Saturday, October 18, 2008

Collecting My Thoughts/Sonita Chapter 12

I was still stewing. If I didn’t get Sonita collected I would never get anywhere.
My concept of collection came from a combination of my pleasure horse training and the bits and pieces of dressage I had played with over the years.
My basic premise asked for my horse to drive with her hind legs and push herself into a wall I created with my hands and the bit, encouraging her to lift her back and break at her poll.
Sonita was such an athlete she was in total control of her legs and where she chose to drive them from day one. She could travel a circle at an incredible rate of speed, her hind legs driving with such strength she felt as if she was pushing us up a hill.
Most of the time she accomplished this feat with her nose straight in the air, looking outside our circle, shoulders leaning in and her back hollowed.
She would search for her friends, check out the cattle pens, look for something cool to spook at, anything but focus on what I was asking for. Sonita was best at was hunting out the judges. She was as obsessive about finding the judges as I was about getting her to stay in frame.
Every time we had a hesitation in the middle of the show pen (on average you have at least one or two) Sonita would search the rails or the stands until she found them. Then she would stop, stare at them, blast a warning snort and jump.
Every single time.
As I asked for the lope depart she would slowly walk out a few steps, and lope off in as distracted and half assed a way as possible, bug eyes glued to them through our entire set of circles.
“There they are!” I could feel her almost screaming, “Those weird staring guys are perched up there again! We're going to die you dumb ass!”
The Big K didn’t believe me for the longest time.
“It’s you,” he insisted, “You tippy toe out there all scared and timid and look up at those judges. Sonita’s just reading off you. Get out there and stare those judges down like your going to eat them, not the other way around. Then we'll see if she still watches."
So I tried. I deliberately looked straight ahead on our way into the pen. I actually looked down the fence line away from the judges so The Big K couldn't argue that it was me.
Sonita leaped a good 10 feet. "AAAAHHHH! LOOK, LOOK, LOOK!" She was shouting, "THEY'RE UP THERE YOU MORON!"
The Big K decided maybe it wasn't me, and that we might want to focus on our collection issue.
The Big K is a man of few words. The best way to learn from him is to watch him work. I would tell him my problem and he would show me how he would handle it on his horse.
I watched him collect everything he had.
He came up with one creative drill after another, all done at high speed, each more aggressive than the other.
Sonita got higher, and nastier with each drill.
A few weeks before I stomped off on my "break" from the big wig trainer world I tried hard to explain my problem.
"I think she's confused. This is all too fast for her. She doesn't understand what I'm asking for." I said.
"You are making this too hard. You don't expect enough from her. You keep letting her draw you into a fight instead of staying focused and just getting it done." The Big K replied.
"Maybe I don't understand then. Maybe she's fighting because I'm not asking her the right questions."
"Maybe you need to stop asking and start telling."
This is where we squared off. I was discovering I could not demand anything from my horses, especially Sonita, unless I felt they completely understood what I was asking. In my mind, if I wasn't getting results, then either it was more than the horse was ready for, or I hadn't laid a proper base in my training for them to draw from.
The Big K felt that it was the horse's job to figure out what he wanted, as fast as it possibly could.
"Every day I to ride this baby (3 year old) like he was six. If I expect him to behave like a six year old then eventually he'll get there," he said.
"You can't put a toddler in high school K. He'll just pee his pants and not be able to reach the water fountain." I snapped back.
Needless to say, when I took my self imposed break, it was time.
After my wild ride in the park I had come to realize quite a few things. Sonita wasn't that hard to ride. She was the most agile, sure-footed horse I had ever been on. She would guide on a feather touch from my hand or leg, as long as I didn't try to drive her forward, or hold her back.
There was a huge hole in what she thought I was telling her compared to what I thought I was saying.
So in the peace and quiet of our arena at home I tried to sort things out again. At a walk.
I started on the rail on a loose rein. I made sure my weight was square in my saddle. As soon as Sonita was relaxed I rolled my calf muscles lightly into her, and began to bump her with every stride. She lengthened her steps and I captured her face with the bit.
Immediately her back hollowed, her head flew up and she began to jig.
I stayed quiet, kept holding, bumping with my legs and held her firmly enough to stop her from flying across the arena.
She jumped and fretted and kicked at my legs. We went around the arena once, twice. Sonita shook her head and struck out with her front legs. I kept holding and bumping. We went around again. Finally she dropped her head.
I resisted my impulse to immediately release her. After all that nonsense a head bob wasn't going to cut it. I held and bumped until she was soft and driving deep with her hind legs. I made her hold it for one, two, three strides. Then I released my legs, followed by my hands.
I kept it up for a couple of hours. We walked, I put my legs on her, asked her to go to my hands, we fought, she complied. I kept my temper. I made myself focus on the feel of her strides. I made myself think about the feel of her back rising, the lengthening of her strides, the straightness in my hands when she got it. I breathed.
By the end of our session she was driving forward into my hands with the softest of cues. Pure joy flooded through me as I felt her go to the bit with confidence and trust. I started to feel like I just might get this trainer gig down.
We worked at the walk for a week.
I put her in the trot for another week. When she was confident on the rail I added serpentines. I asked her to drive deep through her turns. She realized that she could drive her hind leg almost to the print of her inside front through those turns and it would keep her balanced and sure. It made her even more willing to come into my hands.
I began to make circles at the trot and spiral down. My goal was to make each new circle exactly two feet farther inside the one before. I would shift Sonita to the next circle by driving her outside hind all the way to the next line. She got so she could spiral down from a 50 foot circle to a beautiful spin and never break her cadence. Then we would spiral out and go the other way.
I came home one night to a message on the answering machine from the Big K.
"Are you all right?" He asked.
I emailed him back. "I'm still thinking."
I would fall asleep at night to the rhythm of a trotting horse running through my mind. I would wake up with the words, "Drive, drive, drive" tattooing a beat in my head. I started all my horses on a variation of the same program, according to their age and abilities. Yes. I'm a nutcase.
Sonita and I started loping. At first she panicked and fought me. Now I understood what I was looking for. I knew the feel I was seeking. I was patient. She calmed within minutes, and began to come to me. Collect, relax, collect, relax. We drove through corners. I made squares, rectangles, triangles anything I could think of. At each corner she would come to me, slow down, and gather herself. On the straight lines I would relax my rein.
Finally, I began loping straight lines, and randomly asking her to drive to my hand. She came to me, soft and confident. It was heaven.
Then we tackled the run downs. I was a little sick to my stomach the night before just thinking about it. I started by asking for a straight line up the middle. As she would gather to fly I sat back, bumped with my calves and picked up my hand. As clearly as possible I asked her to collect. Sonita threw it all away and took off. I could feel her panic and anger rising. I kept my cues the same, I didn't pull.
I wasn't afraid anymore. I breathed.
When we came to the end of the arena I didn't ask for a stop. I drove her into a tight u-turn. She brought her legs under her, rebalanced and we headed the other way.
The turn had slowed her, so I relaxed and released my legs and hand. We went up and down the arena probably ten times before she could run through a straight line steady and collected. I finally said "Whoa," and she slid.
We spun. We settled. I walked Sonita in a straight line and bumped with my legs. When she came to me I asked for a lope. When she panicked we just kept going until she felt better, then we stopped, spun, settled and tried again.
In three days she had it. Sonita understood what I was saying. She sought collection as a steadying comfort instead of an unfair restraint. I still let her ride on a loose rein most of the time. But anytime I wanted her to come to me she would, and she would stay there until I released her.
She had it. I had it. Now it was time to go do something about it.
I emailed the Big K. "See you on Tues."


  1. That is just what I needed to hear (see). Everything you wrote today. :) Thank you.

  2. Oh man oh man- this just keeps getting better and better. Don't make us wait too long for the next one, pretty please!

  3. BigRedTrain said...

    Oh man oh man- this just keeps getting better and better. Don't make us wait too long for the next one, pretty please!


  4. I can picture your workouts with her. I love this story you're sharing with us. I can't wait for the next chapter. Thank you again.

  5. She really shows the challenge and the reward of working with incredibly smart horses, doesn't she?

    Can't wait to see the next installment, Mugs. You make me want to go out and ride every time.

  6. I have to say that reading your blog and especially you storys about Sonata has given me a new appritication for my own little over senstive spazz-bot of a horse.

  7. Fascinating!! Great job mugs!!

    What's interesting, and I might be completely off here, but it sounds like the rundown-uturn-rundown excercise you were doing is EXACTLY the same as the rundown-stop-rundown excercise the Big K was trying to have you do a few lessons ago. Only that time it failed miserably and this time it worked like a charm.

    Just goes to show that it's not the *excercise* that gets results, but the ability to UNDERSTAND the excercise that makes it work. Once you figured out the puzzle the excercise worked - but before you understood it, it didn't.

    Very interesting..

    I've gone through similiar moments myself - BFOs I call them. Blinding Flashes of the Obvious. In other words, I should have known xxx ages ago but it wasn't until just that moment that I really understood it.

    It's a wonderful feeling when you do get it, though, that's for sure!!

  8. Reading about Sonita is an addiction as bad as any drug. I just have to have more!

    Keep it coming, she is fantastic.

  9. loneplainsmen-the difference was in NOT stopping. The collection came in the u-turn, and then I was able to give her the release of a loose rein.She connected coming to my hand with the release. She quit associating a loose rein in a straight line with a dead run.
    The first time with the Big K was a flat out run and pull her into the ground. No release, no control, and when a horse is pulled into the ground it's exhausting and painful. The Big K's idea was to make her too tired to run, that she would learn it wasn't worth it to run.Instead it had her running in a blind panic until I yanked her down. In my mind there was an enormous difference in our approaches. I hope you can see it.

  10. loneplainsman- I'm not ragging on you I swear. I'm just afraid my point was lost.
    See, I wasn't getting any BFO's. None.
    It was hard, hard work. I agonized over my working theory compared to what I was being taught. I analyzed every single step we took. I worked for three weeks to the point of crazy obsession to dissect the exact meaning of collection. We only scraped the bare bones. But I had that. The bare bones. It was mine. I had to separate myself from the teacher and figure it out myself. Does that make sense? It's the whole point I was trying to get across. I hope I managed it.

  11. Ah.. I see. Interesting. I'm sure the Big K's method had worked for many a horse, else he wouldn't have suggested it, but it didn't work for Sonita.

    I had a dog trainer tell me once that everyone thinks they have the perfect dog training method until they find the dog on whom the method doesn't work. Then you either write it off, give up or start over. =)

    Out of curiosity, have you found horses that won't accept your method of training? Just curious.

  12. We posted at the same time. I didn't think you were ragging on me.. don't worry. Besides, I'm a big girl; I can take it. =)

    I happen to like drawing connections between things I see/read/hear... I'm usually just whistling in the dark, hoping I'm on the right track. Sometimes I am; sometimes I'm not. I don't sweat it though... I'll get it another time! =)

  13. Inspiring...

    Thanks for the awesome bedtime story! I have heard none better.

  14. loneplainsman-that's why I rail against "methods". If something doesn't work I adapt. I think it's my job. I have looked to all different sources for ideas. I've used tricks of the trade learned from a Morgan trainer that specialized in those long footed, broken tailed horrors, from dog trainers, from human psychologists. I ride with a dressage trainer, reining trainers, cutters, and now endurance riders. I'll listen to everything, ask a lot of questions and never be disparaging. Which can be really hard sometimes.
    Have I had a horse I couldn't train? Yes. Captain. How did I fail him?
    I let my ego tell me I could train anything. One of my best friends almost died. I've worked every day since then to let my ego go. So I'm sure there's plenty out there who I can't train. But it won't be because my method didn't work. I don't have one.

  15. I haven't commented in a long time but have been reading faithfully. I love all of your stories, but I especially appreciate your thoughts on training, not just WHAT you do, not just WHY you do it, but you explain the process of how you THINK about horses and about raining. What I like, is that you seem to find a way to be fair, you want to help your horse out and get the result you are looking for with the least amount of fight, but also without being a total *ussyfoot about it. In the horse world it seems that people are either hardcore one way or the other. It is not socially acceptable to not side with one camp (NH vs "cowboy"). This post came at the right time for me because last weekend I was at a big reining show and was ready to give up on the sport because of the abuse I watched go on in the warmup pen (the story of that:
    This weekend, with your post and getting the opportunity to watch Stacy Westfall and a few other trainers I respect in action (at a horse expo) I am not feeling quite as bitter. I am trying to find the balance of what is reasonable to ask from our horses and what constitutes abuse. I hate that there is such a huge gray area with respect to that in professional equine sports. This story of Sonita once again demonstrates how you stepped back from common practise and asked yourself if there was a better way to get it done and to communicate what you want to your horse. Sonita might have forced you to deal with these issues sooner than later, but ultimately, I have a feeling that you would have found yourself asking the same questions over time (Sonita just cram and jammed you!) Keep up the good work! Your blog always brightens my day and gives me something to chew one.

  16. This, again, is so great...and appropriate for where I am at with Starlette...just starting to ask her to collect after getting her to finally extend out again after WP training! (Yes, I am riding English right now).

    Since I am now working with two horses, I decided to ride Toby (the Hunter/Jumper/Dressage made horse) first, learn from him, and apply it to Starlette. Well, he's a dream, but "stiff" in his response (does that make sense?)...he knows his job, and will do it, but you have to be very clear and strong (and English version of a spurred horse) to get it. I love riding him...the Dutch Warmblood gives him Huge Strides...and I have to learn a new way to sit!

    So, I ride him a while (have to think with him, too, to figure out what his signals are), then hop on Starlette...and she was soooo good with me! We are so in tune right now, I just have to think what I want, and she gives it to me. I would never have known until I had Toby here how far we had come! Yes, we have more to go, but I was so happy with her yesterday.

    Your blog has really helped me learn...I've never been one to "follow the herd" and this just confirms that I am okay with figuring out each horse as an individual. Yes there is a lot of knowledge out there, but I have to take what works for me and use it.

    Still working on the trailer loading...and have a lot to keep posting!!!I feel like I have so much more to learn!

  17. Speaking of your friend how is she? How is her rehab going? Is she home yet? What has happened to her horse?

  18. Well, I'm pretty humble and disparaged re: Mom's mare again. ugh. I'm not sure what to do now other than take her back to square one, pretend she's never been ridden and start all over. Thing is, I have riding experience, but I'm not a trainer. I don't have access to one. I don't have an arena. Waa, waa, waa.

    Anyways, thank you for another LOVELY installment of the Sonita Saga.

    Keep 'em coming!

  19. I am so glad you guys saw my point. I thought I had zapped right past what I was trying to say.
    Char- Patience! Patience! Don't give up, or spend too much time going all the way back. Try going back until you find a "good spot." A place where the mare is conistant. Then proceed forward until you hit the rough patch, and really think about what's happening, and a logical approach to fixing it.
    Sometimes you do have to start at square one, other times it's seeing that a little progress is made each day. Retraining an older horse takes time. But it's not impossible.

  20. sos- my friend that got hurt on Captain is different than the friend with the brain injury. Kathy got nailed on Captain and about broke her body in half. She is fine. She is happily riding her beloved Rosie again, and has no plans on ever crawling on any other horse again.
    My other friens Sharion is about 80%. She's home, and we're going to watch a cutting today. Whether she rides again is still in the air. But she's home.

  21. I'm hooked on you Mugwump, please keep the stories coming!

    What exactly does the term "rundown" mean?

    Any thoughts on how a horse should behave at the end of a leadrope, and how to teach him that? Mine rarely tries to run past me and I deal with that by making him do circles around me until he settles down. He catches on pretty quickly. Usually though he tends to lag behind, or try to walk right behind me. How do I fix that?

  22. Nice job...very...nice...job. Way to break it down and start over. Sometimes the easiest way to go fast is to go slow. Too bad us humans forget that all to often! :) Looking forward to the next installment.

  23. thank you for another fantastic post. i'm a 100% FIRM believer that if you ride 20 horses, you ride 20 different ways.

    working with a 'theory' is not the same as a method.

    the same outcome can't be gotten to through the same steps for every single horse. cookie-cutter methods drive me bonkers!

    that being said, i think that trying similar theories on multiple horses isn't a bad thing - but big adjustments need to be made for personality, phsyical ability/fitness, past history, age.. the list goes on.

    one has to be smart enough to step backwards to move forwards.

  24. I am really enjoying this, because I just got Lucy back and she is hollow, hollow, hollow - but also super sensitive. I will definitely be using your advice on her!

  25. I really love it that you think outside the box. One of my biggest learnings was that at times you need to ignore what the teacher/trainer says if it isn't working for you. Back when I was training horses I would use bits and pieces of knowledge that came from different sources--the stuff that resonated--the stuff that worked for me. Some my own observations, some from more experienced trainers. I only wish I'd known you and your blog then. What a goldmine it would have been.

  26. Fugs-Thanks, I love it when stuff I write coincides with other people’s current issues.I think you tend to be a slow, thoughtful rider by nature anyway.
    But Laura- I was still riding Mort back then. I was a sullen, know- it-all booger brain. You were getting the opportunity to learn with the big guns. I'm still jealous.
    Misadventures-I'm jealous of Stacy Westfall to the point of unreason. She is everything as a rider I would like to be. She is smart and still limber and she got to meet Ellen Degenerous. (sp?) I am pea soup green with envy.
    You also have seen first hand why I was able to leave the major leagues without regret.
    lasting light-I'm tired,but I'll think on it....

  27. hi i love your writing and discription of training , may i sugest french dressage called 'riding in lightness'

  28. hi i love your writing and training
    for prespective on colection have you checvked out french dressage , it never colects while pushing forward . its called 'riding in lightness'

  29. I just discovered your blog and have been happily clicking back through all the Sonita stories. To chime in on a question you asked months ago, I think you've already started your book, and the Sonita stories are it. The most interesting way to teach something is to weave it into a story. The fact that you're still figuring her out only makes it more compelling. I would definitely snatch it off the bookshelves.
    -Another writer

  30. Mugs:
    That's just it. She's not consistant anywhere except at home. I spent almost the entire day on Saturday having "disscussions" with her on manners all around, paying attention to me, not everything else, and attempting to get her relaxed and calm. There were plenty of times where she walked on a loose rein, calmly. But there were other times when we were in an all-out war. I've decided to start riding/working her at least 2-3 times during the week to really try to figure her out. I just haven't spent much time on/with her because Mom is so afraid that I'm going to "beat her up" and that doesn't fit the Parelli lifestyle.


  31. char-aha. You are caught between real life and the Parelli lifestyle. Good luck with that. I never argue with an advocate of a specific training method. That is a choice, just not mine. It will be sad if the mare ends up going down the road because her "horsenality" isn't clicking.
    Consistancy has to be taught. With kind, thoughtful repetition and a firm reminder that you're the boss.Even Parelli can't argue with that. Don't get locked in just backing her. Remember to move her forward, moving her feet with one rein at a time and releasing her when she is going along quiet and relaxed. I've written about this before, but I don't remember where.
    bethatrraa- I have looked at French Dressage. I have ridden a little with a reining trainer, Shane Brown, that bases his whole program on it.
    Once I got past theory I ran into disagreements with the distribution of my weight. I use my seat bones differently, and feel it works better for cow work.

  32. What I meant to say, is that she's not consistant unless you're at home and not asking her to do anything other than go wherever she wants at the pace whe wants. Give her a loose rien and don't touch her with your legs unless you want to go mach-3. Don't touch her face, even pick up the reins, let alone make any contact, unless you want to start spinning, half-rearing and head shaking.

    I'm just not sure where to start, that's the thing. I guess I'm just going to start SOMEWHERE and see what I get/don't get. She goes fine in side reins on the lunge line, so I'm guessing she just doesn't trust rider hands. So, I guess we'll start with side reins and go from there teaching her to give to the bit without sticking her nose into the stratosphere?

  33. And yes, I have arguments with "parelli" all the time. Don't even get me started on that. If I hear one more "but that'
    s not how PARELLI does it..." or "PARELLI says to do it THIS way...", I'm gonna scream!

  34. I just wanted to say that these stories are amazing. I always look forward to the next blog entry. Not only are they enthralling and entertaining, I usually learn a thing or two. Thanks so much.

  35. I had a pretty eye opening experience with collection recently. I started riding when I was a kid and eventually ended up taking dressage lessons. I even did some eventing as a teenager and I realized about a month ago I had no idea how to collect a horse. I thought I did because I could get a horse to put it's head on the verticle but had a rude awakening that it's not the same thing at all.

    I bought myself an OTTB from a dressage/reining trainer. He wasn't finished and only had a few basics on him. I watched the guy ride him at a walk and trot in a nice light frame. I watched him do some lateral work and move the horse around with his legs so I knew Tax was capable of that much. Then I got him home and within a couple of weeks he was going around with his nose poked out, his back hollow and pulling on my hands. These were all of the things I hated about my last TB. I had to face the fact that it was MY problem. I'm a much more serious rider and thoughtful rider as an adult and I really want to get it right.

    So I had a friend who's got nice hands come over and ride him. She could get him collected in a nice frame with no pulling. I could even get on him after her and go around in the same frame with no fight. I asked her to explain it and watched while she worked. I researched and read everything I could about collection. I realized that I tend to pull his head down, lock my hands in place (too be damned with anything else) and then wait for the battle to commence. So I changed a few things. I started focusing on a relaxed forward trot without worrying about collection and keeping my hands soft. I started wearing gloves. I used my legs and waited for him to stretch down and then drove him to my hands and rewarded him when he got what I was asking. I've realized there are some times when I have to still be firm with him when he decides he wants to go around with his head up and turned to the side with his toungue hanging out the bottom (it's not pretty) but as soon as he gives I'm learning to give back without throwing him away. Once we get back to the nice trot he gets rewarded again with soft contact. Now it's taking less and less time to get to that nice relaxed trot.

    I felt like I was ready to start him on some circles and serpentines. I'm having a problem though. I can't get him to hold his frame in anything more than a wide sweeping turn. He's still heavy in front and he's just so big an leggy I feel like he's getting in his own way. I'm also practicing this on a smaller more well trained horse and I can get it so I think this time it's him too and not just me.

    Just to check myself I'm trying to keep my weight slightly shifted to the outside of the turn while I bend him around my inside leg positioned slightly behind the girth. I try to hold his shoulder with my outside leg at the girth and I hold contact with that outside rein. I think that's right but somehow we keep falling apart throught the turns. His gait isn't consistent and he still seems to be leaning to the inside. Any advice? I feel like I need to go back to something more basic to build up his balance but I don't know exactly what. And this is all at the trot. I'm not even working on a canter because he's still heavy in front and we're not ready yet.

    I should also mention I do have trouble get this guy to move off my legs although I don't seem to have as much trouble with my other horses. His last trainer rode in spurs but since I just started again I've been too afraid to give them a try. I've been riding about about 4 days per week (usually 2-3 horses each time) and I've seen a vast improvement in my balance and the quietness of my legs but I'm wondering if I'm still lacking strength. How do you you know when it's time to try spurs? (For me I'm just talking about the little nubby ones...I ride hunters.)

    I do plan to get to a real trainer for lessons but she's just settling in at a new barn and doesn't have her schedule in place yet so I'm trying to improve what I can while we wait.

  36. I'm not really the one to advise, but I'm finding that when the horse leans into a curve and drops his shoulder, I lift the inside rein. Rein of opposition.

  37. I had a horse who used to grab the shank of the bit at the lope and turn his head upside down right in front of the judges. He'd go about three or four strides and then roll back over and lope off like nothing ever happened.

    He did it before I got him to the trainers who showed him too so it wasn't me. Funny how horses can be smart enough to figure out how to flip us off like that. LOL

  38. Heidi- I feel pretty strongly on this point. A reined cowhorse works in a romel rein. By the time we're showing them they can't be picked up with the inside rein, they must carry themselves.
    I have found that picking up an inside rein to correct a lean creates a never-ending "holding" pattern. The horse leans, I pick the horse up, he likes me holding better than holding himself up, so as soon as I release he leans again. So I find myself riding around holding him up in anticipation of the lean. I have corrected nothing.
    I want my horse to drive straight between the reins, no more pressure to the left or right, forward or back. That information comes from my legs.
    I'm not saying your way won't work, but it doesn't take my horse to where I want it, which is self collection.

  39. fyyahchild-you're doing fine. This is a "practice while training" deal that will take longer because you're both learning at the same time. Just stay patient and be happy with baby steps.
    Play with your leg placement and reins. You can't hurt anything.
    I don't use my spurs to create forward. I use them to sharpen my cues. Think finger poke campared to a thump with a fist. I usually start a colt with spurs when I forget to take them off before I ride.

  40. Aurgh.....come on keep going :)Tuesday - I hope that means Tuesday for us too!!!

  41. Thanks Mugwump. I think I just also need to hear it was okay. I'm a bit of a perfectionist sometimes. :)

    As for the spurs, Tax is a 5 year old OTTB that was racing until last year. Foward isn't usually the problem. Bending and turning off my leg is the issue. Sounds like it might be okay to give it a try. I'm sure as thin skinned as most TBs are he'll let me know if I'm not ready to use them. I've never met another breed so sensitive and so dead sided at the same time. I'm thinking the difference between a finger poke and a fist thump with him might do the trick.

    Rising Rainbow - Funny! I'm glad it's not just us with the weird twisted head. The tongue is really the worst part though. Whenever he gets tense it comes wagging out the side like a giraffe looking for leaves. Someone told me it's common with track horses but I don't really know for sure.

  42. Mugwump, about the leaning issue- I am so glad you mentioned that, because I was thinking this over on my way to the barn.

    I wasn't even thinking from a show perspective, but just that whole idea of "how long am I going to hold this horse up?"

    Then, once I got to work, I was given my new project. She's a 12 year old QH, on her second pregnancy, and formerly used as a lesson horse, after a short show career as a hunter. (14.1, pretty tiny hunter.)

    She lunges nicely but we soon figured why she might have been taken out of lessons and into broodmare life. She really flips her head a lot in the bridle. That is, once the rider is up.

    After 20 minutes of riding, walking and some jogging, she'd really calmed down. Susan has very soft and responsive hands, and this mare soon figured out that she wasn't going to be yanked on. We ended up talking about collection and impulsion, and that my job will be to do that with my seat and legs, and stay off her face for now.

    Sure enough the mare soon started collecting without being told.

    On the way home I was thinking about all of this; collecting my thoughts. So I'm glad you presented your opinion because it really ties into what I'm learning and doing these days. More to think and talk about.

  43. I'm a long time reader, but have never posted in your comments. However, after the ride I had today, I want to say thank you. First off, I LOVE reading how you think through things, and although I'm a (mostly wannabe) eventer, so much of the basics are the same.
    Long story short, I've got a hot, athletic TB gelding who I have spent 3 years fighting to get along with. I love the jerk more than any horse I've ever met, but can't ride him to save my soul. I've spent 3years in search of a long, stretching trot. Can't get it. Ditto consistent collection, and real control while jumping. Horse is for sale, partly due to my lack of time and partly due to our incompatibility. After reading your backing post and your Sonita collection post, I thought, what the hell.
    Today I got on my zero-to-90 in a heartbeat gelding and put my reins almost to the buckle. We walked--no big deal. We practiced the stop, back, continue on a loose rein exercise. (minus the leg bumping--I'd be in the next county) Then I *thought* about asking him to trot. This is significant, b/c I've never been able to just drop this horse and trot him. He TAKES OFF. So we trotted. It was hairy at first, and I had to yank his face off a couple times, but I kept thinking about your posts and literally had my hands stuck out in front of me up by his ears to keep from grabbing at him. When he got quick(quick=ohdeargodi'mgonnadie speed), I bumped him on the reins and then dropped him again. Long story short, we managed several times both directions around a 4 acre field at a trot *on a loose rein*. Towards the end he was actually seeking the bit, in soft, non-rooting way. Will it happen again tomorrow? Who knows. It was a little thing, but it was a big deal for us, and it happened solely from me reading your posts and trying to think differently. So thank you, and keep the stories coming!

  44. laylakate-best news all day. It doesn't seem to matter what kind of saddle we ride, some things are always the same....

  45. >>I have found that picking up an inside rein to correct a lean creates a never-ending "holding" pattern. The horse leans, I pick the horse up, he likes me holding better than holding himself up, so as soon as I release he leans again.<<

    Yup. That's exactly what I was getting with the VLC to the left. He was more than happy to let me hold his shoulder up for him!

  46. Mugs, Could you explain a bit more about weight distribution? My current youngster is a 5yo appendix, big and still growing; keeping him in balance is one of our biggest issues. I wasn't looking for a big horse, but he's had several growth spurts since I bought him so I have to deal with it. He's also quite different from the many OTTB I've owned and worked with; they're much more mature and experienced at his age. Add in that he's very lazy by nature (and can be pissy about it) and you can understand how many new issues I'm dealing with! This horse is certainly keeping me humble.
    I've always been taught to weight the inside seatbone, especially when circling, and moving the horse into the outside rein. Sitting to the inside on this guy seems to push him out thru his shoulder and way off balance, especially tracking right. I've been experimenting with "sitting even"--just trying to stay in the middle of his back, sometimes slightly to the outside, sometimes to the inside, sitting on the "up" piece if his back doesn't feel level and has a "hole". This seems to help him balance, but it's not consistant yet. My dressage teacher wants me always to sit to the inside and balance him with my outside rein. I can use a softer outside rein when he's straighter under me, and sometimes no matter where I'm sitting I lose his shoulders! It feels like I'm riding a horse with lots of extra parts sometimes. When all the pieces click, tho, it's a thing of beauty.
    So, could you explain your differences of opinion with the dressage world a bit more? Any advice except to keep trying to hear what this guy is telling me?

  47. At what point in a horse's training do you start working on collection? I've got a *very green* 3yo Arab colt I'm training mainly myself. I've had him since Easter and he had zero training beyond very basic handling (could be haltered and led, could *kind of* pick his feet up, etc). He grew up in a 20 acre field with other colts and was allowed to just grow up.

    So far we can stand sanely in cross ties or tied to a post even when pretty mares are around (he's a stallion still, although that is going to change), he can be handled all over his body - including ears which was previously a cause to flip out, the obnoxious colt nipping is all but gone, he stands for the farrier, he can be bathed and groomed, he can be saddled and mounted, he hasn't had a tantrum under saddle since June, we can walk/trot in a sane manner and I can steer in those gaits. We've not made it to working on a canter yet, although he'll break into it from time to time for a few strides.

    I don't think we're ready for collection just yet, but what do you want a horse to be able to do before you think he is?

    I'm in no real hurry with my colt. I just want to see how far I can take him. My main goal is to wind up with a safe, sane, broke horse. Ultimately I'd like to do a little of everything with him, barrels, jump, polo, etc., but we're working on BROKE first.