Monday, January 20, 2014

Applying What We Learned

I spent the majority of the night laying in bed planning out today's ride.  I knew exactly what we were going to work on and how we were going to accomplish it.

Well I know you all know about "The best laid plans"

We warmed up in our usual manner only this time I made sure that the circles were of my choosing, not his.  It was all going along smoothly.  I was impressed with my horse and with myself.  So I decided to move on to something else.

The imaginary flag.

And that is when everything fell apart.

I thought that maybe if I gave him a little more room to execute this exercise we might would do better.  I was so wrong.

We worked across one end of the arena,  trot or lope forward then stop, then back 5 or 6 steps, turn the head, push the shoulder and ride him out of it.

In a matter of minutes I had a pissed off horse, which in turn pissed me off and the next thing I knew we were racing around the arena out of control, at a high rate of speed.  Think 500 mph.

I was mad.

He was mad.

And it got us no where.

So I drove him hard.  I mean really hard.  I went from letting him take me around at his choice of speed and I laid into him and made him go go go go.  He was asking to slow down and I wouldn't let him.  If he even thought about it I would squeeze again and keep him going.

During that time a million things went through my head.

"I hate this horse"

"This is ridiculous"

"We are never going to get this"

"I'm going to sell him"

"That's crazy- who would want him"

"You are just letting your anger get the best of you"

I was crying and could barely see where I was going anymore

"I can't do this"

"I don't have what it takes"

"Yes you do"

"You love this horse"

"I do love my horse"

"He was trying- you put it on him to fast"

"Make your messages clear"

"I don't know how"

"Yes you do, break it down"

"Okay, I can try"

"Do for this horse, what no one else has ever been able to do"

"You made a promise to him."

"I remember"

"Then follow through"


Then we walked.

As we walked I bumped my reins with my hands to make him drop his head.  As soon as he did I released. The second he raised his head I did it again.  And we did this over and over and over again until he started walking with his head down some.

Then one of the times I was bumping I threw in a whoa, tried to quit riding, and then immediately asked him to back up. After the back up we would execute the turn and do it again.  

This became our drill for the day, only we did it slow. Very very slow.   Walk 20- 40 feet- stop, back up 10 feet- execute the turn- start again.

I changed the distance we walked each time because he likes to anticipate rather than waiting for my cue.   I always tried to wait until he had his head down to ask for the stop.  It helped him stop.

And then he did it.

A dead stop and two steps back on his own.

I felt a glimmer of hope.

We kept going. In the other direction (towards the open end) he still fought me, so we kept going until he didn't. I worked hard on envisioning the stop, convincing myself that we were going to stop, riding for the stop instead of bracing for the fight.  When I could do all those things, it worked.

Finally after what seemed like an eternity he gave me a dead stop in both directions.

I breathed a long sigh of relief.

He was getting it.

So we rode out the arena and down the road.  All we did was walk and I kept asking for his head down and he kept giving it to me, and ever so often I would ask for the stop.

What I found though is that he is still anticipating the "ride out" afterwards.   So we worked on just standing still after the back up.

We went all the way around the block. Most of it was good, some if it wasn't, but if it wasn't we did it again, and again until he got it right.

Now here is where I found myself wondering how do I connect in his brain the bump bump bump back on the reins with a lift of the reins.  I mean he is super soft on that bump, but a lift still gets a lift.  I don't know how to transition from one to the other.  I tried moving my hands down the rein, lifting and bumping at the same time.  A couple of times I got the right reaction and released immediately, but it wasn't consistent.

I still don't have my answer, but I'll find it eventually.

So we kept going. The minute we turned back down our street things started to fall apart again. I swear it took us longer to get down our road than it did for the rest of the ride.

But when we turned towards the drive we stopped and backed up one more and it was instantaneous and smooth and I called it good.

When I got off his chin was all red and I thought he was bleeding, but it was just the dye from the leather and his sweat.  He was really sweaty.  He got a nice hose down, a roll in the pasture, and a snack.

He worked really hard- I worked really hard, and it took us a long time but we made some progress.

Now it is time to go to work.


  1. I'm glad I'm not the only one who gets discouraged sometimes. Sounds like you made some great progress!

    1. I really think we did least I hope we did. He worked hard today and so I am going to give him the day off tomorrow and ride Killian instead. Then the day after we will go back to it.

      And yes I really get discouraged...a lot!

  2. You know what? I really like reading your blog and I really, really like your honesty. Keep with it and don't give up on either of you. You're already making progress :)

    1. Thanks Laura, I do try to stay honest, although like some others have said sometimes I am over critical of myself and my horse. It was kind of hard today to admit that I got so mad at him. But really this horse frustrates me to no end and just when I think there is no hope for him....he gets it. He does it to me all the time. And then I fall in love with him all over again.

  3. You worked through it. And you succeeded. Small gains now will pay big dividends later. And don't worry about the lift of the reins- if it's working the other way just stay with that until he is really, really consistent, then you can increase your expectations. Good job!

  4. Welcome to the wonderful world of horse training darlin!!! Sometimes it's just flat out u.g.l.y!!

    Sometimes anger is a tool. Use it, like you did and then let it go. There is nothing wrong with that and nothing to be worried about admitting to.

    I don't quite understand about the hand thing. Could be your just lifting them too high and lifting him out of the bit. Might try asking him to give, get the give and then lift your hands up. I dunno if you have ever milked a cow, but if you have, you know that you grab the teat at the top and roll your fingers down. When asking a horse to soften and break, it's the same maneuver, just in reverse. You curl your hands in from the pinkie up and when they are curled around the rein and the horse 'gives', then you flex your wrist and lift.

    And a tiny suggestion...No day off! If you made progress, do it again the day after. Now you know that the lope, stop, back is too much. Just do a day of walk, stop, back and see if you can start getting it fixed in his mind. I always believe you can get a horse to do anything, once!, it's usually days 2-5 where they will test you (you were on day 2 ;-)...and after that, it starts to become fixed in their mind that, Yes, this really is how it is going to be from now on. Especially on a mature horse like Trax.

    1. Okay, you just answered my question that I was going to email you about. When I ask for the flex I just bump with my pinkie, so I just need to add that flex of my wrist and lift.

      No days off. Okay if I can make it happen I will.

  5. I dont think Trax made as much progress as you did.

    For the first time I read the words of a leader. Not someone who was waffling because they didnt believe in themselves.

    Thats the difference. A good horse will follow a confident leader. and you got that today.

    Dont give up your leader status - you deserve it.


  6. I agree with Feral, you did very well today, the anger is what it is , and it helped you get your head on straight , cool! I see what you meant in your reply to my comment from yesterday . Well done

  7. I will agree with what Feral, Fern and BEC's said. They want a leader and can size us up in nothing flat, be it on the ground, in the saddle or strapped to a cart. They have us pegged and he thought he did too. And then you went and changed it up on him... and he responded well to that. Yay Trax, Yay You!

    Sometimes it takes a bit of getting fed up, pissed off and letting the inner bitch out. You decide things aren't going like you want and decide to make some changes. When he gave in, you released him (reward) and said it is ok. My mare and her tantrum the other day was no different. Yours ran, mine bucked. You pushed him and made him keep running rather than giving in to the fear and letting him 'win'. What came afterwards was your horse behaving and straightening up like he should. He put on his big kid pants and minded his manners.

    I wouldn't give him the day off either. Make him work again and make it solid in his mind that this is what you want, the way it will be and you will accept nothing less. A few days in and he will likely challenge you again. This time you know and will be ready for it. If you feel him starting to bunch himself up, getting ready to blow-> stop, walk it off and let it go for a minute, then try again. No harm, no foul. Take a deep breath and try it again.

    You handled it well. It's easy to get caught up in the anger, the frustration and whoop the ever lovin' snot out of them, but you didn't. You changed his mind about running off, changed his mind about how to stop and changed his mind about you being a leader or a passenger. It's not always an easy road, and I promise it won't always be a hard one either. Small steps, small victories and you will get there in the end. Definitely earning your stripes there girl!

    1. Thanks! I didn't get to ride today like I had planned. Too many other things got in the way. Such is the way it is in my world. Hopefully tomorrow.

  8. Oh man, I'm pretty sure I've had that exact same conversation running through my head and I'm pretty sure it'll happen again as soon as I can start riding on a regular basis. My gelding has had too much time off and he's going to be a pig when we get going again. Hopefully I'll handle it as well as you did, take it back to basics and keep after him until I get what I want. About the lift- Jane Savoie says to teach a horse to move at the slightest leg aid you have to start with the slightest leg aid, if you get nothing then bump, if you still get nothing tap with the whip until the horse moves, then start again at the beginning until the horse moves at the slight leg aid. Maybe you can use a similar concept?