Tuesday, December 8, 2009

What We Learn From Each Other

Here is a situation which shows me how mind-opening this blog can be. I threw out an explanation of a strength/collection problem I have with Pete and everybody felt comfortable donating their thoughts. One of the biggest things I've learned since starting this blog is to open myself to the thoughts of other horsaii, even if it's a completely foreign idea to me.

My thinking process is better, my understanding of my horses is deeper and I am pretty sure I'm a better trainer now than when I first came here to the cyber-world.

I picked out the comments that seemed to hit the closest to home or gave me a good thought. How many places are there where you can get input from varying disciplines from all over the world?

Bif said-or just riding longer and longer oblongs, so he doesn't quite get to the point he needs correction.

I love this one. It's a perfect set up, especially if I make sure Pete's shoulders are upright through the turns. Travelling straight and strong will become Pete's reward.

Anon said-I'm just thinking is it possible to work out the distance/no of strides he can handle and then turn into the 1/2 circle maybe 2 strides before and then work on lengthening the straight if he's not ready to go outdoors.

Anon makes a good point. I have to focus my mind back to those hind feet and feel when the problem is starting, not after we're already in trouble. I have been correcting him after he's already fallen apart. If I can catch him as it begins it will turn into me helping Pete through a rough spot, not a disciplinary action.

HOC said-You know the feeling you get when you are out running, and you get to a downward slope? Suddenly your feet start moving by themselves, and if it is a steep slope they just take off? I believe that is what's happening with a younger horse on a straight line.
It starts out with a small imbalance with too much weight on the forehand, and if they cannot rebalance themselves it only gets worse/faster.

Exactly! You described so well what's happening here. It's definitely a strength issue, but he is capable of staying in the bridle if I can help him stay balanced. When we were in the mountains I worked on the "tuck and gather" as we went down the trails. I know he can do it.
HOC has a great discussion going on her blog about what kind of trainer do we want and what kind of student we are (wish I'd thought of it). Definitely worth stopping by and checking it out.

Londoner said- I think that (usually) lessens with experience, and stops as soon as it begins. I'm talking about those moments when you're cantering along, maybe you're with a friend, and suddenly you get that icy feeling in your stomach. The horse isn't necessarily going faster, but something has changed that renders you feeling very powerless.

I've mulled this over, thought about the times when I've been utterly relaxed at a gallop, or utterly terrified at a trot. It seems to me a combination both of a trajectory of power from the hindquarters to the front, and a psychical change of mind.

There is nothing scarier than the feeling that your horse has mentally 'checked out'.

This is close to what I'm talking about. The difference is Pete is such a kindly horse I don't get scared when he starts to run. It's a rare situation where I can sit back and think about how I can help him while he's burling around the arena.

Karen V said-Our horses can get discombobulated when we ask for speed. Getting them out on a straightaway, or on a real race track, with a solid buddy horse to run with, helps so much! They figure out that they CAN run.

It takes a few weeks of breezing, but then they "get it". Makes all the difference in the world! Especially if all we've been working on is bend, flex, and collection.

Love those barrel racers! I have to be honest. In the past I have allowed myself to be a tad superior when I was around barrel racers. But here we are talking about the exact approach I think will help Pete. It also will help me keep my brave on.

BrownEyed Cowgirls said Mugs-I know exactly the feeling you are talking about. My current barrel horse had/has a tendency to discombobulate like Pete. The only difference is Moon gets to pulling with his front-end rather than scrambling. Irregardless he will dump on his front end badly if allowed.
To me, it sounds like Pete is falling out behind, but being as experienced as you are, I'm sure you would realize if that was the case and could easily fix it.
Personally, I think it would help Pete if you hit those back roads at a long-trot. It's no problem to break it up with some loping and some walking. But make it all about business. In your mind, you have to be thinking about going somewhere...which I know you know how to do.

BrownEyed Cowgirl- For me, falling out behind happens when the horse is over the bit, or refusing to get on the bit but still framed up in the neck and shoulders without coming up from behind (false collection). Then he starts to let his hind quarters leak out the back.
In Pete's situation he is driving from the back to begin with, then he comes through my hand and over the bit. So his nose is behind the vertical, his poll tips over his nose, and I've got nothing through my reins.
It almost feels like we're going to somersault. Then his back hollows and the hind end just floats away.
Pete was long trotting the whole year we spent in the mountains. He's strong and sure in his trot, OK in the lope and falling out when we speed things up. But you're right, it's where I started strengthening him, at the trot.

Candy's Girl said- Lots of transitions. You know that point JUST before you feel it all go to shit? Ask for a walk or trot. Re-organize then go back up to the canter. I found I was doing a lot more trotting and re-organizing at first, but now he can hold a canter for several laps in the arena without getting that bolty-doesn't-know-where-his-legs-are canter.

I like this too. I think it would really help him to transition up and down and then go to loping through the whole exercise. I'm combining this with the oblong idea.

So there you have it. I swear guys, we could be an attraction at Disney Land.


  1. The internet is a great tool for learning. Pre-internet, if we had a problem, we had to wait to talk to our trainer or for a clinic or for a friend to come help. These days, we just go inside, get online, and ask. Chances are, we'll have 25 different ideas to mull over and try. Cool.

    Now, any of you internet people who are braver than I want to come over and give my 4 year old his first canter under saddle? I'm too chicken too still! He's been under saddle for 6 months, has an awesome whoa, slows down and stops off my seat and voice, has never bucked under saddle, and is basically a very good boy. But I'm a wimp and can't convince myself to canter the horse. Oh well, if nothing else, I guess 2 years spent walking and trotting will get him in good condition for the endurance we eventually plan to do...

  2. Wow... I would go to Disneyland if I could learn that much there!

  3. Juli- Can you ride with a friend and have him/her head up a hill in front of you?
    Your young horse will canter just because it's easier to pull up rather than push.
    No trauma.

  4. kel- I was thinking of "It's asmall world after all....."

  5. Oh, I can get him to canter. That's not the problem. He's very much voice activated, and if I asked him to canter, I'm sure he'd do it with minimal fuss. But I am a wimp, and somewhere in the last couple of years, I've developed this unreasonable fear of cantering. And I just can't convince myself to canter the green pony! *sigh* So, what I really need to do is go take some lessons so that I can gain some confidence back. However, that has to wait until the employment thing is back in line. Until then, we trot. :)

  6. Juli,

    I agree with Mug's recommendation of the slight uphill footing and super reliable lead horse, and if greenie is well accustomed to picking it by voice from lunging/ round pen, that's most of your problem solved...

    If it is fear on your part, which we all totally get, I would recommend that while you wait for a chance for lessons, do some exercises that will improve your balance and seat, which coincidentally does wonders for your confidence =) It also gets the horse used to you moving around a fair amount in the saddle, and that something that feels strange going on up there is no cause for concern. You won't ruin them for sensitive aids later.(My young guy was freaked when we first trotted because I posted. I posted the walk for a while, and the next trot, he was fine. The saddle feels very different to their backs in different gaits and when we are in different positions.)

    Do you ride English? you did say canter instead of lope... Breaking down what possible reactions he might have to cantering can help you focus on what areas you'd like to improve. If your two point is strong, great. If not, get up off that saddle at walk and trot, get that balance and muscle memory working well for you.

    Are you most worried about bucking, or running off? Whenever I start a horse first cantering, I ask for it from voice, and once they are cantering I get off their back, into two point. A greenie's first canters are usually discombobulated rumblings anyway, so at least I am not bumping on his back and making him nervous, and am in more control because I have better control of my body. As long as you have your shoulders back and head up, he shouldn't be anymore on his forehand than out in the pasture. It's aldso easier to pet along their neck and tell them how good they are as they canter (like you asked) if you are in two point... your hand is there anyway.
    On a green horse, don't be afraid to get your lower leg out ahead of you, equitation instructor can squawk all they want, as you are more stable in this defensive position if they do buck. You can also bridge your reins while in two point as an added safety.

    Another aspect is work on canter transitions on the lunge line where you ask for trot and then smoothly walk after a very brief canter. I also like to train my horses to canter from walk on the lunge, so asking for canter from walk is not surprising to them. You will get a better canter since they do not "run" into it from trot, which will almost always be a very unbalanced effort.

    Also, don't worry that everything is perfect and sensitive like you hope to turn him out later when more finished. If you want to cheat and lesson the worry of a runaway, try always slowing or stopping in a certain area of the ring, and then have your first canter be along the long side to that stopping point. You'll be able to fix him again later;-)

    Just some ways I work around things... sorry it was so long!

  7. This whole post is beyond wonderful. Love all the suggestions, descriptions, thought behind what is going on. You are exactly the kind of trainer I'd want to train with, one that is always learning, adjusting, fine tuning their knowledge.

    Juli, I did this with my trainer on her first canter rides on a particularly nervous horse, don't know if this is an option, but here goes.

    I ponied the young horse all tacked up, off a good safe pony horse, walk, trot and canter, making it as uneventful and everyday as possible. Same routine daily, for two weeks.

    He was used to being ponied with trainer onboard at walk and trot. Once his confidence was up and he was easily cantering with the pony horse, we added the trainer, and instead of getting off for the canter part, she stayed on, and he didn't blink.

    Did that for a week or so, then just rode next to them. Eventually weaning him off the"need the other horse" idea. A solid friend on a horse that knows HOW to pony can be a really big help.

  8. Disney Land attraction or not, the exchange of ideas on this blog is pretty unique and downright cool.

    Thanks, mugwump!

  9. yes, I love the exchange of ideas. Juli, as I got older, I would take more time lunging the horse with the saddle on at the lope. Then I would put my teenage son on the horse (and he was a pole bender and a reiner) and I would lunge the horse at the lope while he sat there. The horse was comfortable being lunged, and he stayed comfortable with a rider. I think with me staying in the center gave the young horses confidence also.

  10. Juli, oh I meant to add, that as the horse gaves confidence, which he already may have, then you, as the rider gains more confidence. I understand your desire to be more comfortable. I love teaching people to ride, and I just started studying Centered Riding and became a Level 1 instructor. The exercises that you do as you ride really do build up the confidence. Maybe see if there is anyone in your area or try a clinic sometime. good luck!

  11. Juli - Everyone else had great suggestions about loping for the first time, I have a slightly different one...

    I don't know if you fear loping your four year old, or just loping in general...if it's the latter, perhaps a friend has a quiet older horse that you can lope to your hearts content?

    It's bad enough overcoming the fear of an upward transition, but trying to overcome it on a green horse will only multiply the nervousness.

    Again if you only fear cantering your young horse, then my suggestion is useless.

    I also second the amazingness of the free flow of ideas on this blog. My SO often will ask "Why do you blog so much? Do you really care about how all of these people's days went?"

    It's so much more than that, particularly for me, because I am otherwise isolated from all things horsey for the next few years. Reading this blog and others really gives me a chance to examine the kind of rider I am/want to be, the relationship I have with my horse, and how I can/will go about improving that relationship.

    Needless to say when I get home Oliver and I have a lot of work to do!

  12. Speaking of ideas....

    Do we have any western pleasure people here? I have a question about how to get that really slow jog. I know my horse can do it...I've seen it, but I'm having trouble getting her to be consistent. When you ask them to slow down do you use your legs or spurs at all? Is it more about the seat? I have trouble remembering to sit back because I've always ridden H/J.

  13. Mugs - I think this is an awesome forum for sharing ideas! I have about zero interest in actually doing anything with a cow and my Arab, but I've snagged a good many of your training techniques/tips/ideas. Much of the stuff you do, especially the basics is just good, common sense horsemanship that applies across the board.

    Fyyahchild - are you trying for the true western pleasure funky trot they do? Or just a really slow jog? My very English Arab does the really slow jog. He does it with his head up like an English horse, not rolling peanuts, but I just ask for a slower and slower trot until he's going the speed I want. I use the bridle and my seat (shift backwards) to ask him to slow. To keep him from breaking to a walk, I'll add a touch of leg when necessary. He can go from *barely* trotting to barely not cantering and back as we go around the arena. At first he'd break a lot to the walk when asking him to go really slow, but the more consistent I was about catching him before he broke to the walk, the better he got. He'll hold the super slow jog as long as I want now.

  14. Thanks Candy's. I've heard the APHA local shows judges are looking for a more modern jog, and that the old peanut roller jog/lope was starting to get looked down on. I hope so because I'm not taking it that far. I don't like it.

    I thought it might be more hands/seat, but I wasn't sure where spur training comes in. I think I need to get her to lift her back a little more for me but I haven't figured it out yet. I'll give your method a try and see how we do.

  15. nice work mugwump-ers.
    juli - not much too add ontop of everyone - i know that when I'm feeling scared the best thing to do is have an instructor there who can tell me to stop being such a wimp.
    fyaahchild - if your horse lunges it will help his jog. have him go round - as long as is necessary till his jog slows and his head goes down. It can be just a fraction, as long as its there, then reward him by putting him in a walk, then a stop and cinch loosened. I have gone to the extreme, turning them out as reward but they do appreciate a breather in the centre too.
    then, progress on to gradually asking for the jog for longer and longer, rewarding them by changing down to a walk them rather than taking them into the centre.
    As for spurs/legs, I use them for collection rather than a slowing of the jog

  16. Fyaahchild's question kind of parallels one of my own---

    I know this is a fairly simple thing that a riding instructor could help me on... but unfortunately we can't afford horses right now, much less an instructor. :( (SoCal sucks!!!) I have all the horses I could possibly want... 2 hours away. I always feel like I'm "ruining" them when I ride them--- I can actively feel them getting harder on the bit, and slower to respond, and basically stupider all the way around. Sigh.

    That said, the cues I use for collection and deceleration are exactly the same. Slight tension on the reins, slight pressure with the inside of my calf---drive them forward into the bit...they collect almost immediately (gotta love my friend's horses), so then I release leg pressure, and keep up that slight tension with the bit until they relax into a pace I like.

    It gets the job done, but I can tell the horse is frustrated with the confusion of my cues--- I should be clearer, but I just don't know how to ask.

    I know I must confuse the heck out of the horse, but since the results are usually good (when would you ever want them to slow without collecting?) I kind of just stick with my old reliable way of asking.

    My friend, naturally, would prefer me not to touch the bit at all (she trains for reining and cows and whatnot). She rides almost entirely with her seat, and then uses legs if she has to, and then only relies on the reins if she really needs to correct. When I try to follow her instruction (Ride with your seat, Becky! Urge her forward with your hips, quit relying on your legs!) I usually just end up looking like I'm doing something indecent to the saddle, and if I listen hard enough, I can hear the horse snickering :(

  17. I ride mainly from my seat. I have enough contact with my reins to keep any slack out of them, but very little pressure is actually on the bit.

    To get him to collect as much as he can (he's only 4, we're not ready for true full out upper level collection), I drive him forward with my seat and sort of 'block' with my reins. Basically I want him to 'compress' himself and bring his back legs up under us. This ultimately makes him round up his back and his head comes down some. I want him in a dressage frame and you want your guy more long and low, but the general idea is the same. How much blocking on my part ends up determining our speed. If I block a lot he'll go really slow when he gets collected. Ultimately the goal there will be to actually trot in place, but we're several years worth of training away from that.

    You might want to look up some dressage exercises. Look for the ones that work your horse "long and low". In those you want a pretty loose rein and the horse to be going around with its neck fairly close to level with its withers. He should still be fairly rounded through the back and should be bringing his back legs up under himself to drive with them rather than flailing around on the forehand.

  18. I just had a thought that I do with my pleasure horse when he starts to dump on his forehand. I do one of two things:

    1. (because the rail is where he gets rewarded, when he dumps on his forehand, I leg yield him off the rail first) Once he is off the rail, I will stop, back and then roll back and go right back to the lope. Stopping and backing reinforces that when you dump onto your forehand you have to stop to re-engage your hind end.

    2. If he is not completely dumped on his forehand, but starting too, I will roll back lope two strides, roll back, lope four strides, roll back and then lope on if he is properly engaged.

  19. Fyyachild- The info you're getting sums up all I know about pleasure so I'm staying out of it. I always thought of a pleasure horse as taking the concept of long and low in dressage and expanding it into a separate discipline.
    Becky - From the heart...straight and true. Listen to your friend, let the horses laugh their butts off, it won't hurt a thing but your pride.
    Learn how she rides the way she does. Get her to talk everything through. Dump all of your previous training and just absorb this new discipline.
    Then, in your time away from horses, think about it, mull on it, see where I'm going?
    I'm guess I'm suggesting you go with the flow, especially since your riding time is limited.

  20. Becky, I agree with Mugs. Especially since you are riding your friend's horses; ride like she does! It will feel akward at first, but it will feel better in the end! I recently went through this retraining with an awesome trainer. I HAD known it, but got lazy with just trail riding and the horses suffer for it! And boy do the mares get pissy!

    And remember the 1-2-3 rule. Don't go strait to the obcene gestures movement. First, soft cue with your seat and INTENT with hands and eyes (don't actually move but feel like you are about to). Pause a second for the response from The Cranky One. If no quick response, ask stronger. Again just ONCE. Pause. Then MAKE them do it. You can use your reins and legs now. They don't LIKE the strong cues or the use of the reins and bit so eventually they become softer and easier. And it also retrains YOU to try soft cues with your seat and legs, and softer hands.

    Just be patient. Don't rush things. My trainer always said, "so what if it takes you 15 feet to turn when you are starting; so long as you get them to do it! That goal of 6 feet is only in your mind, they don't know it! For all they know you got them to do EXACTLY what you wanted"

    I miss my trainer. I let my lease mare go as I am no longer riding for the next year, or so. Hey, how long did it take for you guys to get back to riding after you had kids?