bridle. (He hates pressure on his mouth.) He works almost all off of leg and voice. I use reins to help steer and pick them up to ask him to back, but barely make contact.

He naturally moves out long, and I'd like to ask him to start collecting, and wonder how you'd go about it.

Anonymous said...

My mare randomly decides to 'spook' at places she's been many, many times. I know she's not afraid, she just needs any excuse to screech to a halt and start crowhopping. I've tried working her extra hard in those places, and I've tried ignoring it and just keeping going. I don't know what to do to deter her from suddenly taking off on me. She's six and has been ridden for 3 years. I haven't come off yet (guess she doesn't buck THAT hard), but I'm annoyed that she continues to to it. I ride her at least 4 times a week, in the arena and on the trail.

Any suggestions would be appreciated.

What a great resource this is!!


Enjay said...

Here's a question for you. Ever run into a horse who had been trained to do something dangerous and you couldn't retrain them out of it?
I had a mare who was taught by her breeder to shake hands for a treat. Because it was "so cuuuuuuute" it was allowed to progress to vigorous pawing at the floor, stall door and people when the treats weren't flowing freely. She'd even paw when she was eating from her bucket. She didn't have a mean bone in her body, she'd just been trained to do something stupid and they had encouraged it to the point where it was dangerous. She'd caught her breeder just right and ripped up a bunch or ligaments and tendons in her knee doing that. When I bought her she was five years old and it was a deeply ingrained habit.
I worked with her and through a consistent routine of rapping her leg when she'd start up, keeping her tied until she stood quietly, and rewarding her good behavior with turn out in the arena or round pen. She couldn't be turned out in the field unless I was there with her or she'd wind up chasing people out of the pasture, begging for treats by banging them with her hoof. After a while she was okay when I was there and would respond to a verbal cue (usually knock it off!) so i didn't have to bang her forearm much any more. However, anyone treat caused a relapse, and anyone who had fed her a treat in the past couldn't handle her without her constantly begging and trying to bang on them.
I had her for 8 years and she was a really good riding horse but when I became my mother's primary care giver and I had to give up the second job, I had to sell my horses. I didn't sell her, I had her euthanized because she had to be so carefully managed and really wasn't safe without constant supervision and vigilance. A lot of people offered a lot of advice, most of it I didn't implement because it didn't make a lot of sense (flapping my arms in her face when she acted up? but the whip and growling knock it off seemed safer and easier..) or it was cruel (no, no wire training hobbles, thanks) but I've always wondered how a good, experienced trainer would have handled such a situation.
Heh, sorry for the book.

Enjay said...

*sigh* and this is why I shouldn't post late at night. Sorry for the errors, I hope it's still legible.

cdncowgirl said...

IMO its good for arena horses to get out on the trail. If nothing else it gives them a bit of a mental break.

Since you asked for questions here's mine:
I have recently started team sorting. Its SO darn fun!
But I don't have access to cattle to work my horse on to practice. What kinds of work/exercises/drills can we do at home to practice that will help him be better at this new event?

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Unknown said...

Re Enjay: My friends horse used to do that! She came to me to get him to stop. Know what I did when al else failed (we tried rapping on his leg like you did and it didn't stop one bit) we taught him another trick, how to smile which is a lot more innocent Now instead of coming up and practically striking at you for a treat he curls his lip up at you.

%&$I@&%^!!! Arena babies >:C
I see so many of them and it's not the horses it's their riders. I don't mean you Mugs I mean the ones that are scared of the outdoors and have a horse thats a nutball that when they do take a foot outside the arena they esplode because they are afraid of all the skeery horse eating bushes and spots on the ground and god forbid they see a puddle. We had one last year on our annual potluck trail ride and we said enough is enough, no green horses like that on that trail ride. The horse was nuttier than a squirrel.

Can you believe the first time I put Indigo in an arena she ran and ran and ran and ran until we had to nearly trank her to get her out!? She had never been in a barn before she was raised outside in the bush with her mum and sisters. Now you would never know. She doesn't blink twice when I ask her to do something, ever.

"if he was well trained enough, a horse would do whatever you said, without question"

I guess I did something right with Indigo. First time I hitched her to the cart she drove off like she had been doing it all her life instead of being ridden.

Britnie - Riding During Naps said...

Oh goody questions! :Sits back to wait on gold training nuggets:

Smurfette said...

I love to hear about people taking their show horses out on the trail. Wasn't one of your first blogs (or at least one of the first I ever read) about working out in a big pasture? I guess a full time trainer doesn't have time to take every horse "out" and I understand that. The best horse I have ever had, and probably ever hope to have (took me to top 5 at AQHA world when I was 17) was COMPLETELY trained on the roads. I didn't even HAVE an arena. Although time has changed some of my schooling methods, I still figure if they can perform out in the open with all the distractions, they are going to be GREAT in the confines of a pen.

I am still battling the issue of the lead changes with current horse, though. I worked on your detailed instructions and certainly wore MY legs out, moving his hips around, but I think I don't get to work him consistantly enough (so far this year its been hurricanes, a bite on the back and now an abscess) to progress, or do some horses just never pick up this skill? This is the first horse I have ever worked with who won't at least learn to make a rough change on cue.

mugwump said...

Smurfette-I knew the ride like Ben Cartwright thing would come up... That was still about control, them going where I directed them. I conned myself into thinking that was the same as the horse knowing how to choose a safe path....silly, silly me. The Big K was SO wrong!

Laura Crum said...

mugwump, I had a similar experience when I took my son's horse out on a few test trail rides. This horse is twenty years old, well broke, quiet, reliable...etc, so we saw no spooks or balks. He's gathered cattle in plenty of fields, so was used to being "outside". But as far as I know, he'd never been down trails in the hills before I got him. And like Pete, if I moved Henry to the left a little to avoid knocking my knee off on a tree trunk, the horse would just try to meander off into the forset in that direction, with no regard for the fact that the trail went the other way. It didn't take long though. That's a skill they learn fast. That old horse was a great trail horse in a month or so. Its one of those things that makes sense to a horse--unlike so much of what we do(!) I want Pete...wonder if I could squeeze in one more horse?

gillian said...

Ok, I've been meaning to ask you for a while about backing a horse up. You said that you did this when they pulled on you, but more intriguingly, you said that you did this only with your legs. I've been thinking about this and I have never been taught how this should be done (or trained.)
I get the impression this is a pretty important training tool so I'd love to hear how you train a horse to back up without using the reins.

Anonymous said...

I have a question! I've been waiting to ask you about this for a loooong time:)

I have a 5 year old QH mare that i have owned since she was 2. I started riding her at 3, but she didnt really do anything serious until she was 4. I have now been trying to get her finished as a reiner. To say that "Penny" can be difficult sometimes is an understatement. She is a very smart mare and puts that intelligence towards fighting my and my trainers every move. She is cowbred and I used to have her at a stable where I could work cows on a regular basis and she was much better. Now, I believe she is just bored and working against me. The problem is in our spins. She will spin all day on a loose rein either direction one foot crossing over the other with the back foot planted nicely. But it is very very slow. At the advice of my trainer I started asking for a few faster steps and then reward her for those. I can usually get 1 or 2 faster steps and then it falls apart and she steps out of her spin. Needless to say I'm very frusterated.
Last night we went to a local team penning event. My usually evil mare became an angel at the prospect of working cows. During one of our pens some cows had left the pen and were running behind her and when she spotted them she executed the fastest and most perfect spin I had ever seen. At least I know she is capable, I just wish I could get her to speed up on my terms. Any advice you have would be great! Im going to school in central Iowa and there is a severe lack of good reining trainers in this area. Thanks!

Meghan said...

What is the best way to conquer your emotions when you are in the saddle? I am learning dressage with a somewhat green pinto pony, and I have a hard time moving on and keeping positive/focused when I make a mistake (i.e. I can't get the pony to bend, or pick up the right lead, etc.). If I am in a lesson, my trainer can usually keep me from "crashing" mentally by keeping me busy with different instructions, or by explaining exactly how to fix the problem I'm running into. But if I ride alone and the pony is having a bad day, I tend to get really frustrated and feel as if I'm a horrible rider, or I'm hurting the pony or ruining his training. I just overcriticize and overreact in my mind. This has been going on for a while now, and I can't really figure out the cause of it except that I'm a perfectionist by nature and I care/worry too much about the pony. Any thoughts you have on this would be helpful.

gillian said...

Meghan- I had sort of a similar situation myself. The things I kept in mind that I found helpful were:

1) If you are doing your best to be fair to your horse you're unlikely to mess up the training in any particularly permanent way.

2) Dressage doesn't just happen. If a grand prix level rider hopped on your pony it wouldn't start doing canter pirouettes. It might not even bend correctly without considerable effort, which may not be the best way to approach training anyway. So, the fact that the right thing isn't happening doesn't mean you're doing the wrong thing.

Ultimately confidence had to be built, but remembering these two things helped keep the edge of the anxiety/frustration.

Just my two cents on the subject.

Esquared said...

Mugs, three questions for three horses.

As you had predicted earlier my soft sensitive horse has relaxed a ton and has remained his amazing to ride self. Very natural headset, big stops, and natural lead changes. So my question is how fast to push him, because he has so much natural talent is it pushing if I leave the advanced stuff up to him or should I try to get him stopping slower and stop doing lope figure 8's?

As for the pushy one with an opinion, how do you reccomend starting collected work? Any tips for that?

Finally, I have a 37 y/o gelding who I'd like to use for trail rides but he tends to get too fast and high strung for the rides to be enjoyable. Any advice for changing a horse that set in its ways or am I better off just riding the greenies and leaving him alone?

Unknown said...

I have a question!

A friend and I lease a barn and 20 acres. We came across a couple moving from Canada that was in need of boarding for their 2 off the track TB's. We have a 10 stall barn and only 5 horses in it, they would pay us rent to feed them and turn them out and bring them in. I grew up on OTTB's, I will admit that I have a soft spot for them. They are 20 and 13 so plenty of time to decompress for them...right?!? Oh my was I wrong. No one ever sent them the memo that they are OFF the track. The older one is easier to handle, but the 13 year old can go from calm to psycho race horse in a half a second. What can I do to help her? Somedays just bringing her from the pasture to the barn is challenging to say the least. And she thinks that the stall door is like heading into the gates at the track.

Second question....head tossing. My arabian mare (yes, I have been told its an "arabian" thing) loves to toss her head, both undersaddle and on the lungeline. She has been to the vet checked over a million times and just had her teeth done. Feet are in great condition. I have never had to deal with this issue and am running out of ideas.

Our Horse Curly said...

We tried turning a trail horse into an arena baby this past year. He did learn all the skills my 4-H'er tried to teach him, but boy was he unhappy! He's so different - and so easy going - on the trail. But bored, bored, bored - and difficult - when going around in circles. :)

Anonymous said...

re: kaptkaos113 - we have a TB who used to headshake when ridden/lunged. he's not ridden anymore but it seemed to be an allergy issue. In summer the pollen would make him snort and shake his head quite violently. He ended up being ridden in a nose net and fly fringe with closed ears which seemed to ease the problem somewhat. I know you say your mare's been vet checked but allergies aren't always apparent.

On a head tossing issue, we've also got a welsh cob who will stand in the field and shake his head in a repetitive action, a bit like weaving. if you shout him or get his attention he stops, but it seems to be a habit he's evolved, from being bored perhaps, and he will start again. He doesn't do it under saddle and has no medical issues. It's puzzling.

Raven said...

Another question....
I have a big TBxHanoverian. He loves to run, he runs when we're in the arena schooling, he runs when we're out on a ride.
So how do you chill a hot horse out?

x_slowpassintime said...

Hi mugwump, I love your blog. Your approach to training is great and the way you explain things is easy to understand. I am therefore going to shamelessly abuse your allowing readers to ask questions because I'm always full of them ;)

My gelding gets frazzled a lot of the time when you ask him to do anything complicated (in his mind). He will try and do what you ask but I'm not happy with his level of tension. Also, as the temperature drops he gets spookier and even more tense.

So I guess my question is - how can I get my western pleasure gelding to do things calmly and without getting tense, especially when it gets colder?

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