Percy's 2 year old education continues with some review of the Good, Better, Best exercise this week. When he was just a weanling, I taught him to to yield to a little pressure on hips and shoulders and chest. I find this a very important thing to teach and regularly remind because horses instinctively push against pressure and youngsters turned out together practice that a LOT. "I'll shove you and you shove back." Instinctively this works for horses or other prey animals (from whence "herd" and "flock" comes) because it puts them in a tight group with less exposure to the predators nipping at the outside. Anybody who can push to the inside of the group is safer than those who stay on the outside! When you're a baby horse, it's just plain fun to shove back and forth with your buddies in the pasture. So regular, positively reinforced lessons in yielding to my touch counteract those instincts. Think about what happens when you use more pressure instead of positive reinforcement...what instincts come up?
So he knew how to move both his hips and his shoulders laterally and was very very good at it. However, this week I noticed we had lost a little of the coordination between the two. I'm guessing this came about because on our daily treks to pasture and back, if he crowded me a bit, I'd touch his shoulder and ask him to step away and he did so he'd get clicked. But I wasn't paying attention to what the back end was doing.
So it was time to review Good, Better, Best. Again, this is my interpretation and my experience of the exercise. If you want full explanation from the master, go to Alexandra Kurland's books and DVDs. She initially got the exercise from John Lyons and refined it further for her uses and of course, added the +R. I love it because I have found it helps so many riders and horses to really feel and understand their connections. It's a great way to really soften up one's aids and develop an incredibly light and responsive horse (remember, the sign of a good rider is one who looks like he's sitting there doing nothing!).
Although Percy has worn the bit, I have not yet asked him to work in it. Those baby teeth are still falling out (found one in the paddock just the other day) and being replaced with new ones coming in. Anybody who has ever dealt with a teething child knows how painful that can be. I'm not going to add further insult to injury. Therefore, our G, B, B is done in a halter and not quite as refined as if done with careful feel with a bit. But it does teach him to yield, to bend (not overbend) and to connect his front end with his back end.
I begin by sliding my outside hand down the rope toward the snap. The slide is important...I refer you again to Alex's work! One note I'll make on it though is that at the clinic, Alex reiterated the importance of using two fingers to slide rather than the whole hand and Wow, did Percy tell me it's about TIME I got a little quieter! Putting a tiny bit of pressure on the rope, I ask for a fraction of a give toward me. This is very, very slight because once I ask with the bit, all I will be asking for is a give of his jaw. It will probably not be visible to the naked eye. I'm just going to be asking him that when I pick up the contact, I want him to soften his jaw to my hand and not brace against it. With the halter really I'm only asking him to show me he's paying attention by giving me the slightest response. The microsecond that he responds, I quietly drop the rope from my left hand and CT to say thank you. That's "good". I taught it by itself first.
Then on to "better". Here, I ask for a little more as I'm looking for him to soften in his poll. I always precede asking for "better" by asking for "good". It's a series of gives which I want him to learn and be able to run through mentally as soon as I pick up the rein. After "better", comes "best": asking for still a little more bend so that I can see his neck bend (not the kind of nose to stirrup bend you sometimes see which makes no sense to me). Although I initially teach these at a halt, then we progress to doing it at a walk and I have to be careful to keep the horse moving forward- I don't want to confuse him but just explain that he's to bend while maintaining forward movement.
Finally, we go to the hip. Once we've practiced the good, better, best gives, I ask for even more and look at his hip to get him to yield his hip and step up and over with his inside hind. This is where I noticed Percy had gotten disconnected. The first couple times, he simply stalled out rather than stepping over. Oops. I needed more forward and more obvious "bestest" ask to get that inside hind activated. Today he did very nicely at it. We're going to stay here for a bit until I see that he's thinking about his inside hind when I initially ask for "good"....that's the point after all. I want him to respond to my picking up the reins by stepping up and under with his hind end. For now, we'll keep it an obvious step over, but once he's got that down, I'll ask for less and less so that I'm only getting a step under when I ask that lightly.
Then it's on to 3F3 and HSS!