Thursday, February 16, 2017

Training While Broken: Courage Style

Thank you stupid car accident, I still feel like poo most of the time and my body doesn't work and my brain doesn't work super great either. I'm bored to tears by lunging right now and our outdoor arena is just starting to be rideable.
that makes both of us, i think

The few times I've sat on C-Rage this year have been in the safe confines of the indoor. You know, small, no windows, no room to get up serious speed if he decides to peace the hell out. It happens.

So because I'm not the rider I ought to be right now and Courage is the horse he is, I've made some different choices. For example, does anyone else remember how C likes to hardcore bolt and flail in the spring? And how the first ride outside ALWAYS necessitates bolting? No? Well maybe it's just me but if I weren't massively lazy, I'm pretty sure I could dig up posts about it for you.
am massively lazy. insert dr chiweenie image as diversion.

Soooooo our first excursion to the great outdoors was on a lunge line. With Vienna reins. In the safe end.
oh hullo there sexy
That went shockingly well--not a single bolt or flail, just positive forward energy. Let's look at that again.
dead sexy
The next day we worked back inside and C was definitely a little sore and tired from that much brilliance. Also kinda batshit due to the fluctuating turnout from the weather. Then we came back outside again, this time to do some groundwork in a rope halter.
i will take this
The whole idea was that I wanted Courage relaxed and focused on me, now in a "new" and definitely more interesting environment.
omg arena was worked!
Then came our first lesson since November! If I was a smarter person, I would have ridden inside but dammit it was 41f and sunny and the footing was perfect. Oh and I'm totally coasting on this thing where Courage knows I can't ride for shit and despite being a LUNATIC on the lunge half the time, he doesn't put a foot wrong when I ride him. It's possibly the sweetest thing ever.

look who's not bucking me off
I'm not going to lie to you and say it was perfect. My body is useless and doesn't do what it's told. My brain seems to process about 10 seconds behind constantly. My trainer was very, very patient and the worst thing Courage did the whole time was pick up a little canter stride instead of trotting forward, but he came right back when I lost my balance.
such a good boy
Note: I always tell my trainer the secret to this horse is to half ass it and ride like shit. I might be more right than I know.

Of course, the FOUR WHOLE (kidding, more like 2.5 if you count walk breaks) minutes of trotting was about as much as my stupid body felt like coping with, so our next session was in the rope halter. As much as I hate having my schedule dictated to me by pain, it's forcing me to think through how to address our problems differently.

So problem. When I ask Courage to do something he thinks is hard, he gets tense and flings himself around. Also problem: he thinks the top of the outdoor arena is scary.
opinions. we haz them.
So I took him to the top of the outdoor arena and did some groundwork exercises until he was focused and relaxed. Success level one: scary place not scary.

Then I looked at the scary ass mess of ground poles in the corner. Fun fact: C HATES ground poles. He's actually more ok with jumps than poles.

So I led him over them at the walk. That was fine. Time to make it harder.

I sent him over it at the walk on a circle left.
That was a little rushed, but ok.

Then I asked him to change direction and walk back over them.


He didn't like me off his right side, he didn't like the poles, and he didn't like the scary end. He threw his shoulders in my direction and his head up and slammed it in reverse.

God damn I love ground work for this stuff. First things first--no horse gets to push into my space, even if they're ten feet away on a lunge line. Running over me is NOT an option. (PS and if you don't train your horse like this, do not ask me to handle it. I have zero tolerance for being run over.)

Next things next. When I say "go forward quietly", I mean "I am the boss hoss in this here shindig and I say it's safe to proceed quietly SO GIT YER ASS OVER THAR NAOW".
his yes ma'am face

Now, I have to qualify that statement--Courage is a sensitive horse with a hair trigger. In our relationship, a "big" reprimand is me swinging the coiled lunge line at his butt. Not hitting it. Swinging it at him. It's an unusual day if I really even pull on the rope. Because he is so reactive, I don't get excited when he slams it in reverse. I let him go so he doesn't feel trapped and don't reprimand unless it crosses the line into naughty.

And even then, when I say "reprimand", for this horse, I mean a tug on the rope and saying "knock it off, asshole" out loud in a normal tone.

This horse is not representative of all horses, but he's my horse and this is the method that gets me the best results. I don't feed his drama and then he comes back to me.

And maybe it's stupid to say this, but the biggest factor is the release--so he does something well and I immediately take pressure off by turning away, let him stand, and stare at my phone until he finishes licking and chewing.

So. All that. We fixed "go over there quietly" and we fixed "pay attention to SB" and we fixed "scary end omg", and then we went back to the poles.
hey look who can walk like a sane horse
 I guess I should add something here--I have no idea who set the poles or what the hell they were trying to accomplish. On this day with this horse, I wanted him to relax and look where he was going so I didn't "fix" them to a more correct distance. I wanted him to think through a problem calmly. No shits given about proper striding.

admit you kinda love his mud dreds

And by the end of the session, I had a horse working calmly through a difficult exercise with a soft eye and a soft body on the scary end of the scary arena. We call that "Success Level Two".

I certainly wouldn't choose to be this way and I don't know how well this is going to translate going forward, but it's a whole new way to spend time with Courage and we're making the best of it.


  1. I really admire your patience and the progress you've made even while being sidelined after the accident. I would have sat on my couch eating ice cream out of the carton for months and not touched my horses. Instead you've figured out a way to make it work and even improved C's training without riding. Give yourself some credit!

    1. Oh, that's happened too. Don't misunderstand me for a minute lol.

  2. Replies
    1. I really ought to do a comparison from when he came home. Who's down for a progress post?! Haha.

  3. Nice work! And I totally get the reprimand thing- usually with Carmen it's a growl and swing of the rope. Any more and she comes unglued.

    1. I read an article about matching energy levels--like if the horse brings a 10, you want to be a 1 or a 2 so you don't push them over the edge. Obviously, with a lower key horse who brings a 1 or 2, then you'd need to change that balance. It's a really interesting concept to play with while I'm working C.

  4. I love this post! Not that you are still recovering from injury, but how you are thinking outside the "Dressage" box to fix some fundamental behaviors with C. The pictures in the VR's say it all, as does the last bit about using ground training to increase the pressure, work through the problem, and get him release when he does the right thing. Just talked about how important the base partnership between horse and rider and the groundwork are in a recent post:

  5. gosh i love the look of that ice/snow free dirt!!! must be such a relief to get back outside again!!! sorry you're still not fully recovered. brain trauma is a real bitch. love the approach you've been taking with Courage lately tho. would it be totally sick and perverse to say that maybe at some point you might look back on this non-riding-bc-TBT period as a blessing in disguise? seems like you've made some serious progress that's carrying over to your under-saddle work too!

    1. Honestly, I really think a lot of what I'm doing is hampered by the fact that once we establish a concept, I cannot get on and confirm it under saddle. Even if I try, I can't ride for shit and then the whole conversation becomes "C take care of SB pretty please" instead of dealing with whatever issue I started on.

      So yeah, the groundwork is fine, but I'm not a fan of doing it piecemeal like this.

  6. I think Courage knows your brain is on a delay, so he's trying to take on some of the thinking. He loves you <3

    1. He really does, in his own silly way. He's being such a good boy.

  7. The pressure and release aspect of this post is really the most intriguing to me. Having the NH trainer come out was really fascinating for me and Nolan, and she was so exact in her movements and corrects, and instilled in me a good sense of "when" to apply pressure and when to let him flail a bit and figure it out on his own, letting him come back to the question while I wait. Waiting is hard.

    It sounds like you guys have come a long way in your relationship and understanding of one another while you've been earth bound, and I hope it pays off in spades for you guys this spring.

    1. There's nothing like hands on with a trainer, but you're close enough to Tik Mayard that I highly recommend auditing if you get a chance--lots of people are good at the actual work with the horses, but he's one of the few I've heard talk through the philosophy of it and I LOVE that. 10/10 would work with him if he wasn't 2k miles away.

  8. Just want to say those first lunging pictures... who is that horse. For real.

    1. The meme or the vienna reins? :p Your comment works for both.

  9. He is looking amazing!! Also, always a good reminder for me to keep on with the ground work even if sometimes it feels like it's easier to just ride through some stuff :)

  10. I'm so glad that C is taking care of you in his own special way. He will always have his opinions tho :)

  11. It super duper sucks that all of this is coming about because you got injured, but I do think a lot of horses could benefit from a few weeks or months of solid longe line and ground work. But it sure is boring which is probably why it usually only happens when it's the only option. I'm glad that he seems to be making big improvements though while you're out of commission and not sitting and turning into a ticking time bomb.

  12. Honestly, despite everything health wise with you, he looks amazing and is behaving sanely. Which is 100% what you want in the end. I love how you're asking him to problem solve and not let him wuss out either


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...