Thursday, January 20, 2011

Back in the Saddle Day 2

Proud to report that yesterday was our "best ride in a while"

....yes, I still lunged her...

... and yes she still had some ace coursing through her veins...

BUT we had a great ride!  (assuming the new standard of "great" that includes no bucking and no falling...) 

Frankly I'll take it. and I'll be darn proud of us for it. 

There were a few things stacked against us.  First of all, when I do ace the beast, I don't ace her until after our lunge session.  So I walked her into the ring cocktail free,  Which was good.  Our friend Zorra (cute mare) was working nicely at the far end and P seemed content to allow her to proceed.  Of course, just as I was getting ready to send Pia out on the line a monster truck and monster (horse eating) trailer came down the driveway and proceeded to unload (what Pia could only assume) was an angry devilish mare who was surely sent to steal Pia's dinner. 

Pia (bless her), took it upon herself to giraffe neck above the arena walls (don't worry mom... I can SEE this devilish beast... I'll let you know if we have to RUN). I let her look, but I did make her stand totally still.  I know I should have made her ignore it... but with one mystery mare unloading and one working in the ring, I didn't want to risk P having a conniption and spooking either other horse.. So I accepted the giraffe neck/periscope imitation.

Fortunately, the new mare simply ambled off the trailer and ambled into the barn without batting an eyelash.  (edit: The BO brought this Sweedish Amorex mare in as a potential lease/buy option for another gal at the barn, but I think she secretly wants this to be a Pia v2.0.  She's a cute mare, sort of a bigger, uglier version of P.. but still has a really sweet face. I think maybe her movement makes up for her big head). 

After the possible invader/dinner thief was out of sight, Pia went right to work and behaved nicely on the lunge.  No excess energy, pretty relaxed.  Easy cantering, easy trotting, easy...

But then our buddy Zorra left and that was (apparently) unacceptable.  P got a little spooky, and quick and head-tossy.  So we REALLY went to work (WWSMD - what would supermom do..). Pia went forward, and her circle got smaller until she was listening again... I was a little annoyed that our outburst happened toward the end of our lunging session, as I didn't want to run the mare's legs off, but I didn't want to deal with her big eyeballs popping out of her head or her crazy antics.  My compromise was to lunge a bit longer and to still give her a tick of ace before hopping on.

Once on, I repeated my strategy of moving right into the trot, which worked (mostly), though P was really stuck behind my leg.  I used some increase/decrease to get her up and adjusting but she wasn't what I would call "moving freely."  We popped into the canter (no bucks!) and worked that.  back to the trot... back to the canter... back to the trot.. etc.

P finally got forward, and I felt like she was actually holding contact in my outside rein (concept!).  I should mention that I switched her bit (again) to a french link snaffle.  It's a bit thinner than the other snaffle's I've put her in, but I think I like it.  She doesn't seem to be avoiding contact, which was a concern.. and she does seem to still have breaks (also a concern...).  I don't think her bit is the biggest factor, but I do think that this one might actually be contributing in a positive way, unlike our disastrous golden wings...

We worked some leg yields, utilizing circles along the way to help maintain forward momentum and keep the mare supple.  Basically we'd turn up the quarter line, leg yield to the wall, then as soon as we hit, we'd do a 15 meter circle, but shrink it so we returned to the quarter line and leg yield back to the wall.  I'm not sure how to better explain it except that the leg yield --> soft loop.... leg yield --> soft loop sequencing seemed to give us a nice rhythm.  We worked that on both sides, then returned to our canter work and did some nice hand gallops. 

Pia's canter has been oddly balanced this week (I'm not complaining) and I'm not sure what to ascribe it to.  Post Supermom, she's accepting my aids better (or maybe I'm just less scared to use them) and I am definitely supporting her more with my legs and taking a shorter rein.  Those changes along with some serious SMACKING with the whip have given us back our 10-12 meter canter circles.  This meant we got to gallop (kinda) and collect up to small circles the gallop forward out of them.

I'd be lying if I said that this was an easy exercise.  I know that P did most of the work, but I have not worked that hard on a horse in a long time.  Between squeezing and pumping and driving her forward and trying to lift her up with my legs and abs when bringing her back, I was panting almost as hard as the mare when we were done.  I mean wow.  It took some serious riding.

The great news? I could kick and drive and whap her with the stick without any hints of bucking or hunchy back.  We even had moments of balance between falling on our forehand and breaking to the trot.  Supermom had suggested that we utilize some hand gallop/canter extensions in our "forward" attitude and I think she's right.  Though it was hard to get P moving out and forward, once I did, I had a lot more adjustability to work with.

We finished with some nice flowing trot work (shallow loops and serpentines) with a final stretchy trot circle.  For our flowy trot I kept her a little more upright and asked her to stay "forward" but more compact than I usually ask for and really cooperated quite nicely!

Our only negatives?  I had to ride the crap out of her.  Pia still isn't offering anything or responding with quick, light movement.  Lots of kicking, and whapping with the whip.  Lots of small tight circles with lots of kicking/beating when she ignores me.  They work, but they are disruptive and take a lot of work.  Not only in the kick/whip/spin/leg/kick/whip sense, but also in the sense that I really need to be getting to that response faster and eliminating P's perception that she can choose not to listen the first, second, or third time that I ask for something.

All in all, it was a better ride than Tuesday, so that's good.  But we still have some obedience issues going on.  I'm confident that I can handle them if they stay at this level.  Also good news? There's no way that she was under the influence of her Ace for our whole ride.  So I'm pretty sure that her softness and stretching at the end was honest and not the result of her cocktail...

I officially give the mare a GOLD STAR for the day.  Maybe, just maybe some of this could be the Regu-Mate?? only time will tell..


  1. I see nothing wrong with letting a horse stop and look at something. In my experience if you force a horse past something that is scaring them and they hear a noise behind them that's just a reason to spook. I like to let them look and then if they hear something normally they won't spook because they know what made the noise.

    As for the ignoring the cues you could go about it two ways. The first method is what I would have done a long time ago before I was introduced to clicker training. Since she's ignoring your aids you can use your leg (with the amount of pressure you eventually want her listening to - not kicking), if she doesn't listen tickle her with the whip, if that still doesn't work smack her hard with the whip. Hard enough that you know it will get her attention. If you keep kicking and kicking before you resort to the whip you are just desensitizing her to leg aids.

    That was the old method I used. Now what I would do is get back on the ground and teach a go forward cue with clicker training. You don't even have to use a clicker. Just tap her gently with the whip and wait (don't tap harder or anything - just be patient). As soon as she goes forward click and treat. Once you have it good on the ground then mount up and do the same. Give a nudge with your leg and wait. Once she goes forward give her a treat. Eventually she will like going forward because she will have built a positive association to it. It can be a lot of work, but I think in the end it builds a better work ethic.

    Keep in mind Chrome is the first horse I've clicker trained (although I've used it on dogs before) so I'm in no way an expert and I haven't used it under saddle yet. There are a lot of people who have though with a lot of success.

    Whatever route you choose I hope you get it sorted out. It's no fun having a dull and/or obstinate horse. It can really take the fun out of riding. I'm glad today was a gold star ride. Keep up the good work!!

  2. Sounds like a good start. Once you get Pia firmly associating leg with forward NOW, you should be able to tone it down. Izzy and I had a pretty stern session on that earlier this week and she was much improved today. Still not 100%, but much better. You and Pia are way quicker than we are, so you'll get there with bells on, I'm sure.

  3. Wow, it sounds like things are really headed in the right direction. A clinician once said to me "it has to be ugly before it gets pretty," and those words have stuck with me. Sometimes you have to have a few not-so-pretty rides before you get a nice smooth one. It sounds like you are really making progress with her though. Could be the regu-mate, could be the ace, could be you riding her more assertively and confidently. My guess is a combination of the three.

    As for the "UP PERISCOPE" reaction... all too familiar. Tucker and I call that the "Drama Llama."

  4. Sounds like some good progress going on. I have to agree with Marissa that it probably is a combination of all three things. I hope things keep going well and just get better for you!


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