Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Knickers in a Twist

That pretty much defines Elly today. The day before yesterday, I took her for a hack with my daughter and her mare. We've had a crazy week of weather and although we started out in sunshine, we were only a couple minutes out when it started to rain. The situation worsened with neighbors shooting at targets, dogs barking and pretty soon the mares decided it was not wise to continue down the road. I tried working Elly through it and for the first time in a long time, she used her panicky backing in response. I could deal with it OK as long as she stayed on the road but when she backed to the edge of the road, there was a substantial drop off and I did not trust her not to step backward off the edge knowing her panic and her odd body movements in that mentality.

So I got off and did some serious hip gives as we proceeded down the road. When she wanted to stop, instead I asked her to bend toward me and give her hip away from me- similar to the way Alex Kurland asks for hip gives at the mounting block. I don't know if this is what Alex would have recommended in my situation but I chose to do it in order to try to get Elly to focus on me and give her hips to get her out of her backing and/or barging. Once we got past a scary bit, I got back on and we continued for a while until it became apparent that the rain was getting harder and so we turned around. At this point it started to pour and both mares wanted to jig home. Elly's head was curled into her chest in a way to make me uncomfortable and I decided to hop off and do the hip gives back up the remaining distance. Actually I was going to get on at one point but my seat saver was so soggy at that point that I decided against sitting on it! (and yes, the sun came out as soon as we untacked and turned them out again).

So today I decided we'd start in the round pen and see how far we got. She seemed to throw all her old cranky behaviors at me: unwilling to go forward, pulling me in the direction she wanted to go, curling under when she wanted to resist my hand. I was very glad we had lots of good rides under our belt for me to think about and go back to. When she didn't want to go forward with just a give of the hand, I gently closed my leg and waited. She took a tiny step forward and I clicked. Hmph! she seemed to say. She took the treat and I repeated. She reminded me of a toddler who just doesn't want anything you offer and simply wants to be cranky, but can't resist the goodies and takes a few minutes to come around. I clicked after one step, then two, then three and then four until she was stepping off willingly.

Her mat was in the round pen and so once she was moving, she headed straight for that. I decided to let her go to it as a reward for going forward. Silly girl first had to do a little spook at it before insisting she stood on it! So I C/T'd and once again we were stuck. She just stood there doing a little tap dance with her front feet on the mat. "I'm standing here darnit, click me!". I just kept the light pressure on her sides and held my hands forward and waited her out until she made a tiny movement forward and caught that with a C/T. She took her treat along with a step back so she was squarely on her mat again :) So I reapplied light leg pressure and we went two baby steps forward before a C/T and she backed onto the mat again. Eventually we made it off the mat although she had to sway her butt around so she didn't step on it with her back feet. Good grief! Talk about toddler! (she's 12 so no excuses).

I decided to avoid the mat for a bit and that made her angry but it was a good exercise to ask for 3 gives of the rein as we approached it and then a big hip give to turn her away from it. The hip give got a C/T so she was being rewarded for listening to me even when she really wanted to go to her mat instead. Pretty soon she was bending nicely to the right but nothing special to the left so I worked on that direction for a while. When she went to the right, I asked for a higher frame in front as she wanted to curl her head under along with the bend right. She responded well.

At this point we were fairly close to what I expect from her so I decided to end with letting her go to the mat again. I asked her for head down on the mat so we could finish on a relaxed note. That was good and when I then asked her to step off, she seemed to be trying to step ON the mat with her back feet this time. This is a challenge even when I am on the ground, but since she was offering, I helped her by keeping my left leg on since her butt was swinging to the left. She got several steps on the mat with a hind foot for a C/T each time but then would step off. Luckily, just as I was running out of treats, she set both hind feet firmly on the mat and stood. So I gave her everything left in my pockets and jumped off. Phew! More tomorrow!!

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