Saturday, October 15, 2011

Dream horses

We've been talking about our dream horse a lot at the stable. R wants a bigger horse, probably a paint, who's responsive and well trained. The BO's dream horse, when she was younger, was a certain appaloosa. I admit my dreams are scattered, there's a whole list of breeds that I want to have one of someday, and certainly June (the haflinger mare) was one of my dream horses, the one I wanted beyond measure.

I've put a lot of thought lately (and a lot in the past) about whether or not Siaga could be my dream horse. I've thought about the "Horsey-soulmate" feeling I had with June, and I know I don't have it with Siaga. What Siaga and I have is a working partnership. Or is mostly. What we have, we've worked very hard to get for the past (almost) 7 years. Today, I saw my dream horse in him.

After attending a clinic at the stable just to watch others working with their horses with the trainer/instructor, I brought what I learned home and applied it to Siaga. You wanna know what progress we've made in the riding spectrum? Here's a quick rundown of some of the problems and how we fixed them.

*Wouldn't stand still by chair/mounting block.

For this, I would lead him up to the chair and stop him next to it, with the chair at the appropriate position for mounting in relation to his side. If he stopped a bit before or after the chair, just correct him that one step or two if you can. If he stands still, rub him, and lead him off. If he doesn't stand still, keep trying until he's standing next to the chair. Every time he's stopped next to it, pet him.

At the clinic today, there was a girl with her pony, and they were having the same problem. What the trainer did was have the pony stand there and have the girl rub, back off, come back, rub, back off, step on first step of the block, rub, back off, and repeat until she's on the top step and the pony was standing still and behaving. This method worked, but I couldn't see it working well with Siaga, because he just wanted to move as soon as my foot touched the chair. That was a lot of work on my part, to get up only to jump down and line him back up.

So I made the area away from the chair into the work area, and standing by the chair as a nice, pleasant area. I would line him up, and if he stepped away, I hopped down and instead of repositioning him, I would immediately send him out and lunge him around the chair on the long line, and after I saw a sign of thinking/ relaxing (signs of these are lowering the head, chewing, sighing, yawning, and cocking a hip, though it's hard to yawn or cock a hip when trotting in a circle) I would let him come in, stop him by the chair, pet, step up, and repeat the process if he moved. It only took two or three times of being sent out to lunge before he would let me stand on the chair. From there I gave him a back rub, massaging around his spine and the muscles of his back. He even stepped closer a few times!

I also made sure he was ok with the process of me getting on, laying over his back, wiggling the saddle, putting a leg over. He didn't move, but obviously, I would have sent him out to lunge again if he had. I mounted from there bare back the other day and with a saddle today and he stood nice and solid both times. I will continue working with this until he is reliable with it.

*Not taking the bit.

Complicated. But, I figured out if I undo the cheek piece on the near side to the bit and just put the bridle on and get the buckles done up, I can then bring the cheek piece up, control his head, and with some coaxing, get the bit in his mouth. I plan on augmenting this with a treat after the bit is in, or maybe something tasty wiped on the bit so he is more willing to take it.

*Not giving to pressure of the bit.

For this, I started from the ground with flexing to the left and right in the rope halter. I hold my free hand behind his elbow and ask him to touch my hand, and it's so cute when he finds the slack and touches my hand.

To ask for lateral flexion, say, to the left, stand on his (or her) left side, just behind the ribs, just in front of the hips and back legs. Basically, stand at a 45 degree angle (in and forwards) to the swirl of hair between back leg and stomach. Throw your lead rope over the back of the horse, and place your right arm over over their loins so that you have a sort of anchor to stay by your horse (because he will most likely want to turn at first instead of flexing) and slide your left to about 2 or 2 and a half feet down the lead from the halter, pull your hand to the withers and "glue" it there. The objective is for the horse to give and reach for the triangular shaped place right behind the elbow at the bottom of their ribs, or a hair higher. Only release the pressure when a: their feet are not moving and b: they seek the right answer and reach around to find the slack. If the find the slack but their feet are still moving, do not release the pressure. He has to stand still. At 2 or 2 and a half feet, your horses head might barely be pulled around. After that is down, try it at 1 and a half and eventually 1 foot away from the halter. The object now is to guide the horses head around about 2/3 of the way, and for them to give the rest.

This concept applies with the bridle, also. I asked for flexing simultaneously with the halter and the bridle to clue him in, and then with just the bridle. It took him a minute to stand still for this again, but we got there. I also did this in the saddle, where again he wanted to turn and turn and not flex, but again, we got there.

After achieving lateral flexion, it was time to teach direction. Since I could hold his head up with the bit as I could not with the rope halter, it made directions that much easier. Close off and push with the outside, open inside. We did serpentines around the trees in the woods and up and down the road. This is also helping him understand leg pressure.

Then it was woah and back up time. At the clinic, Steph showed R how to stop Georgia by holding the reins and leaning back in the saddle a bit, rather than pulling the reins. I did this with Siaga, picking up the reins in two fingers at the middle and holding them up about face level, sliding the other hand down both reins at the same time to the withers, separating the reins and holding them there, lean back. If these did not stop him, I added a verbal cue of "woah" and he would stop after a couple steps. Release pressure, and from a stand still, repeat the process, holding and leaning back, to ask for a back up. If he didn't move, I was supposed to pump my feet against his shoulders, but I just added the verbal cue, and he would take a step or two back.

*Wanting to graze while under saddle and pay no attention to me.

I think this pretty much fixed itself just by getting him warmed up and the excess energy burnt off first. It was easier to not fight for grass and do asked. I think it is still something we will have to work on, though.

I know this was a terribly long post, but I thought it might benefit others who might have the same problems as I.

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