Monday, May 26, 2014

Its All About the Shoulders

A came over again this morning with a great idea for Princess Mellypalouza.   Instead of having her stop over the logs which freak her out if her feet touch them, lets start with something a little easier to handle.

Something like a spray painted line.

Pure genius I say.

Before we did that I wanted to establish a little more control so we did things like asking her to stand in the gate, lunged her on a long line.  Moved her hind end, and attempted to side pass her from the ground.

With some serious physical pushing I almost got a step or two with that side passing, but there was not any real licking or chewing, just tight lips and "I only did this because you slapped me on the neck."  It wasn't the control I was looking for, but when she gave me a step or two in each direction, I went ahead and stopped there.

Then A sprayed the lines and I worked on driving her over the lines.

Anyone who knows their ground work is probably guessing that our success was limited.   I would drive her over and she would just barely go over the end of the line, if at all, because she kept falling in on me.    She was able to do so even though I was trying to use my energy to push her back towards the fence.   There is a reason for this, which I will get to in a minute.

I went back to leading her over the lines but she just jumped around them. If I tried to stay beside her she just ran me over.  I wish I could say I was surprised but I wasn't.

I was starting to have flashbacks of a certain paint horse I gave away.  A certain paint mare that was very very dominant, and although I was eventually able to gain more control over that mares feet than anyone ever had, it was a long long haul for sure.

I moved to the outside of the fence and relatively quickly we had her walking over the painted lines without rushing.  I was happy with that, but I knew we were not done for the day.

Suddenly all the things that Jay had taught me about ground work was coming back.

"Horses dominate with their shoulder:

"If you cannot control that shoulder you've got nothing."

"Draw the imaginary line of your bubble and don't let her cross it unless you invite her in."

So I went in and dug deep into my memory banks and tried to remember exactly what we had done first in that situation.

I started with the hind end.  I asked her to disengage the hind end quickly and smoothly without just trying to keep me in her eye.  She did really well with that.  I actually wasn't positive that she did, but A was watching and said that she kept her body in position the entire time, so that was good.

Then I used my lead line and asked her to move her front end across. She just stood there.  Then I suggested by asking with my lead and raising my stick up by her neck. She did not move.  So I insisted by giving her a very small smack on the side of the neck.  She stepped across, I released my pressure and she started licking and chewing.    Good Girl!

We repeated the other direction and it was the exact same thing. It took me insisting to get the result I wanted.  But she licked and chewed when it was done.

I switched again. This time I asked and she gave...both ways.  I was very happy with that. We did it a few more times.

So then I went back to her side and asked for that side pass again.  I use my hand by her eye and my other hand with my stick, but without using the stick to touch her, and asked her to step away. While I can get that hind end to move pretty easily, her front feet were planted like the roots of an oak tree.

I suggested by getting a little stronger with my energy. She gave me nothing.

I insisted by smacking her on the neck with my left hand and smacking the side of her belly with my stick.  She gave me nothing.

I smacked harder, she gave me nothing.

I did it again even harder, and finally she took a step.

Her lips were clamped down like the jaws of death.

Clearly she was only giving because I pushed her.

We did it again, and again, until she finally gave me one little attempt without me having to tough her.

Then I tried the other side, it was like the repeat performance, and while she did finally relent, her mouth never softened, and it was never easy.

I turned to A and told her, "There it is, the root of the entire problem with her.  I don't have good control  of her shoulder.  In fact I have almost no control of her shoulder."

She said that she saw it too.

As we were talking, Miss Melody came and stood right on top of me.

While it is easy to say, "Aw look how sweet she is."  I am recognizing now that she is not being friendly, she is dominating me.   It is so easy to fall into that, "Awwww" mentality too, because when she does it, she is so sweet about it....until of course we get into an argument, then she uses every bit of that dominance backed by the extra thousand pounds she has on me to get her way.

So I used something that Jay had taught me long ago, but I had forgotten about until A showed me again the other day.  Use your energy to back her up.

You use the lead line to transmit the energy.  Wiggle the lead equals "ask"  Of course you also use your shoulders and a voice command (It took me a minute to remember that part of it).  If they don't respond you get bigger with your "suggestion", if they still don't respond you pop that lead rope until they do.  The minute they take a step back, you release. That is the key (which I know most of my readers already know)  If you don't release then all you are teaching the wrong concept.

So we working on this.  This exercise did more for us than anything else we have worked on.  It took several tries, but the minute I was able to get her to take a step back by just suggesting, we called it a day.  When we were done, her head was low, her eye was soft, she was the epitome of, "I give but I don't give up."

When we left the round pen I asked her to stand quietly in the gate, and she did it like the grown up girl that she is.  I petted her and loved on her right there and she loved every minute of it.

She is learning the "I can touch you, but you can't touch me" concept.

Then she got to back out to pasture with her buddy Trax.

So here are my thoughts on Melody.  Melody is a good girl who has spent the last 7 years being handled by a young girl.  This girl probably let her get away with a lot.  It all goes right back to the concept of "Be the leader, or get out of the way."  She did not have a leader so she became the leader. So now she came here and expects it to be the same way.  However, as I establish to her, than I am in fact the leader, she is starting to trust me more when I say, "Hey go ahead and stand in this gate. I know it bothers you but I promise I will keep you safe."    I think this is going to be huge in teaching her to deal with trail obstacles, and life in general. Once she trusts me, she will be more willing....that is the plan anyway.  It seems like a good plan right now, of course with me, all plans are subject to change on a minute by minute basis.

Tonight, one of my grandsons girlfriends, who does barrels and western pleasure with her horses, is coming out to ride with me. I told her I'd let her ride my "Show horse" for a while if she wanted.  I have seen her ride, I know she can handle it.  I will ride Trax.  It will be fun to have some one to ride with.


  1. You know, you just made me think of something... I have seen a simple change in energy get results during groundwork, even though the exact same techniques were used in each attempt. I spent some time last year working with a friend on this, because she wasn't getting any results with Rock, and he only responds to strong energy. Anyway, I'll bet the reason why my horse trainer gets such good results from the saddle is his energy. I tend to relax during trail rides and only get my energy up when the horse misbehaves. I'll bet if I concentrate on keeping my energy focused, I'll get better results from the saddle too. Have fun on your ride.

  2. Good session. One thing you might try when asking for the shoulder over is where you cue; not so much on the neck but on the part you want to move- her front feet. Point the stick at her knees and if she doesn't move those legs get to tapping with it.

  3. Sounds like you had a productive session with her and remembered a lot of valuable lessons. Not just valuable to you... to me too!! I have also recently realized I have almost no control over Chrome's shoulders and that I've let him get away with crowding me because of the "aww he's so cute" thing (it's hard when you've have them since they were five months old to think of them as grown up horses lol). So thanks for this post! It gives me things to think about and work on with Chrome. He's not being rude about it... in fact half the time I'm not totally sure he realizes what he's doing, but I also think he's getting VERY close to realizing he can control me with his weight and I do NOT want him making that realization... so yeah it's boot camp time lol. :)

  4. I read your post earlier today and thought about it a lot as I walked my goofy mule tonight. He was all looky-loo and kept forgetting I was there, so I did a lot of backing to keep him in place next to me, and some strategic elbow flapping and/or jabbing when he shouldered toward or into me. Nothing terrible on his part but I really concentrated on his body placement next to me, thanks in part to your post. They like to have boundaries, even if there is a coyote next door or his buddy got too far ahead. It makes me feel better to read how you're having challenges with your new one as well. I'm not alone in the world!

  5. sounds like a good plan and a decent session. I like the "be the leader "comment , the way I heard it was "lead ,follow or get the f out of my way" I learned some tricks on that Dan James clinic , that would work here I think, funny it was the hardest part I had to learn because since I raised "whoa Dammit" she is already repectful of my space and doesn't drop her shoulder on me, but my uncles mare did and all of a sudden that skill poped into my head and I was thinking "Dang! now I get it !"

  6. Sounds like you helped your horse make great progress :) Hope you had a great ride!

  7. Youll get her figured out, and totally makes sense she was the leader when noone else was, pretty hard for her to go back to you being the leader but it sounds like a step in the right direction

  8. Small suggestion on the lines. Instead of painting them, use flour. It will be enviro friendly and is just as easy to put down. It's what one of the clubs used for lines in their trail and gymkhana classes. Cheap too!

    I know about those resistance issues. I'm having them right now with the WB mare. Seems every session in the long lines begins with not just a fight, but an all out WAR! When she finally relents- she does everything as pretty as can be. Such a shrew in that respect.