Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Talk to the leg.

The kidlette is 19 now and would like to be introduced. Meet Clare on Snicket

I'm posting my article for my horse column again. Sorry I missed Mouthy Monday, I'll get on it. I learned something very interesting about my sweet, well behaved mare this morning. One of the barn help offered to catch her for me as I was wearing my work clothes (we were getting feet trimmed).

This horse has manners, manners, manners. I thought. But when a stranger tried to catch her she ran. When she finally was cornered she pinned her ears, squealed and STRUCK.

I was horrified. Luckily the gal was horse savvy and just caught her. Sigh.

I'm going to hang a sign on my pen.

Please Don't Feed or Pet.

Feel Free to Beat Often.

At least I know she'd be hard to steal.

I'm working on a Tally story so stay tuned.

Talk to the Leg
By Janet Huntington

My daughter, Clare, has a very nice cow horse she trained herself named Snicket. He is a solid, good minded gelding and has grown into a beautiful mover and a flashy competitor.

We having been having a blast sorting cows with the Fountain Riding and Roping Club (FRCC) this year. Sorting is proving to be an interesting , laid-back experience for all of us, riders and horses alike.

My horses have taken to it with a healthy amount of curiosity and competence, proving, as always, they could be extremely successful if I would learn how to stay out of their way.

Snicket , on the other hand, has been nervy, chargy and a little anxious.

Part of his problem is he likes to be a booger and mess with my daughter. The other part is he would rather be hot and in charge than listen and do what he’s told.

Clare and I have been trying to dissect the issue and figure out how to fix him.

We have realized this is a two-part problem, which means this will be a two-part article.

One of Snicket’s issues is thinking control of his cow means throwing himself at it like a coyote on a cat.

Since sorting is a game of quietly and efficiently moving your cow (at least with the FRRC), Snicket could get in a little trouble if he comes out of the herd with a mouthful of hide and hamburger.

We also started to think about how Snicket is working off Clare’s leg.

Or not.

“When I started him (as a two-year-old) sulling up was his big issue,” Clare told me.

“He would resist my leg, my hand, everything and then he would blow.”

When Clare talks about Snicket blowing up she’s talking about a big explosion.

As a two-year-old he could bucket harder than most and was a “blind” bucker which bounced off walls, slammed through people and over benches. He was determined to keep with it long enough to be sold as rodeo stock.

I think that’s the reason Clare is so attached to him. She rode through some incredibly nasty stuff to get the sane, responsive horse she has today.

She’s proud of her horse and she should be.

When she was working through young Snicket’s explode-o-meter she got in the habit of being very soft and quiet with him.

She would give him plenty of time to think and let him work through his sulk. Then she found he would move off just a touch of her leg.

“I hardly ever touch him with my spur, he just goes,” Clare said.

Which leads me to think this is the first problem to address.

Our legs need to be a clear method of communication with our horses.

Lightness needs to mean our horse responds to what we are telling him with our legs, not that he blasts forward if dare to give him any more than the slightest cue.

I’ve always trained based on the idea that poor behavior from a horse is 90% because he is misdirecting our cues.

It is usually our fault, because we haven’t made ourselves clear, but sometimes it can be an evasion.

If a rider doesn’t dare take a hold of their horse’s face, or can’t put a leg on him for fear he will bolt, that’s an evasion, not a light horse.

Snicket isn’t that extreme, but Clare has decided she is going to slowly go through her cues with him and make sure she can grip him with her legs, send him forward, side to side and back without him evading her by over reacting.

She is also going to make sure she can bump or pull or bang on him and have his response be to wait and see what she means, not to leap forward.

The trick is to be very careful. Clare doesn’t want to desensitize her horse to her legs, she wants him to wait to see what she’s saying.

It’s easy to get excited when things are going wrong with our horses. Sometimes even when things are going right we’ll get fired up and miscue or over cue our horses.

If I go into the show pen and turn into some Gomer who can’t remember to stay calm and ride my horse (no, not me!) then I need a horse who stays calm and doesn’t start blasting around just because I turned stupid.

If I need to show my horse something she doesn’t agree with, I need her to let me show her what I want, not blow up.

The first step in creating a horse who calmly sorts through our cues is for the rider to be fair and consistent with the cues.

For me, go forward is always asked with my body before I go to my leg. Then I ask with both calves.

Then a smack with my reins or romel on the hindquarters.

I try to remember my spurs are a directional tool, to lift the back or to turn left and right.

I do my very best to ride my horse the same every ride with the same set of cues.

I also, every once in a while just pull them around, or kick them forward or side to side for no reason other than I can.

I’m not mean about it, I’m just staying ahead of my horse and being more aggressive than usual with my hand and leg.

When I feel a hesitation in my horse, almost as if she is pausing and saying, “What in the world are you doing?” I’ll ease up.

This creates a moment where we both can regroup and do things correctly.

I call it a cowboy half halt and it has saved my bacon more than once.

Clare is planning on much the same program, but she is beginning by going through each of her basic cues, left, right, forward, back and making sure both she and Snicket are on the same page.

I’m planning on bringing some popcorn and a beer so I can sit back and watch the fun. Snicket does like to mess with her.

Next week I’ll talk about how we get a horse quiet on a cow.


badges blues N jazz said...

One of my BIGGEST problems when I sort or pen is I totally forget I have legs. I cant seem to get it together at speed. Its a work in progress I tell ya. Its very hard for me to remember my legs and its driving me nuts!

SillyPony said...

Nice to finally meet you, Clare! Your mom is pretty awesome. Just for the record, Mugs; Junior has been much more respectful since the hand feeding ban was enacted and I understood that acting like "two cheerleaders bitch-slapping each other" was just not working. Thank you for your excellent advice! It really does work!

stilllearning said...

Hi, Clare.

This one is making me scratch my head and wonder if I would get an instant reaction (but no explosion) if I needed forward NOW. I've brought this horse from resistance to cooperation (and some decent work) by staying soft and quietly determined and focused, and ignoring his preference to resist, blow up, and change the subject. He has that booger-thing going, too.

Seems to me I'm looking at the next step here.

I also want to try the cowboy half-halt, and throw in some less predictable moments, and mess with our routine. This is making me wonder which of us is better broke.

Lots to think about as usual. Thanks.

Becky said...

Hiya, Clare!

Hiya, Clare's 4 mile-long legs! (This photo, more than the others, really show them off.)

Is that Snicket from Lemony Snicket? Great name :)

Mugs--- I laughed out loud at your "Feel Free to Beat Often" sign.

I am really curious--- when you say the girl was savvy and just caught the mare, what exactly did that entail? Did she punish the mare at all (even if that just included noise)and not back off? Or did she back off slightly, give the mare a chance to think, then do it again? What's the best response in a situation like that (especially when it includes a horse you don't know)? I always get confused where the line is between letting a horse "win" and letting a horse think.

Shanster said...

Great name and pix! Congrats on your manageable horse and the time you took to get him there!

So I'm not the only one that sometimes becomes the monkey?

The trainer I ride with... it turned into our (her students) saying... "I'm the monkey!" when concepts are hard or we feel completely ineffective.

Learnin' is F-U-N - FUN! Well - 98% of the time anyway...

(monkey = those monkeys that get strapped to border collies? sometimes I feel oh so like that monkey...)

mugwump said...

Go Silly Pony!

Still Learning - Finding out your horse has a giant spazzo-motor in front of a judge really stinks. It's best to know exactly what's gouing to happen.

Becky - Yes Indeedy- Lemony Snicket, one of Clare's literary heroes.
She just said "Hey!" and then caught her anyway. Most people (including me) don't go whaling on someone else's horse when that someone is standing there, at least until they have permission.
It's practice, I don't know what else to say. You'll get to where you know what kind of response you'll get and when you need it.
I never worry about screwing up, I just start over.

AareneX said...

At least I know she'd be hard to steal.

Snork! Your horse and my horse, too. Actually, I need your entire sign to post on Fiddle's fence, with the additional caveat: "please do not feed your dog to my horse."

quietann said...

I love this one...

So... I have a lease horse for whom leg -- any leg -- means FORWARD HO! She was trained for saddleseat at some point and have you ever seen how far those riders hold their legs off the horse? She's slowly getting used to the leg as a dressage aid for bending and (sometimes) forward... but we have had some awful things happen. E.g. in a clinic I was asked to leg yield her down the wall and the poor thing crashed her nose INTO the wall when she felt my leg, repeatedly. It took a ground assistant to keep her from doing it. So now we have a project, to do this "leg yield down the wall" on the ground, so she understands that cue means sideways, not forward. She's a smart cookie (another Morgan!) so I think she'll get it.

DarcC said...

Quietann - lol, I was a saddleseat rider for years. You have to keep you lower leg off in order to roll your thigh and knee on, it's the only thing keeping you up there and those horses can MOVE! My old gelding used to trot (naturally - no heavy shoes or crap) so high that I would see his knees come up in front of him. That saddle is basically a flat piece of leather! They are also trained to think that loose reins mean slow down and tight reins mean go faster. It can also be hard to teach them to move in a straight line without a wall, but Mugs had a good post on that in one of the last few stop posts. Good luck!

Katharine Swan said...

Your daughter's work with Snicket reminds me so much of my own horse, who is coming 5 this summer. Although he never had the bucking issues (he has always been pretty well behaved, luckily for me, since I was as green as he was), he has also had issues with any amount of leg pressure meaning GO GO GO! My trainer and I did a lot of work with him on fidgeting, bumping his sides "accidentally," etc. until he understood the difference between a meaningless touch and "I want you to move forward" pressure. And one day his hypersensitivity just stopped! It's funny how when they get something, it's like someone just flipped a switch.

Breathe said...

Hi Clare!

At the clinic I attended the trainer had this problem - she'd pt such a fine handle on a horse that she couldn't ride it on a trail - where bumps and wander attention happen, even to the best. The horse reacted TO THE SLIGHTEST SIGNALS, just like she taught it.

Now she was untraining it.

Looking forward to the next installment!

mommyrides said...

Hi Clare, nice to finally meet you! So will you be relieving some of the pressure on your mom and contributing to the blog? :o)

Good luck with your boy and looking forward to the post that tells us how it all turned out. And congratulations on sticking with Snicket and having a horse you now can be very proud of, so many of us give up way too easily these days.


Fyyahchild said...

Nice to meet you Clare.

Mugs - This last training series of posts have been just awesome. I got Grace to stop so hard on Sat she had little skid marks and the asst trainer cheered a little bit. I kinda wanted to cry, it was so pretty...and I even stayed in the center of my saddle, balanced and quiet.

I think we're getting our cues down and she's not super forward but she does want to eat the cows, squealing and kicking at all of them instead of quietly focusing on the one we're trying to sort out. Can't wait for the next part of this article. Please post it, okay?

Amy said...

LMFAO @ "feel free to beat often"- can we get a halter with that monogrammed? My husband is a teach in a small town, and one of his students lives Catty-corner behind us... he walked up to my husband a couple days after I had one eventful lesson and told him "I saw your wife beating and yelling at her horse." This was after the third refusing-to-canter and rearing instead hissy fit, I just got off and walloped the crap out of her.

Sounds mean... maybe but I have learned to trust my trainer and Lic is now LOPING in circles on both leads and we are starting simple lead changes and beginning rollbacks, all of which she has taken to willingly! I am shocked... it's like a switch flipped inb her head!

As far as bucking and exploding... Lic used to buck and snarl as evasion to the leg. Now she listens like a good girl. Part of that is my trainer mainly rode saddleseat... so she has taught me to ride with the thigh and knee rolled in and leg off the horse, and to only use my leg when I want something. It's actually a very effective way to ride, and though I'm still developing the muscle memory in my legs, the position is very stable, which probably saved my ass the other day-

We were at an ACTHA ride and riding in a warmup area with about 20 other horses... anyway some other nutty horse spooked Lic and I tried to turn her around, but as soon as she got her back to the nutty horse, she became a much nuttier horse and took off broncing. The good news is I somehow stayed on, the bad news is I have a catalope sized bruise where I got a belly full of saddle horn. Then when I finally got her stopped and we stood there panting for a few minutes, I loped her off and she was fine. Go figure.

Any tips fort convincing a horse a cow will not eat them? Whenever I ride Lic past a cow she has a ridiculous, trembling, trying-to-bolt meltdown. She thinks they are definitely gonna eat her, LOL!

Sorry for the long-ass post!

HorsesAndTurbos said...

How do you do it? Guess what I am working on with Starlette...stops and listening to my leg. :) Took my first dressage lesson, and that's my homework. That and relaxing to lenghten her topline ;)

Oh, and I will always call Clare "Legs" in my mind LOL! While I am not short (5'7"), I don't have those legs!

Becky said...

@Amy--- I don't know if this is feasible for you, but I took the lazy road with sensitizing my horse to cows. I found a friend with a couple of cows, and I tossed my nutbucket of a TB in with them for a week. It took a couple of times of doing that, but he got the point eventually that cows didn't posess razor-sharp teeth and horse-eating proclivities.

Leah Fry said...

One more time: thank you for all you continue to teach me. You really can't know how much you have helped me!

And now, thank you to Clare also.

Becky said...

Hey Mugs,

I know you're beyond busy with real life, and you already have a bazillion stories we're all clamoring for you to finish...

But I was going back through your archives, and I'm curious: How did broomball and Fobby turn out?

Becky said...

A: With my own sporadically (at best!) updated blog, I have no leg to stand on.

B: I fully sympathize and completely understand: You have a busy life, a full-time job that has you writing all day, and horses of your own to ride.... not to mention the fact that you have a daughter and probably a social life.

C: My heart doesn't care. MISS YOU, MUGS!

DeeDee said...

Another way to help your horse (if the horse can stand it) is to get in an arena with one or two cows and just follow them around from a distance. Ride or walk, which ever is feasible. Usually this allows the horse to gain confidence (the cows are walking away from me) and allows curiousity to come up. Just a thought from the city kid cowhand.

HorseOfCourse said...

Hi Clare - I am so happy to meet you! Though it feel strange to say Clare after being used to Kidlette, lol!

I bet your Mum is very proud of you, and also very happy that you came to this world as a sensible horsaii and not anything remote like a handball player, ballette dancer or something like that.

And I guess you are pretty proud of her too.

HorsesAndTurbos said...

Okay, starting to have major Mugs withdrawals...

Hope everything is okay!


CR said...

so sad :(

i hope she's ok

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