I had another interesting experience again today with Elly and single rein riding. One of the biggest challenges that kids have with Elly is that she is VERY food motivated. She understands the rules about mugging when clicker training but if she sees food elsewhere: she is a freight train about dragging kids to a little dropped piece of hay or to the prime target- grass! When being ridden, she doesn't casually drop her head, she rams it down with an intent that makes you feel like your arm has been pulled right out of its socket. And trying to get it back up again is not easy. When she's done it to me, I have the experience, strength and timing to almost always prevent it and if not, to get her back again immediately. The kids don't have a chance and it can make riding her very unpleasant.
I have given some thought to all this as it corresponds to single-rein riding and decided that the theory about using SRR to prevent a horse from bolting or bucking should work for grass diving as well. Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to watch the tail end of a demonstration given by a western trainer about starting horses and he demonstrated what happens when you pull on 2 reins to try to stop a horse who has put his head down to buck. You end up with a horse with his head curled under....exactly the position a horse puts his head to power off a good buck. By using one rein and taking the hip away from the horse, he can't do so. My theory was that it should work for Elly's piggish habits as well.
We began in the round pen although I was a bit distracted thinking "riding" and didn't do any ground work with her first. I was on the mounting block when I realized this and thought, well, she's been so good, I might as well see what happens if I skip the ground work this time. She was just wonderful. I'm trying to work on catching her with a 2nd and 3rd ask for a give before she goes completely back to straight and low. Riding down the road in our little serpentine was good practice for this. I want to get her hind end more underneath her and so I really focus on the step under response and we had a great session. I even went to some trot work with it and it was a fun time.
So I hopped off and opened the round pen, climbed back on and headed through the barnyard for the road. She was very good going through the potentially scary parts and wandered toward grass once or twice along the way but it was easy to re-direct her with a simple slide down. Once we got to the driveway where the hayfield is on one side and the lawn on the other, it was a different story and I really got to put my technique to work! The grass is at its spring premium right now and she hasn't had but a nibble here and there. Pretty quickly I found myself about 15 feet into the hayfield with a backing, circling horse. She did have a habit when I got her, of backing when she was displeased with something. Usually it was when someone was asking for more than simple dressage work.
I did find success but it wasn't simple. It was really important to anchor my hand on the saddle to give some added strength to resist her diving. And I had to be quick when she did dive to catch her before her head was down too far. I also had to be willing to let her back up and not give to her until she gave her hip....and then of course immediately give to her to reward her and immediately after that be prepared to slide down again. I also had to switch from left to right in a heartbeat depending on where she headed....I had the road as my goal and she twisted and turned so much that I was constantly having to change the side I slid down in order to keep her headed in the correct direction. I used no leg aids unless she was simply standing with her head up- which wasn't much- but then I just quietly closed my leg to ask her to go forward....which initially just got her resisting but after some time I guess she realized she wasn't getting what she wanted and so she gave in. Not at all once of course. She'd go a few steps and try again but we eventually made it to the road.
This is long already so I'll save "Part 2" for another time because our experience once we got to the road was interesting as well.