Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Phone Call

I got a text today from my friend and former trainer, Jay.

He asked me to call him tonight so we could discuss the "incident".

I was pretty sure he was going to yell at me, but he didn't.   He actually just wanted give me some things to do to fix this problem, rather than just putting a band aide on it, which is basically what I have done in the past.

I think I underestimated just how deep this fear ran, and just how deep this horse can and will check out if he needs too.  You see, I have managed to convince him that "I" won't hurt him with a rope, but I did not ever take the time to show him that ropes are not the enemy.  I also never took the time to address his issues with having something crashing around behind him.

Case in point:  You might recall this day when riding with BEC and Simon, when he put a stick in my eye because the other horses were right on his butt, and he was in a very narrow ditch with no place to go but forward.

So before we drag a single anything we go back to the round pen, and I learn how to rope.  I don't have to be good at it, just good enough to rope my saddle horn, hopefully catch his foot, bump his butt with it, just do all kinds of big scary things with a rope.   I have got to get more comfortable with it.

I may have to get help with this part.  Luckily there are no shortages of ropers in my neighborhood.

What he said is that at some point in time I am going to have to let him get all wrapped up in that rope in a controlled and safe situation, and then let him unwind himself out of it without just running away. But first I have to start small, and just let him get to the point of being okay with it flopping around all over him and walking around and not giving a dang.  Then we move to the bigger stuff. When I can ask him to walk out, and wrap a rope around his foot or his butt or where ever and not have him react at all, then I can take it further. So no, I am not just going to go in there and tie him up in knots and say, "there ya go, now get out of it." Baby steps will be the key!

The next thing I have to do is (CNJ will appreciate this as she has mentioned it herself) to two rein drive him from the ground, and I have to do it until it means nothing to him.  Until he is okay with stuff going on behind him, it will not be safe to drag anything....period.  He said until I can get into either eye (of his) from either side and not have him bolt, then he isn't ready.

He did say that he could come down and have us dragging stuff in 15 minutes, but that the deep seated fear would still be there, and we have to get to the core of it if I am going to help this horse.  Because fear that deep will rise to the surface at the most in opportune moments.  Even if I do all of this, there is always a chance that it will resurface, but the more things we address now, the more confidence I can build in him, the better it will be and the easier it will be to bring him back if he gets scared again.

Oh how I wish he could come down and help me with this!  Jay is gifted.  But Jay is also very busy and hardly has time for his own horses, much less my crazy old paint.

So there it is, and I trust Jay when he tells me what to do, and when he says no short cuts, I will believe him.  This means we will not be competing at the next stock horse show...or at the very least, we will not attempt the log drag. I'd rather take the penalty.   I am still on the fence if we will even do the next clinic...saving that decision for the day before.

I did ride today and he is doing pretty good.  It was not an eventful ride, which is always good.  Nothing to write home about either, but we had just a very small amount of time so I was careful not to get into anything that could turn into an argument.   My time was cut short because TC's grand daughters were there and wanted to ride Killian.  Far be it from me to turn down a little girl who wants to ride.   Killian was not on his best behavior and so I ended up tuning him up for a few minutes after they were done.  Not that he was bad, but he could of been better.  Plus he was saddled and had not been ridden in over a week. So I rode him for a bit, and then got Trax out and mostly just trotted around, moved his shoulders back and forth did some lead change work and of course....lots and lots  of stopping.

Oh and we did start with the round pen again. I think we are going to keep with the round pen warm up for a while.  It really gives me a chance to move him and control him. More so than on the end of the long line.  Seems strange I know, but with the fence around him my energy means more.  With him on the end of the rope and me pushing my energy at his hip it is too easy for him to just fall out, move backwards and let that energy float on by.   This way he has to give in to it, and today it took a whole lot less time for him to lock on to me, and for me to draw him in.

Once I draw him in, I mentally break him into sections and then move those sections of his body.  It was interesting today because at one point I was moving his shoulder (without touching him) across, away from me and he kept wanting to flip his butt onto me, so I would turn and literally glare at his back leg and it was like he could feel it because he would move it away again.   I kind of had to back my energy off a little on his shoulder so he could move easier.  At one point we did a full circle, pivot on the hind while I pushed his shoulder...and never touched him once.   That was a first and I was quite pleased with him.

What I see is that in order to move forward with Trax I'm going to have to back up.  I have a tendency to short cut the ground work with Trax because I get so focused on what I want to teach him while riding.  I lost sight of the basics, and since they have never been deeply ingrained in his mind, it leaves room for holes.  This does not mean that I'm going to stop riding in lieu of ground work, it just means that I'm going to have to do both.

One thing Jay and I talked about was the lead changes.  I told him about how yesterday Trax was trying so hard to please me, that sometimes when I asked him to break down to a trot just long enough to change leads, a couple of times he just stopped dead in his tracks.   Jay asked what I did, when he did that.   I praised the hell out of him, because to me, that stop meant that he was working hard and trying to pay attention. That stop is a million times more important to me than any lead change.

He said, "Good girl, you are getting it."

I'm feeling okay about my horse and our future.  I'm not silly enough to believe that we are going to have a stellar career in anything, but I think I can at least get him to a point where he is safe...and fun, to ride.

*If anyone reading this would like a better understanding of what I mean when I talk about using my energy to move my horse, I strongly urge you to get your hands on some Dennis Reis video's.  He is the master at this. It changes your round pen from just a place to run your horse in circles and turns it into a tool and a great classroom.  It is a complete different approach to "lunging" your horse.  Not that other people don't do similar stuff, but I just love the way he explains it.


  1. I am short on time, but, I am glad to read this. This is a good approach!! One other thing to keep in mind, beware the mindset that says you can't "let the horse win". As soon as you go there in your mind, you are in an adversarial position with your horse and have already lost ground. I hope that makes sense, if not I'll try to express the thought better later. Keep up the good work.

    1. I totally agree. My post about the 11th commandment a while back was sort of a spin off of what Michael Johnson writes about, but even in his story, he is poking fun of that mentality. We are on the same team, not opposites, and the goal is to work together, not against each other. But it was good that you reminded me of that. I have been known to "go there".

  2. That sounds like some good advice from Jay. I'm glad to hear you will be proofing the heck out of Trax with ropes before you get back on with them. It's not just competition stuff, but what if he gets caught up in wire or old rope or something out riding? You need to know he will handle it and stop for you no matter what. Bolting (and rearing) are two things that are really just too dangerous in an already dangerous hobby.

  3. Great advice from Kay- and it looks like you've discovered the secret of horse training, that to advance you often have to go back to basics and re establish the foundation. When I was learning all this stuff my mentor, Walt Vermadahl, always started his colts with rope work; around the neck, the cinch area, the flank, each foot etc. and would have the colt leading well from any part of it's body before it ever had a saddle on. He also drove the colt from the back of his riding horse, a skill that I never mastered!
    I think you are well on your way to making a good horse out of Trax. Love your attitude.

  4. Jay is right. He can fix it for you, but it will only be fixed between him and Trax. You can fix it for a while, but whenever they feel threatened- they regress. Gotta go with what you know... If it worked before, they will try it again at some point and you will never get it all the way out of their mind. It may lay there suppressed for years by what they have learned, but it will always be there in the far depths of the back of their mind. It rarely, truly ever goes away. He has to work through his own inner demons, just like the rest of us. Better to let them do it from the ground.

    There is sooooo much here to expand on ground driving. I don't want to take up a whole bunch of space though. If you want to borrow my surcingle and lines, let me know. Also I have a couple of different sizes of French link snaffles if you want to try one of those too. I believe one is a 5" the other I know is a 6" mouth. I can also stop by sometime and give you some tips on things if you'd like.

    1. I would like that CNJ, I don't have any real experience with it, and could use some help from someone who does.