Thursday, November 19, 2009

Good Rides, Training Thoughts

Hey, what's this? A weekday post!?

(Did you know that a combined question mark/exclamation point is called an interrobang? It is possible that I'm the biggest nerd ever, but I WANT to have a horse whose USEA registered name is Interrobang. Seriously, it would be amazing. Or maybe Ampersand, which is the & symbol.)

I've been getting back into the swing of riding again. It always comes and goes in waves, for me. My time is balanced between several things, mainly consisting of schoolwork, horses, and actually having a personal life. When things get busy, one or the other catches my interest more; I'll focus on schoolwork and ride less, or ride more and spend less time with friends. You get the idea.

Anyway, riding is on the upswing again. School's still a grind, but there's only a few weeks left in the term.

Pandora has been doing very well. Her backing is amazing now. A light touch of the leadrope and she'll march right on backwards as quickly as I like for as long as I like. Straight line or curved. Very neat.

It just goes to show that if I actually work on gets better! What an odd concept. But still it's something that's easy to forget. Her backing sucks, but it's not a huge deal to me so I write it off and figure she just doesn't back up very well. Until my chiropractor recommends I do it, and within a couple weeks she's backing with the best of them.

Longeing is the same way. Her halts on the longe line were just bad. This one was actually a little weird - it's like the command just didn't get through to her. It often took almost a whole circle to get her to stop, and jerking hard on the longe didn't work. Chasing her forward as discipline worked even less. But one day when longeing I decided to work on trot-halt-trot transitions, I'm still not sure why.

To get even an approximation of a prompt halt, I had to do it as she was going into a corner and step way out in front of her. Even then she sometimes shuffled for a quarter of a circle before stopping.

But pretty soon, if I stopped her at the same place every time, she figured it out. She realized she was going to have to pick up a forward trot right from that halt, so maybe she'd better stop pretty balanced. Now, I can politely request a halt, and she just flows into it.

And - strangely enough - her halt from the walk is now spot-on as well.

I was reminded of two interesting things with the backing and the halting.

One: if something's not right, you should probably try to do something about it. Her backing under saddle was even worse - sticky and resistant and just weird. But I still didn't think it was a big deal. It wasn't until I worked hard on backing up (and it only took a few sessions) that I realized we could actually fix the problem.

Two: you can't always fix it by going at it directly. This worked for backing up - I backed her, rewarded free backward motion by allowing her to walk immediately forward, and gradually asked for longer and straighter stretches. But the walk-halt stuff just did not get through to her. For some reason, the more abrupt trot-halt did, and that carried over.

Just some food for thought.

Tonight McKinna also reminded me how important it is to be very clear with your expectations.

She has been just awful lately about cantering, as I mentioned in my last post. Mom has been having a hell of a time just keeping her cantering on the longe. She is reluctant to pick it up, slow when she's in it and almost always on the verge of trotting, and breaks to a trot as soon as you release the pressure.

Not so good. Longeing should be a workout for the horse, not for me.

I finally decided to do something, really DO something, about it. So I established "forward means FORWARD NOW PLEASE" at the very beginning, from walk to trot. I said 'trot,' she didn't pick it up quicklike, so I got after her very enthusiastically and she leaped forward into the trot. I stood calmly and let her race for a half circle or so, then brought her back to the walk. Then I asked again. Presto, a prompt transition!

So I considered that lesson learned. Moving on - no need to school more walk-trots.

Next I asked nicely for the canter. Of course she didn't give it right away. So I yelled "GET UP" in my Drum Major Voice, made a big stomping step towards her hind end, and smacked the whip hard on the ground.

She got up.

Again, I stood calmly and let her race around the circle in a very offended canter for a circle or so, then brought her back to a trot. The next time I asked, I asked politely, leaned a little bit toward her, and lifted the whip a little.

She picked the canter up right away.

And then - most important - I stood there quietly. I turned with her and participated with my body language, but I refused to keep encouraging her forward and reminding her to canter every few strides. I shouldn't have to do that. I put her in the canter, she should stay there until I say otherwise.

I have to say, it took some self-control to not cluck and kiss and swish the whip when her canter looked like it was about to break to a trot. But I waited.

The instant she broke to a trot, I repeated my stomp-growl-swish act. Again, a dash forward. She knows what's going on by now, of course - she knew what was going on the moment I got after her to trot when I said trot. This is one of the reasons I love this horse, because she's smart and she thinks.

Now she canters and canters and canters and doesn't try to break to a trot. I let her trot, then walk, and praise. Then we switched directions to the difficult side. She doesn't have to learn most lessons more than a time or two. The instant I asked for the canter, she hopped up into it.

This part got interesting. To the right she finds it difficult to maintain her circle, and at certain points her canter reeeeeeeeeally looked like it was going to break into a trot. But she always kept that canter going, because she knew that was what I expected. Once she broke gait for a step and a half or so, but I waited because I wanted to see what she would do. As soon as she had her balance back (less than two strides), she picked up the canter again, and she didn't break gait the next time.


Anyway, I'll keep working on it, but it was really interesting to see how simple it was to completely change her behavior. It just goes to show that you have to set your expectations high to get high-quality performance. McKinna is not the kind of horse who always tests and looks for ways to undercut you, but she is perfectly willing to take the easy way out if you don't tell her otherwise.

In other news, I rode Pandora bareback tonight for the first time in a long time. I don't even remember my last bareback ride on her, but she feels different. In a really good way. For one, her spine doesn't poke into my butt nearly as bad as it used to - increased topline of course. But she just felt....smoother, that's the only word I can think of. The feel of her back and barrel on my thighs and legs, the motion of her walk. It just all felt much more smooth than I remember. Her body has changed so much, it's incredible.

On the other hand, I cantered a little bareback. Boy, is her canter going through a rough phase! We're working very hard on the "carry yourself, you can do it" phase, and she's getting much better at not diving on my hands and dragging herself down the long side, but that also means her canter's gotten quite a bit less easy to ride. We have succeeded in changing 'forward-down' to 'carry.' Which is good. But I think I'll hold off on the bareback cantering until we can progress from 'carry' to 'carry and forward,' which should be a bit smoother!


Leah Fry said...

I so suck at longeing. LMK when you're in TX and you can teach me :-)

Jayke said...

That's interesting that your worries about McKinna being stiff or sore turned out to be unfounded, she just knew what she could get away with! My mom's horse is the same way, if a newbie rides her, she is slow and pluggy, if my instructor rides her, she's a top notch reiner.

P.S. If you had a horse named Interrobang, what would you pick for its barn name?

manymisadventures said...

I'll let you know, Leah Fry!

Jayke: I was thinking maybe Punk, short for Punctuation.

I still think McKinna was being honest about the cantering - it's hard for her when she's not fit for it. I can understand her having a hard time cantering slowly under saddle. But if she can canter out in the pasture - which she can and does on a daily basis! - then she can certainly canter on the longe. Silly girl.

RuckusButt said...

Love the names! Complete with their own symbols for writing short hand.

manymisadventures said...

I know! If I ever want to abbreviate while writing about said horse, I could just be like... "So & was super bad today," or "I had a great ride on !? and then went home."


coloradobecs said...

Totally understand where you are at being a college student with horses. I love your ideas about the name introbang, how funny! I hope to keep reading about your adventures that seem to be much like mine!

College Horse said...

I just wanted to let you know I've been trying to think of a personal brand to use for our family's stock.

And if it's possible, I've decided to use the interrobang.
Hot damn that's awesome.

‽ !!!

Valerie said...

In UNIX (computer operating system) lingo, the exclamation point is called a "bang". Might make a catchy barn name for a powerful, athletic animal. I love your blog! Quarter Horses rock!

*Sharon* said...

Ha! Love that you are nerdy about things like punctuation. Makes me more hopeful about you young 'uns. I think there has already been an Ampersand, but great idea, and so is Interrobang.

So many great names still to use, I'm sure.

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