Monday, June 23, 2014

Lesson Success. Finally.

He is the best at lessons with S
After much hemming and hawing (by me), S came out for a lesson on Sunday. You probably remember her as our fantastic biomechanics coach. She's also the only instructor that sees my little man on anything like a consistent basis and I really just needed straight up feedback on what in the world I was supposed to be doing with him.

I told her what we've been through recently. I told her what we've worked on. I didn't realize how upset I was about all this until I was very matter-of-fact-ly explaining it to her and realized just how badly I wanted to cry. And I'm not a crying person. And neither is she.

So I didn't, but I feel like I should get some bonus points for keeping it together.

Sprenger on the hunter bridle. Works.
Anyways. She basically said that it sounds like we're looking at a couple of issues combined. In no particular order:

1) Courage is opinionated about life and doesn't quite accept me as the alpha in our relationship.

1) Courage doesn't quite understand how to use his body in relationship to a jump just yet. He's green.

1) Despite his amiable demeanor, Courage is really picky about how the bit/HIS FACE are handled.

1) My cross country anxiety isn't helping anything.

Interesting note: of the three issues, only one of them is all me. S, while an amateur herself, pointed out that the trap ammies tend to fall into is immediately mistrusting and blaming themselves in all situations. While that isn't bad, it allows horses to skate by with some slightly bad behavior and sets them up for worse problems in the long run.

So lesson.

We started just doing lots of forward and back transitions. The focus was on PROMPTNESS. In order to address the greenness/alpha issue, I needed to set him up, ask, and then KILL HIM IF I HAD TO ASK AGAIN. Because he is clever, I only had to do that once. The entire ride.

Hole punch not available. Knot tied.
Next, we added in a highly sophisticated piece of equipment used by respected equine professionals around the world: a neckstrap. Because I'm a tack 'ho, I have a purpose made one. Obviously. Anyways. We adjusted it so that it was short enough to sit about halfway up his neck (measurement very approximate) and I got a crash course in it's uses.

Then we jumped.

Specifically, we trotted over poles. To address the "DON'T TOUCH MA FAYZ" issue, I had to ride forward (!!) around the turn to the jump, then put both hands on the neckstrap and just sit there. He could do anything he wanted and I just had to not ever touch his face for any reason on the approach, the jump, the landing, or really even several strides afterwards.

So felt like we galloped this, but just canter
As S pointed out, it's not even that I really catch him in the face (other than the deer leaping). It can be as simple as putting him back together too soon after the jump and not letting him finish the mental process. Or pulling on him on a crossrails derby course. Or whatever. Mentally, that's where he's at and we have to address it.

The poles went up to crossrails, then verticals, then even an oxer. We trotted into the oxer (with placing poles on both sides), and cantered the vertical. Every jump, I had to come around the corner, grab the strap, and GO.FORWARD. I don't know why riding freely forward is so damn hard for me, but that's where I'm at.

Now oxer certified. Finally.
Courage was good. He started out really apprehensive, but especially in our last round, he started to accept the exercise and really take me to the fences. His eye got softer and the ride got a little easier.

S says he needs hundreds of these jumps right now. Not big or hard or scary, but freely flowing forward, so he can build new memories and learn what he's doing.

We both need it.

Me and my neckstrap, we're getting acquainted.


  1. This is so awesome... fabulous breakthrough for the both of you! You're on the right path.

  2. That's great! It sounds like the lesson really helped things click. Good job!

  3. Glad you have a plan, and lots of things you can work on! That always makes me feel better.

  4. Hot damn girl check out that oxer!!!!!!!! You guys will get there, just green horse growing pains:)

  5. Sounds like a great lesson! Woohoo :)

  6. Yay neckstrap! Yay oxers! Yay placing poles! Yay Courage :)

  7. Woohoo, baby steps and you guys'll be rockin this excercise in no time. Practice males perfect for baby horse brain

  8. YAY neckstrap, a girl's best friend. I never ride without one!

  9. "S, while an amateur herself, pointed out that the trap ammies tend to fall into is immediately mistrusting and blaming themselves in all situations."

    And neckstrap for the win!

  10. Woot woot, neckstraps are awesome. You guys will be doing awesome in no time flat. Good luck and yay progress! :)

  11. Timely post for me! I'm having an interesting time with my new lease...and one of the first things I said was "what am I doing wrong?" I actually don't think it's me but that was the first thing that went through my mind.

    I'm glad you had a good lesson. That always feels good!

  12. ugh THAT's what I've been doing wrong!! I have a neck strap but I adjusted it so it sits right in front of his whither, and then wonder why I can't quite put my hand on it before the jump. DUH! I shall try your advice and make it shorter so it sits farther up his neck.... and then do lots of grid work focusing on freely flowing forward and me out of his face. ;) Good luck to you! I understand the frustration... gotta love our opinionated TBs, ha!

  13. Yay, I think I would like S! Totally agree, and she sounds great!

    So glad she hooked you up with the neckstrap techniques -- it seems such a simple thing, but is hard to get used to really letting go and using it. Both my horses have a reaction (one, ahem, Solo, much more dramatic than the other) if you try to do anything too soon after the jump. I have to work hard to remember to land, two strides of leg and body only, THEN we can put reins back together if needed.

    Just like you said, I don't catch them in mouth, in fact, I often get scolded for too much release. But I sit down too fast on the backside of the jump and the strap (or substitute) helps as a reminder.

    Encore had (still has) that little belligerent streak too -- totally workmanlike in willing, but when I put him in the round pen, he's all "I'm a pro, you can't boss me!!" LOL, I kinda like the spark though!

  14. Wow, I really like that advice about ammies incorrectly blaming themselves at all times. I'm sure I'll be revisiting that mentally in the next several months.

  15. Sounds like a great plan!! I also have purpose made neckstrap :)

  16. Awesome!!!!! It's so helpful to have eyes on the ground to give advice. I'm so happy you have S for that. :D It's that dang forward thing with greenies once again lol. I need to work on that more too.

  17. Neckstrap is the best for jumping the young will serve you well!

  18. I know nothing of jumping, but I loved this post. I loved that you were able to get help from a friend, and help that did say it was all you. It seemed like good solid advice for looking at the whole picture. Awesome!

  19. Would love to know where you got your neckstrap - I'm using a stirrup leather but it's too bulky for my hands.
    So glad S was able to "fix" you and Courage! You guys are trucking along magnificently.


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