Saturday, May 9, 2009

May 7-8 A word on bandaid solutions

Well I only have two days' worth of sessions amassed since my last post to slap up onto this enjoy!

*sigh* The bigass mare is taking longer than I had hoped to get her working nicely under-saddle but I feel that I have made the most of my time with her - I honestly cannot see where I could have pushed her any further without pushing her over the edge like some death-seeking lemming. I am no lemming either and so there was no way I was throwing myself onto the back of a horse that was already explosive on the ground. I call her BAM (bigass mare) for very good reason. So back to the story. She was too reactive to ride May 7th (wind was blowing, cougars were pouncing, you know how it goes) so we left our first official ride to yesterday! She was fabulous at all her games (including circling at the trot with little direction on my part) and also the figure-8 (walk on the 12' line) so we saddled up and rode around the arena. My heart definitely did pop out of my chest a couple of times when I felt her bum scoot beneath me but she handled everything beautifully! She was a little nervous however I continued talking to her soothingly (do not underestimate the effect of your voice on a horse!) and use very quiet aids and we completed several laps of the arena in either direction (at the walk) and practised some direct/indirect rein and back-up. We finished with a quiet and relaxed lip-licking horse. No victory for the lemmings today.

His owner let Mustachio and his pony buddies roam several pastures so I've had to herd them into the smaller pens prior to each session. Yesterday though he allowed me to approach him without much to-do after a couple of tries and he even walked up to me loose after I turned him loose after our session and walked away to open the appropriate gates, so I was pretty impressed! He is definitely coming around. We have been getting in all 7 games (including the circling game at the trot) and he is overall increasingly calmer after each session. Last session we also worked on developing a "sweet spot"...draping my arm and the lead over his back (simulating things such as a saddle over his back) and keeping him relaxed...resting in our "sweet spot" to encourage him to think of having things over his back and my standing in that area as relaxing. My goal is to have him under-saddle (walking) by the end of next week. Still some rope work and desensitizing to go yet before that happens though.

Vienna and Havanna
The two girls are progressing much quicker than I had anticipated, hence the extra day off for them today. Their figure-8 pattern and 7 games have been going well (sideways is still a little sticky but it's coming). We saddled up the last session and took a couple of tours around the arena working on halt-walk-halt transitions, figure-8 pattern (read: bending, suppling), indirect/direct rein (read: turns on the fore and turns on the hind), and back-up. Vienna actually worked in the arena alongside a Velocoraptor (read: another horse and rider) and did so calmly if not slightly distracted. Both mares are only a little keen on things going their way however if I ask politely yet firmly they do as I ask. Both are still figuring out what is expected of them and boundaries and limitations and are doing fabulous!

Which brings me to the next point: hobbles. AKA bandaid solutions. While I was riding Vienna, little miss queen bee Havanna was focused on digging up a hole to China. That's what those front hooves are for after all, right? I threw the odd "hey!" in her direction when her pawing increased to a volume that drowned out my own thoughts, but otherwise I wasn't really intent on getting her to stop pawing...which would have been fruitless (yelling at her to stop is not really going to un-frustrate her).

Quick injection, let's take a look at pawing: it's a result of what is going on inside a horse's head. The horse is uptight, is stressed, and is expressing said tension and frustration by pawing, because its flight (first instinct as a prey animal when it is anxious) is restricted. So there are two solutions: apply bandaids to the physical aspect (the pawing itself), or resolve the problem at the root by dealing with the mental and emotional aspect.

In LQB's case, she was pawing out of impatience and frustration. She didn't want to be tied, she wanted to be wandering about, doing her own thing (probably, ironically, just standing). So back to the story. I was leading Vienna outside the arena, into the tie area where Havanna was, and following the other rider who had been in the arena with Vienna and I. The rider turns to me and says:

"Hey, you should put hobbles on that mare, I put them on my gelding for...well, for a looong time, but now he doesn't paw".

I just shrugged. Okay, I shrugged while also staring down the too-tight tie-down on her horse, the horse she'd been spurring and yelling at only moments earlier.

"I'm not too worried about her pawing, it'll resolve itself as I continue working with her."

"Really?" She asked, one eyebrow raised.


I'm pretty sure she was convinced I am insane.

In every case, solve the root of the problem, not the manifestation of said problem. Take Link as an example, a very high-energy off-track Thoroughbred. A horse who had severe right-brain tendencies (highly reactive) and who was an emotional wreck when we bought him last fall. When tied he'd paw, he fidget, he'd bob up and down incessantly. As I have worked with him, developing him into a calmer, braver, smarter horse, his bobbing, fidgeting, and pawing have greatly decreased to the point of non-existence most tying sessions. As I work at developing him further I anticipate his emotions will level out even further. Why use hobbles, read - force, when there are better ways of achieving a non-pawing horse? Why focus simply on the physical manifestation to temporarily solve the problem (this follows for any and every bandaid we use), which will eventually come undone one stormy session, when we can instead permanently solve the root of the problem through developing and balancing a horse's emotions? There are also other simple exercises to play with a horse to encourage them to relax while tied (for example: when you're untied we work, when you're tied, you get to rest. Make the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard...eventually they learn to take advantage of being tied, of downtime, to relax).

The same follows for tie-downs (used as bandaids). Horse's head up in the air? Solve the root of the problem, whether it be overall tension, your hands, an ill-fitting saddle, pain or discomfort, a poor bit choice, etc. Horses do not need to be "reminded" to keep their heads down - they need to feel relaxed and a relaxed horse will keep its head down. If you need to remind a horse that it can remain relaxed, use your voice, your hands, your seat. Not a's just unnecessary and masks a larger problem. Lack of control because your horse's head is in the air? You've got bigger problems to worry about than the horse's lack of control in general. Earn that partnership, establish an effective means of communication, and you're set (tie-down-less).

No comments: