Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Thoughts on installing a “forwards” button in a horse

So Joey and I had ourselves a little “Come to Jesus” moment on the lunge yesterday…

It all started with his right hand canter lead.  He can counter-canter an 18-15 meter circle, impressively enough, and will do so because get the right hand lead is apparently just too hard!  Lazy horse…

Anyway, after asking for the correct lead a few dozen times, tightening the circle, loosening it, etc, I decided that I’d had enough, so I flicked him lightly on the bum with the lunge whip.

Only I missed his butt and the whip cord wrapped around his tail then slipped off.  You’d have thought someone lit him on fire the way he jumped forwards!  And on the correct lead too….  Heh.  

It actually turned out quite well – not something I’d try to repeat anytime soon, but I got a ‘forward’ reaction and the correct lead I’d been looking for, so I was happy.

I was thinking about what happened afterwards, and the forward response I evoked, and how it’s all a matter of what works for the individual horse.  I don’t use a lunge whip when lunging Copper.  He just doesn’t need it.  And I would never flick him on the bum.  He would flip out. 

But Joey is a firm believer in “movement conservation”, and likes to potter when he can.  A sharp ‘Hup’ can sometimes help, but he is rather inclined for the slow, almost backwards type of movement, where he pauses between each step.  That doesn’t help if he spooks – his reaction is “slam on the brakes”, sometimes followed by “up” or “sideways”. 

None of these responses are what I’d like to see him do.  Therefore I am working on installing a “Forward” button for my backwards horse!  So far I have seen some good progress. 

He’s learning that I will stay out of his face, and I’ll let him work it out as long as his response is forward.  He can jog past a spooky spot if he likes, as long as he is traveling forward (not sideways!).  He can get cranky at an aid, (not that it’ll change my mind about giving it!!) as long as he’s moving forwards, and not threatening to stop and/or jack up. 

This may not sound like particularly good training, but at the moment I believe this is what he needs.  Like I said, he tends to get “stuck” up in front, and will threaten to go up if he doesn’t like a situation – be it a scary one, or a training one, any thing that makes him uncomfortable.   I dislike this tendency exceedingly.  I don’t do rearing horses.  At. All.  

So far, he’s never really made an effort to get off the ground, and I’m trying to make sure that never happens.  Allowing him to realize that he is free to move forwards when he is uncomfortable seems to be working really well for him.  He is a lot less tense when dealing with these uncomfortable situations, and I know that from there I can work on the ideal responses, which of course involve no spooks and no crankiness. 

Mapping out the needs of each individual horse is tricky, but I do think that the need to be able to move forwards freely when uncomfortable is a fundamental need for all horses.

Each horse will react differently when faced with the restriction of that freedom – some will react by going backwards or up, as Joey will, others will react by taking that freedom into their own hands (or hooves) and bolting.

I think that the expression of that freedom is dictated by the individuality of the horse.

For Copper, training him to think “forwards” in uncomfortable situations is superfluous.  He already thinks “forwards” is the answer to everything – even when the question requires “stop” or “sideways”.

However, in Joey’s case, “forward” is often the last answer at the end of a long list!  I am trying to move it into the number one slot, and so far it’s working.

So that’s a little of my thoughts on installing a forward button – any other tips and trick to share?  Please do!

See ya,


Monday, January 14, 2013

What do child birth, horse riding, and achieving an independent seat have in common?

Believe it or not - your pelvic floor!

I discovered today that the key to "ultimate" relaxation for Joey to relax eeeeeevvvvvery muscle, and I mean EVERY muscle - including my, *ahem*, rear, inner thighs, pelvic floor - i.e., the muscle groups that make up a rider's seat.

The benefits of relaxing your seat muscles are numerous; the first one obviously is to achieve an independent seat.

Let's start by clarifying the definition of an independent seat:

"The phrase “independent seat” has historically meant a rider doesn’t need to hold on to stay on, and that the seat isolates the horse’s movement from the hands and legs." 

However, Mike Schaffer, writing about the dressage process breaks it down a little more -

"The words independent seat is easily misunderstood to mean the hands, seat, and legs should be independent from one another as well as the horse’s motion.  However, for any discussion of the aids in dressage, the truth is much more subtle than that.  Rather than being “independent” the rider should be using his hands, legs, and seat in a coordinated way – interdependently with each other and the horse’s movement.
A dressage seat has to be capable of moving with the horse neutrally, or, influencing the horse’s movement by either slight exaggeration or resistance.  So, whether following or influencing, the seat is always working in conjunction with the movement, never independent of it.  When riding on contact the action of the rein should work with or “go through” the seat.  Any action of the seat, regardless of how subtle, should have a proportional effect on the leg.  In this way we use our aids to mold the horse.  We provide him with an envelope of aids within which he is free to move loosely forward."

I really like this detailed and clear definition.  I feel like a lot of instructional books miss this important step in explaining exactly what it is you are looking for when trying to achieve a certain basic positional standard - whether you are interested in dressage or not.

So, we are looking at relaxing the seat - being able to independently control the muscles to either positively influence, and release the horse's energy, or influence through resistance to collect the horse's energy.

The second benefit in doing this was the affect it had on Joey.   I find it really interesting exactly how sensitive he is!   I have been working on relaxing my shoulders, core, and lower back - but today, as I said, I discovered that he requires every single muscle to be relaxed before he fully relaxes himself.

Also, in relaxing the inside of my seat - the pelvic floor and inner thigh - I was able to convince him that there really is no bat-from-hell-horse-devouring-soul-stealing-monsters hiding around the arena and we mooched on both reins around the outside track.  Yes, mooched!!  It was fabulous!

But now, of course, I have to work on sharpening up his upwards transitions - Joey is perfectly happy just to mooch for the rest of his life.  : P  Naturally.

So how did I manage to do this marvellous relaxing?  Well, here's where it gets interesting.  And silly! 
Believe it or not, one of the labour techniques I read about is what did it.   The theory goes that child birth is a lot smoother when you can relax into it, and let your pelvic floor go so that it can do what it's supposed to.   So to do that, you need to relax your face, mouth, and jaw, because those muscles actually mirror your pelvic floor.

So to relax in labour, you breath in and breathe out with 'horse lips' - you know, all loose and floppy?.....   > . >  ........ Yup, you look and sound as silly as you think you do, but it works.

I could just imagine myself warming up amongst the dressage queens and divas blowing horsey lips to relax!!  I was laughing at myself the entire way around the arena.  Which, incidentally is another great relaxing technique!

It was perfect, however, and I now know exactly what is required from me to be able to work out Joey's tension if he gets skittish.  Although, if you have an better, and less silly(!!) ways to relax your seat feel free to let me know.  ; )

See ya,


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2013 means what?

I would love to say that I have a great list of goals and resolutions for the new year regarding my horsey boys, but there isn't really much to resolve until I know what to do!

I am hoping to sell Copper before the end of January - February at the latest; but from there...  *shrug*

Who knows?

I have someone currently helping me out with Joey and Copper, and I have my fingers crossed that she'll fall in love with Joey and want to half lease him with me!  There's not the greatest chance of that happening, but the fact of the matter is that if that doesn't happen, I guess I'll be selling him too.  : (

Leasing a horse is difficult at the best of times, I learnt that lesson with Copper, and I don't think I'll do that ever again.  It's better just to sell them and move on, then to get your horse back and feel like they've gone completely backwards with their education!  It's way too discouraging.  Which is why I am hoping for a half-lease.

The thing is - have you ever considered how hard it is to find a rider that is not only at the same level so that they can work with you - not against you, but also has a similar training/riding approach so that you are not confusing your horse?    And not only that - one that lives in the same area as you so that they are ok with the traveling distance to the adgistment yards??

*sigh*  I think the chances are one in a million, and I'm just not sure it's going to happen.   So it's a gloomy start to 2013, but you never can quite tell what the year will bring, so I'll keep my hopes up anyway!

See ya,

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