Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Turtle and The Hare

The following is a true account about two riding buddies. One rode a horse that had no "go". Let's call him Turtle. Turtle and his mom called me for help because all she wanted to do is take a nice trail ride with her friends, but Turtle was so hard to keep moving that riding with anyone became an unbearable slog that left her exhausted and close to tears. Her best riding buddy had a horse we'll call Hare. The Hare pranced and danced and rode in a very big bit. Hare, often charged way ahead down the trail only to balk at something and turn around. At which point they would meet back up with Turtle and the two women would head home. Both of the women had the same problem. But neither woman believed me when I told them so. Well, of course they agreed Turtle had a "go" problem but not the "Hare", he flew if you let off that bit even one inch. Turtles mom even said she wished she had a horse more like the "Hare". Both gals rode together often as all the other riders at the stable had doled all the advise they had for both ladies and then became "unavailable" for any further rides.

For each horse we returned to the ground work to lay a foundation that would allow for both sides ( equine and human) to draw from as we progressed back to riding. Each horse and rider team worked on the exact same exercises. One focused on the clarity and quality of "go" and the other on the clarity and quality of "whoa". Hares mom quickly noticed that she completed roughly double the repetitions per session than did her friend with Turtle. But to her consternation Turtle seemed to be making progress faster than Hare. He was more consistent in his answers. Turtles mom however envied the amount of energy that Hare put into his work and was not as willing to accept Turtles progress. Soon riding was added to their weekly lessons and Hares mom spent double the time in the saddle than did Turtles mom. Who had to keep dismounting and going back to groundwork. Meanwhile Hares mom moved on to new exercises under saddle. Turtles mom envied Hares"progress". Both Woman gave 110%. The moment of truth came on their first trail ride together since embarking on lessons. Hare as usual, was in the lead, but he had slowed enough and turtle had moved out enough that the women could still converse for most of the ride. But then something happened. The Hare came to a creek crossing. The creek was swollen from recent rains. He balked and was trying to turn around when Turtle arrived at the creek. Following her template from her lessons, she focused on the quality of the go and not the quantity or distance traveled and soon found herself across the creek. Hares mom cheered her from the other bank and went to work on Hare. Using the under saddle lessons to calm and focus him. After twice the time that it took Turtle to cross the creek, she to was able to cross as well. The woman where thrilled with their progress but questioned this at our next session. "Why," they asked "was a horse with so much "go" like Hare not able to navigate the creek as quickly as Turtle?" Quite simply, Turtle had way more practice at "go". When a horse like Hare is ridden, his rider is often more focused on keeping any cueing of forward to a minimum. After all the animal is champing at the bit to go right? Not in reality , no. The horse is so excited its energy is taken for having a "forward" so the rider never gets to practice "go". Riding him becomes more like popping a clutch in a car. On a horse like Turtle, since he is not moving "go" becomes what is practiced. The under saddle work that Hare got to work on was to focus and calm him so that eventually he would slow to a natural pace at which point true practice on "go" could happen. The amazing thing about this study of opposites is that they will reach the same level of training at roughly the same time. They just get to practice different areas of the lesson at different times. By the time Turtles mom had enough "go" to practice the under saddle exercises that Hares mom practiced near the beginning. Hares mom had enough "whoa" to practice exercises that developed Turtles "go". The result was two riding buddies on horses that rode together at what ever pace was dictated by their riders in all situations. The lesson learned was horses with energy may not have a go and horses with out go can achieve it with practice.

Monday, January 18, 2010

"Gives" a given?

Billy and I using gives for directional control...

What is a give? A give is the opposite of a brace. That seems fairly obvious right? But if you want the Lyons definition here it is: " a Give is no pull, not just neutral, and energy and movement in the direction you want to go" The kicker is, that a give can be asked for and given from any part of the horses body. Most of the time you will hear the word give in reference to the horses jaw. And you certainly want to teach a horse to not brace against your rein aids. But a give is also about controlling one piece of your horse. Can he give his hip? Can he give his right front foot? If you control just one piece of your horses body you control the horse. The hardest part for a rider to master is the simplicity of this concept and the ability to focus on just one piece of the horse at a time. It takes practice. We are always taught to ride the whole horse. We have two arms, two legs, a seat, a very busy brain, various artificial aids like bats, spurs and fancy bits. We also have supporting artificial aids like martingales, chambons, gouges, figure eight nose bands, and side reins. Whew, with all this going on its no wonder we cant understand why we aren't more successful with our horses. All that stuff should do its job right? Well, no actually. Imagine being as sensitive as we know horses are and being confronted with all that "noise" from all that stimulus. Its like being thrust into the middle of a Christmas sale a Macy's. I don't know about you, but the thought of a loud, crowded,holiday decorated mall makes me break out into a cold sweat.

So how do we learn this concept? Well, just like with our horses we should start were we are successful with it. Like say on the ground. In a good learning environment, with few distractions. There is plenty of time to test your new skill in more distracting locations but don't start there after all, you are learning( and teaching) a new skill.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Baby, its cold outside....


31 degrees and windy and she finally fluffs the coat! Whats funny is that when it warmed up to 40 degrees she was in the shade by the barn dozing!

Coastal "snow" aka heavy frost!

One inch of ice on the trough!