Monday, December 6, 2010

Winter Riding...

Izzy and I continue playing western pony. Due to a combination of life and weather conditions, she's not getting out nearly as much as she would like to. (Seriously. She had 3 days off last week.)

Thus, when I got her out yesterday, she was "fizzy", as Jimmy Wofford would say. I tried my best. I let her run and buck in the indoor for a bit, then put her in a snowy turnout for about half an hour to let her wander and graze. Still, she was fidgety tacking up, and even spooked once while crosstied, which never happens.


I was not in the mood to ride the wired pony. Fortunately, I am a resourceful person who has a lunge line and a pony in need of a ground work tuneup. First, we worked on just standing and relaxing in one corner of the indoor that Izzy has decided is scary. Then, we did some basic lunging, walk/trot/canter both ways to get her settled.

The issue I wanted to address was this: Izzy has become very lax in her responses to me. I -had- to carry a lunge whip to lunge her, because she totally ignored me without it. I -had- to carry a dressage whip to ride her, because she wouldn't go forward without it. At all. So, instead of allowing her to further deaden to my aids, I decided that we would work on getting more with less. When she didn't respond to my verbal command (which she does understand), I would jump at her or throw the lunge line. I didn't particularly care if she cantered--I wanted her to actually REACT when I told her to do something. As soon as she responded, I backed off and told her she was a good girl, which she likes. We do need some help with whoa. It's the last frontier we're struggling with (ideas?).

Next, we did a bit of leading/responding work. I want her to move away from me without me having to physically push her. She thinks it's easier if I just lean into her and force her over. Lesson learned: the end of a split reins make a fabulous popper. She learned to pivot in a couple minutes. I wasn't worried about her form; again, I just wanted a reaction. I wanted to walk toward her shoulder and have her yield. At first, she got a little panicky/over reactive and tried to run backwards, but I would keep pushing until she gave her shoulder, then immediately reward her.

Our problems originate with me letting this stuff slide--I would ask for canter on the lunge, but not correct her when she made an unasked transition to trot.

Finally, we did the hardest part. Backing. She didn't think she needed to, and especially not if I wasn't physically touching her. We had several discussions about that in which she backed the while length of the arena. As soon as she dropped her head and focused on backing instead of resisting, I stopped and rewarded her. By the end of the session, she was backing several steps nicely and calmly without me having to get after her.

I finished up by hopping on for about 3 minutes and doing a few walk/jog serpentines to end the session on a positive note. I also have some super cute pictures of Izzy all tacked up, but I forgot to get them off my camera. Tomorrow, I guess.


  1. With a horse that's sluggish to the aids - you are right to not just up the ante with the aid as that usually results in just teaching the horse to only respond to the stronger aid. Moving immediately to a secondary aid - hitting your leg with the crop/whip - particularly one that makes noise or is startling will reinforce the primary aid. Sounds like a good work session.

    What precisely about her stopping is an issue - does she brace on the bit, not stop in the number of steps you want (you have to know exactly what you want), or fall on the forehand, etc? I've got some ideas but it would help to know exactly what isn't happening right.

  2. Kate--she tends to just continue on going without stopping. To get her to halt, I have to bring her from canter to trot, trot to walk, then shorten the line so she thinks she's done, and then she'll halt.

    Writing this, I guess my problem is that she isn't educated about the halt at all. Huh. Ideas for educating?

  3. First, you need to know exactly what you want - exactly the amount of pressure you will use to ask for the halt (and never ever use any more, otherwise you're just upping the cue) and how many steps she is supposed to take before halting. Then, start with the walk - if it doesn't work at the walk it won't work at the higher gaits. Feel the rhythm of the walk in your own body and imagine how it would feel if you were walking and brought your own body to a halt - that's the feel you want to communicate to your horse. Exhale, carry the feel of halting in your body and apply the amount of cue you want to use (in a very short space of time) - sometimes that's all it takes. If you don't get the halt in the exact number of steps you're looking for, immediately turn her in a small circle, wait for the offer to halt, halt and back a few steps. Repeat until she understands that the (exact) cue is for her to halt in exactly that number of steps. Usually works like a charm but it's not that easy to describe in words. The important thing is to start with the level of cue you want to end up with, know exactly what you want and expect it every time, and redirect the energy until she figures it out. Once you have it at the walk, try at the trot, etc. Carrying the feel in your own body makes a really big difference too. Good luck!

  4. Good advice from Kate. I also use a verbal cue--a "purr" for a downward transition.

    As Kate suggests, you start at the walk. "Purr" and then insist on the halt. At first you might have to be a bit strong with the aid, but most horses I've worked learn really quickly and will halt on a light aid to avoid a stronger correction.

    Once you establish it at the walk, go to trot. The "purr" becomes a kind of pre-cue. It also helps you breathe out and make your own body halt as Kate suggests. Many dressage trainers use a "trill" to bring a horse "down." My purr can be done under your breath and then can actually work in a test at a show.

    I also do groundwork reinforcing the halt with "whoa." I've always found voice aids a good addition to my training.


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