Thursday, April 23, 2009

Flipping on down the road

Earlier this week I took Elly down our dirt road for the first time this Spring. I have ridden her in the round pen several times and been very pleased with how the single rein riding is going. I set up cones and focus on softening her to one direction as we cross the round pen, then when we arrive at a cone, I slide down the rein further, look back at her inside hip, and release the rein when I feel her step under herself. I need a lot of practice at this so that I can feel the subtle differences in how far she steps under.

I've gotten a bit of a chuckle out of her as I warm her up with the same exercise on the ground as well as some WWYLM, and some mat work. A couple times she has spied the mat in the center of the round pen when I am riding and in a very determined fashion, marches over and plunks her front feet firmly on it. The first time, she caught me off guard and her effort was so genuine, her stomp stomp of each foot so confident, that I had to Click/Treat. But then she did not want to leave the mat. She figured she ought to be able to stand there and get rewarded for it. Luckily, having watched Keri and Oliver on the "Shaping on a Point of Contact" DVD, I had a good model to follow, although Keri had been working in hand at the time. I closed my leg and asked her walk off and although she was not happy about it, she did eventually step forward and I immediately C/T'd for that. As Alex says, for everything you teach, you also have to teach the opposite. So she had been taught to stand on a mat, now she had to be taught to leave it as well. One might think she should already know that since she knows to move off from a leg aid, but this is new territory and she might have thought that she should stand regardless of how much I tried to "distract" her with my leg! So I did reward her for leaving it, and worked some on riding past it without letting her pull me to it, and then rode her directly to it, rewarded her for standing and then again for leaving.

At this point I decided we were ready to enjoy some of the lovely weather with a walk down our dirt road. Lessons will be starting up soon and if there were going to be any problems with heading out this Spring, I wanted to see them while I was on board, not a student. Elly came with the reputation of being a fantastic trail horse but I've seen a fair bit of wiggly, not wanting to go forward from her, as well as a "I'll just drag this kid off into the puckerbrush and find myself some sustenance". I did allow her to stop a couple times as we went through the barnyard to look at flapping plastic, different pieces of equipment here and there, etc. She never spooked but did want to take a good look. The end of the driveway is always a bit challenging because we have young cattle across the road and the noise, smell, and odd movements seem to be reason for alarm for the horses. We got past that but as we headed off down the road (which is literally down as it goes downhill), her wiggliness appeared.

Having just been using the single rein riding, I decided to continue. When she veered left to try to turn around and go back to the barn, I slid down the right rein and asked for a give of the hip. This redirected her but she over corrected and headed off to the right in an effort to turn back that way. I slid down the left rein and asked for a give of the hip in that direction. And so on we went, in a many-looped serpentine. I focused on the stepping under of that inside hind and as soon as I felt it, I was sure to release the rein, regardless of whether she really felt like the front end was going in the right direction. I knew I could always ask again if she didn't completely give. But I don't think I ever had to. Instead, I could catch her sooner before she got perpendicular in the road and redirect her. And she softened and didn't require as much of a slide down before yielding her hip. As a result, our tight serpentine gradually flattened out until we were doing a very shallow serpentine down the center of the road. I kept "straight" in my mind and did not allow her to wander, but neither did I insist on absolute straightness. Before long, I decided to be happy with the progress we'd made and did ask for a big step under in order to turn around.

Then I had a bit of a surprise because instead of hustling back up the hill to the barn, she was very relaxed, looking around at the surroundings and walked calmly home. I'm quite sure that if I had "gotten after her" to make her go down the road and go straight, I would have also have had to get after her to walk slowly up the hill. Now we shall see how well I can convey that to her younger riders!!!

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