Drunk Pony

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Wednesday I decided to teach TJ and work our circles. We warmed up with his lateral flexion exercises on both sides. Most horses- or at least Apache- maintains resistance on the rein until they realize that your hand is stationary, then they give to the pressure. TJ surprised me by following my hand with the slightest guidance until I reached his side- no resistance. Then he waited patiently with the rein looped until I dropped it before returning to a neutral position. I then asked him to yield his haunches; he only had to get to the “step into his space/kiss” stage and he swung his haunches 180. While I am glad that he is exuberant in his responses, I hope to get him to be less reactionary- you know what I mean?

So, I jumped on… well, I actually found a bucket to stand on and then mounted like a regular adult human. I can swing on up top Apache from the ground but I am not as limber as I once was- and 16 hands is a little tall. TJ instantly wants to set off at a business-like walk, neck arched and everything. One of my biggest pet peeves (I have many) is horse that walks off IMMEDIATELY after you’re on. I ease onto their back, take my time to adjust my position, maybe tighten the girth while I’m up there, before I gather my reins and ask to go. We had a discussion about waiting until I said to go. I was very patient, he doesn’t know. This is day 6 of us even knowing each other and I cannot expect him to memorize all my standards. Apache on the other hand would get a severe warning if he got fidgety while I’m mounting. But he’s known this rule for eleven years.

I walk TJ off once he stood calmly for 15 seconds and I swear I was riding a drunk pony. We could not track straight to save our lives. I stayed out of his face as much as possible, but he would over correct himself with my leg pressure or else not respond at all- he still doesn’t quite grasp leg communication means other things besides faster. But we managed to tool around the arena. I then re-introduced serpentines- every other S-bend becoming a 15m circle. I was very proud that he was at least trying to cross underneath himself and make a circle instead of an octagon. Sure, at times he would over bend, but that’s my fault for being too direct-reiny. My trainer- who is by far one of the best people alive for putting up with me for over a decade- always chewed my butt about not using my indirect rein enough/correctly.

We switched to 20m circle work at a walk and trot. I have to actively cognate correcting my shitty outside rein because when I did use my outside rein correctly to balance him, TJ was successful at his circles. Now he gets the concept of what I am asking, I have to keep up my bargain and not fall into bad habits and short cuts that Apache adapted to. I want TJ to be taught right, and for that I need to really get my *ish together! In spite of my rider-faults TJ improved greatly since we worked on balanced circles the other day. A little rushy and inconsistent rhythm sometimes, but using himself well and listening carefully to my vocal directives and occasional half halt. I asked him to pick up his off-side (right lead) canter. He crow-hopped because I let him have two rushy trot strides that threw of his balance. I brought him back for two circles to reestablish the pace, sat deep in my saddle, lifted my inside rein, pressure with my outside calf… and kissed… We rolled up into a gorgeously smooth canter. Even though he was strung out and a little wonky, he had a canter that I could sit all day. I was so excited! I brought him down and gave him some love.

I took him outside to cool off, as the wind was soft and not too cold. I do not know for sure how long it has been/if ever he was ridden outside. I directed him up the driveway to the house. He marched forward, looking around a lot but relaxed. He attempted to veer off course to go the barn, but after a few firm no’s he got the jist. At the top of the drive I turned him toward home… and we practiced standing still. TJ was not happy about that. We pranced. We tried backing. We went all directions except up and down- which I am totally fine with! We finally stood still after 5 minutes or so of testing, I waited 10 seconds and we walked down toward the barn again. Before repeating the exercise 3 more times. I was please to find he moderated his pace very well as we walked back to the barn each time. I didn’t have my reins as loose as I like (usually on the buckle), I admit I was riding defensively. I still don’t trust TJ yet and probably won’t until we have a few more mutual experiences. 🙂

After I hopped off, all TJ wanted was for his forehead to be rubbed and his head cuddled. I have never had a horse who craves reassurance/affection as much as this horse. Apache likes attention, but on his terms and he has a quota of how much physical contact he wants- like a cat. But TJ seems to be the kind of horse who lives to be loved on. I wonder if that is an Arab thing? I have only known two other pure Arabians in my life and they all seemed to be huge lovers too?

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Of Llamas and Mentors.

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Last ride on Sunday, I had introduced giving to pressure laterally (TJ was quite sticky to his right) and introducing disengaging the haunches with leg pressure. Pretty much the baby precursor to having impulsive behind and balanced circles- which TJ needs desperately.

In what I am now realizing is standard TJ response for now,  he had a little hissy fit of pretending to be a lama and evading all pressures in the exact opposite way I requested.

We had a conversation about that. -.-

After working through our sticky spots on a trot circle for 15 minutes, he truly was a very nice ride. That’s what I am coming to enjoy about working with TJ, after his mediocre tantrums, he truly is a willing and intelligent animal.

We have never had to have the same argument twice. Just a refresher the next time to confirm the lesson still applies. Which is exactly what I did yesterday, but sneakily.

A very wise cowboy and his wife (an exemplary horsewoman, who I have huge respect for) had taken me under their wing when I was a teenager. I learned a cornucopia of skills from those two that have never failed to get me out of pickles with horses. But between farrier skills, a fail-safe method of teaching bratty horses to self load, and other beautiful tidbits, one thing held the most impact on me: Everything you do on the ground is directly transferable to saddle.

This is what I did with TJ. The ultimate goal was that if I point to his haunches he yields to me with a pivot on the forhand. Not only is it teaching him to isolate sections of his body, but it is a respect excersize.

Attempt one I asked with a point/kiss. No response.

I stepped into his space and pointed/kissed. He raised his head and rippled his skin.

I kissed and jabbed my finger into his haunch. Move this thing, beasty! He shifted.

I kissed and gave him a smack on the kiester Do something! and he yielded his haunches.
Then I praised him because he gave me the response I was seeking.

I asked on the other side. Same levels of intensity were required. I continued to alternate sides asking for him to move his hindquarters intermittently as we worked on parallel lunging and response to voice commands. I mixed these two excersizes so he wouldn’t grow frustrated with one or the other. And to keep him mentally engaged by moving his feet.

Gradually, the amount of pressure I applied to him to initiate a yield response was less and less. By the end of our 20 minute session, I had a horse who would move his haunches if I pointed at his flank and kissed.

As the adolescent me had seen repeatedly while I studied under the cowboy and the horsewoman, this excersize will be directly transferable under saddle. Next post we will see if TJ retains his new skills.

D&R: if you two hadn’t spent countless hours working with me and Kimmy (and later with me and Apache), I wouldn’t be able to do half the things or have any of the practical horse training knowledge I do now. So as TJ develops into the horse I envision him to be, you two get the majority of credit. ❤

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Hey, I Just Met You

I knew him exactly two days and I decided that was good enough for me. I asked for a lease to buy contract that afternoon. He was named PJ- PJ Dually. His sale ad on the Facebook horse network was brief.
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I didn’t care that he was an Arab, a grey, 16 hands or 6 years old. It was ironic that I picked him. I generally didn’t like Arabians. Greys were hard to keep clean. 16 hands was a little too tall for my 5’3-with-boots-on stature. And 6 was just leaving baby brain. What I saw long solid legs, good conformation angles and intelligent eyes. I saw an opportunity.

It was clear that my tried and true mount of 11 years- Apache- was ready for retirement brought on by ligament issues from a horse kick. I was finally in a position to get back into horses after 4 semi-horseless college years. I had nothing to lose. After near constant communication with PJ’s owner for 5 days I went out to see this scraggly leggy arab with clear black eyes.

He knew more than I thought. He was willing to work and had plenty of talent. He had qualities that I admired, but most of all: he wanted a job. Our first encounter was a grooming session, some respecting space excersizes, light lounging so I could gauge his gaits, and a test ride. PJ was honest in telling me what he thought. I got a buck out of him (it was the most baby of bucks ever) when I asked him pick up his off side lead. I got head flips when I blocked him from falling into the center of the arena. After these discussions, he took my word that I don’t put up with tantrums. Here is a clip from the end of our test ride:

I liked him. His personality, and his ability to shift from sassy to submissive as soon as a put my foot down. He wanted a leader and job, I just needed to prove to him he could trust me and the consistency of my standards.

I visited the Arab the following two days, addressing various issues and concepts. I wanted to test him, and myself. I wanted to see if we could forage a plausible connection in a few days- we needed to be able to communicate. I would ask him to do a variety of exercises (mounted and in hand). His response was the same:
Nah, I don’t want to.
Yes you do, Arab.
NO I DO NOT.
Sorry, non-negotiable. Do it now.
Okay, okay!
Excellent! Good job trying.
You sure? All I had to do was try? Oh… that’s not hard!

But I guess that’s how the horse has always been, and I am fine with working with that. Over time he will respect me and simultaneously trust my judgement and he will try. If I play my cards right, this gelding will try his heart out for me; because he truly wants to. He has the innate willingness to be a faithful partner.

With that I rechristianed him Taj Al-Jshabar– Crown of Bravery. Or just simply, TJ.