About 10 days ago I was asked if I wanted to participate in a small local clinic. The instructor travels over to a barn not far from me (in fact one where Irish lived for many years). I immediately jumped on it. I asked Cynthia if she wanted to take Irish and she agreed.
The clinic was on sunday so on Saturday we got everything ready. In the morning we loaded up the horses and headed over. I made sure that we were really early so that Steele would have a chance to adjust. He came off the trailer quite nicely. While he was definitely 'up' he walked beside me like a broke horse and went into his stall. Once the two of them were settled I had a chance to take Steele into the indoor arena and do some lunging. Once again he was a bit excited but lunged perfectly. He was quite entranced by the mirrors that ran along the far end. I let him have a wee sniff but then moved him away so he wouldn't get them dirty or bash into them.
Steele and I were 4th in the order of go (12). Irish went at 10 (he and Cynthia were stars but she'll have to do a guest blog post on that). I brought Steele in while the 11 o'clock rider was cooling down. He was definitely tenser with the saddle on. I did my best to convey 'calmness' but I'm not sure how successful I was. I talked a bit with Jane about where we were in the riding and that he tended to balk when uncertain and slam on the brakes. She did a bit of work on the ground and noted that he needed to keep his neck straight. I didn't really understand at first but as the lesson progress I realized what she meant (I'll return to this in a minute).
|as I mount up you can see that he's tense|
Steele was definitely tense when I got on and really not sure about this whole deal. Did I mention that the weather turned into a small hurricane of blowing winds and heavy rain? This did not help. As we walked around on a circle with Jane talking she kept reminding me to keep his neck straight. The reason for this became apparrent when Steele suddenly popped his shoulder and tried to spin in a different direction. The idea is that if his neck is aligned with his body then control of his direction and pace is much much easier. Saying this sounds like I got that idea immediately. I didn't. But Jane is a patient teacher and let me gradually come to this conclusion.
As the lesson carried on there were good moments where we were connecting.
And moments were we weren't:
There were quite a few moments where he would slam on the brakes and try to go the other way. I began to realize that if I kept his neck straight I could control this much better than my usual method of using my inside hand to lead him around. I started to ensure that my outside leg encouraged the turn while my outside hand did not let him turn his head left and pop out his shoulder. I wish I could describe that feeling of triumph when you realize something, put it into practice and it works.
What was really interesting was that it mostly happened when we were travelling counter clockwise (On the left rein). Which is also where I ran into this issue on the lunge. Hmm....
We went onto trot work and of course this issue resurfaced
|see- twisthing his neck and popping out his shoulder. I want to go left he wants to go right. |
|I'm doing a better job of keeping his neck straight so he's objecting and intverting. I need to tuck my tail more and not be grabbing so much |
Now to be honest, I'm not surprised that we ran into issues. I've been feeling them coming on. It's similar to the ground work. When it was new and I didn't push it was all fun and he didn't mind humouring me. Now I'm being more insistent on what I want and it's beginnng to feel like work. I am glad that it surfaced while I had expert help available. In case you're worried all he was being asked to do was to walk or trot a circle in a steady manner and from behind. Oh and steer. I get that he was a bit upset by the weather and situation but my goal is for him to figure out that no one dies because a situation is new. This requires me to be firm and clear in my expectations and to ride like I know what I'm doing.
As we progressed I got better and better and keeping my contact steady no matter what he was doing and ensuring that I was sending clear signals. This meant that when travelling on a left circle I had to ensure that my right leg was on at the middle of the short side to be clear that we were going left. There were a couple times when Steele found that I wouldn't left him turn right and he refused to turn left so we ended up halting at the wall with no where to go. This was critical time for me to make my point. He could not go right no matter what. So I gritted my teeth, kept my right leg on and, when necessary used my crop to tap (sometimes hard) on his right shoulder. When he turned I left him know immediately that that was the right answer.
As we went along at the trot that was, frankly, pretty awful, There were times when he spun away and my hands came up. Jane reminded me to keep them down but as I explained to her:
"I know intellectually that I need to keep my hands down. And I tell them that. But in the moment of the spook/spin they tell me to f&*# off."
Steele was not being 'bad'. He was demonstrating how he felt and what he thought we should be doing (leaving). It was my role as the rider to help him find the confidence he needed to tune in. I may have growled at him a few times to make a point but I was never angry or frustrated. This is what having a young horse is all about.
Jane kept up her quiet and confident instructions. She has patience, I'll give her that. I pride myself of being a student who tries 110% so I kept listening. And trying. All of sudden I riding this awesome floating trot. He was stretching into the bridle and moving up over his back. I had to smile.
It was fabulous. I knew it was in there (like I knew that there was a discussion coming).
We then headed up to circle by the mirror. It was pretty good. And then it wasn't. I believe that Steele was stressed, tired and having this horse in his personal space was the straw. He started slamming on the brakes and then half-rearing. Jane was instructing me to sit back, let go of the inside rein, keep the outside and ride forward. It was always by the mirror so I'm convinced he was not sore. At first I was a bit disconcerted but as we carried on I became more confident and thinking just walk on you silly pony. Which we did. I suddenly realized that by giving the inside rein I'm taking away his ability to brace and then rear. There's no restriction for him to fight so it's easier to get him forward. I put him forward a few times without any foolishness and stopped him around the corner and asked Jane if I had that right. She smiled and informed me that I did.
So we ended on that note. What I learned in this session:
- keep his neck straight and remember that the outside rein is not just for show.
- engage the hind legs and you engage the brain
- sit up and back when he balks, let go of that inside rein
- Keep my hands down. and down. damnit, put them down.
I have my homework and I want that floaty trot again.
Steele has just left Primary and is heading to Grade 1.