Trax and I had another lesson with MK on Saturday, and things went better than I ever could have imagined. Trax would probably say otherwise, but we truly made some good headway with him.
We started by discussing the prior week, including the trail clinic and my ride with Kim last Tuesday. I told him about Trax being so wound up at the clinic and about the facilitators assessment that the best thing for Trax is "take a step and settle- take another step and settle". MK totally agreed with her assessment and decided that from now on we are going to build off of that. We also talked about my need to relax, and slow down and changing the questions I asked of my horse. (See the link to The Confidence Blog on my post from Friday if you haven't already). I am not on a time schedule, this is not some reality TV show where I have to have my "job" completed by some certain deadline.
Then before we started any kind of training at all...we prayed. We first gave thanks for these wonderful animals that we have a chance to work with, then asked for calmness and serenity and good communication. We asked God to create that link between me and my horse, and help him to understand that he is safe with us. Lastly we asked him to keep us safe in our endeavors.
I can honestly say I will never ever ever, get on, or work with a horse again without doing this first. It made a huge difference in how I felt through out the entire session.
During the entire lesson there were huge chunks of snow and ice sliding off the roof and crashing onto the ground out side. Each time this happened Trax would jump from one side of the arena to the other. I know he thought that the Paint Horse Eating Monsters were just on the other side of the wall trying to get in and get him.
We started with lunging and I spent more time on it than I have lately. I started him going to the left, which he lately has fought me on. If he is going to fight on the left he will start on the left. I noticed last week that when lunging to the left he moves with his head facing the outside, which tells me that he is no even close to thinking about me. So I started giving him a bump with the lead asking him to pull that head in. We did that for a while, and MK said I was smart to catch that, and even smart to use it to get him to soften on the left from the ground. Then he showed me how Trax, is not moving in a straight line while in a circle. He is always trying to throw his butt to the outside. He took the lead from me and showed me how to fix that. He only does it to the left (no surprise there) so that is where we focused most of our attention. Then I took the lead back and worked on transitions. Trot to a walk, without me having to move my body in front of him. I wanted him to let down and walk on his own. He finally did and after a full circle at a walk I disengaged the hind and let him rest. MK said, "That is some good work, well done. " (yay!)
Then he took him back from me, we spent an hour at least working on the ground with him. I have been pushing him in a "spin" motion from the ground for a long time. MK showed me that I have been letting him do it incorrectly. The leg that I push from needs to cross in front. (No one told me that before ) so if I take my stick while pushing him and just lightly tap the back of the leg he will eventually put in in front and cross it over. First correct footfall gets a release. Not just a little release, but a great big long huge release, with lots of "Goodboys" and pets. Pretty soon he had him doing it a few times in a row all on his own. He said not to worry about getting that from the saddle. If I keep doing it from the ground until it is natural for him, he will do it all the time on his own.
Next was the flag on the stick, and a rope on a log, and jumping up and down waving our arms next to him. Just a ton of different things to desensitize him. MK says "This horse has a ton of buttons and we have to help him get rid of them" By time we were done he was standing quietly with his head down and relaxed. His eye was soft and he was breathing nicely. From now on- nothing less that 20 min of desensitizing before I get on him.
MK wanted me to try a different bit on him. He gave me an Avila twisted snaffle. It is twisted in the middle but smooth on the outer edges, so it is not rough on the corners of his mouth. It actually worked quite nicely, he didn't throw his head around with it, and was quite responsive.
I started with lateral bends left and right, then just walking to get him centered and relaxed. Then we walked the wall asking him for the vertical/lateral combo flex to the right. He gave it to me very well. The left was a different story but we worked on it, and he did start to give it to me. (Um big YAY!)
Then MK put a barrel in the middle and with his foot drew a circle around it. He asked me to use that as my guide and take him to the left, asking him to give to the left and using my inside leg to drive him out. Then he said ,"Stop poking that horse with your spurs!" (oops) He told me to use my calf for pressure and if that didn't get the response then just gently roll the spur onto his side. THAT got an instant and smooth response.
At one point he told me that my riding posture was perfect. I literally busted out laughing because the first thought that came to mind was...yep you guessed it..."Tits to the Sky!" I never did tell him what I was laughing about. He is a religious man and I didn't want to embarrass him.
So we were making some great progress there, and moved on to a few spin type steps. He told me I can ask for a "two track" for a step then ask for the spin step and sure enough he crossed over correctly. I never asked for more than one step at a time without a rest and he did so good.
After that we tried the bridge which is next to a bunch of mirrors and right next to the wall where the snow was crashing around outside. We did try getting him to settle there, but I could feel that he never really did. He was always preparing to bolt and had no intention of going over that bridge. We weren't getting anywhere so I got off and lead him over the bridge back and forth several times. At one point I asked him to just stand on it, but soon realized that it was teeter-tottering and when it did that he jumped off the side. Can't say that I blame him there. Then we rode over it several times. I apologized to MK for cheating, he said, "If it works then it isn't cheating. You helped him make the connection and that is all that counts."
Next task was to side pass over some logs in an L shape. He really did very well with this, especially when I had to move his butt around the corner. A few times I had to push him back into place when he tried to go to far forward or back, but for the most part he nailed it.
At that point, MK's next student had arrived and so we called it a day. I walked away feeling like really really accomplished so much, and I really have some good foundation to work on for the rest of the week.
TC is going to be gone all week, and the weather is going to be nice, so there is no reason why I can't get in a few rides at the very least.
We talked about the upcoming clinics (reining and western) and I have made the decision not to take Trax to those clinics. To bring in another training style at this point for him would be counterproductive, but I will take Killian so that I can learn what the classes themselves are all about.
So all in all, it was a great great day, my horse came home calm and relaxed and I never once had to run him into the ground first.
Now it is time for me to get dressed and go feed and clean stalls.