I am feeling SO ACCOMPLISHED RIGHT NOW!
So my honest assessment pointed out to me that my pony is not relaxed very often. And I started to realize that we don’t really have a “thing” we do to fix that. Like the “thing” teenage girls have in the movies where they touch their horse’s nose and can instantly read his mind and sooth his soul? Yeah, I feel like I just stand there staring at an animal flipping out at the end of a rope asking myself, how did we get here? Well not anymore! I acquired cinematic level horse soothing powers today.
It’s called – standing there and doing nothing.
In my last post, I talked about 9 things I seem to have accidentally dropped along the way in my training and how I need to pick them back up again. I realized I needed to work on something sort of broad and foundational that would aid Comfort in relaxing and help with our 9 issues. I concluded working on “sort of ground tying” was a solid choice. I even made a training pyramid, which I think is my new solution to every problem. Expect an ancient Egyptian quantity of pyramid charts from here on out.
I tried out “sort of ground tying” today with 1,000X the success I thought I’d have. I was shocked. I really didn’t expect this to go so well. Comfort was totally soothed by the whole situation, stopped acting like she was on death row, and understood exactly what I wanted, YAY! I think this was the perfect balance of quietness and clear, simple instruction. So hopefully I can recreate this for the rest of our lives and also find ways to integrate this level of clear communication into all we do.
If you read my last post and wanted to try this out for yourself, I want to share some amendments.
- I tried using the technique I talked about in my last post with almost no success, at first. The idea was that you told the pony, “whoa” and then flicked the lead rope every time she moved her feet so she would understand she had to stay still. The clinking metal of the lead rope was causing Comfort a lot of panic. I ended up needing to tie the lead rope onto her halter while I held the metal clip. Once she had a soft rope knot under her chin, she responded expertly. Thanks, Julie Goodnight for the great advice. You were totally right. She went from looking like a wild stallion to an enchanted unicorn.
- The second thing – if your pony is freaking out too much to lead properly (as mine was) she’s not going to wait for you to get situated a proper distance from her body all calm and nice. She’s going to try to keep walking and push past you. So a great way to create that distance is to lunge her at a walk and then ask her to stop and turn in to face you. Then she’s already an appropriate distance from you without you having to move your feet and confuse her. The less fiddling around you have to do, the better. Shoot for clarity and simplicity.
I thought I’d get through 2 minutes, but instead I got to about 8. So from here, assuming the foundation stays from yesterday, I’ll shoot for 10 or more minutes of standing, no movement. It’s ok if she moves a foot or something, because otherwise I can’t teach her that I don’t want her moving her foot. Just correct her and keep standing there. I can see, now, that ideally all my communication would look like this – slow, simple, clear, clean, relaxed.
I know I need to work on the 9 things, so let’s address that by breaking them down into manageable tasks:
This time through the lens of Pineapple Express, because why not?
- My pony won’t sniff her saddle without considerable work, but she sniffs the pad.
- Once I’ve done my relaxation exercise, I can work on leading Comfort around the arena and letting her sniff new objects. When she sniffs, she’ll get a treat. This will include her saddle. The next step would be to do this from the saddle. I think it’s safe to do this at any point, but I think ultimately, she’ll feel better about her saddle when she feels better about riding.
- This is basically how comfort feels when I put on her saddle:
- My pony won’t stand at a mounting block, she swings out her hindquarters or walks away.
- My exasperation with this one is just !!!!!!!! GAH!!!!!!!! What have I done to you that you seem to despise me so much? All I do is love you!
- This one REALLY blows. I’ve used process of elimination to decide that what I really need is someone to hold her or I need to create blockades to keep her in place. I can’t take no for an answer on this one; I’ve just got to make it happen. Again, I think she’ll feel better about mounting when she feels relaxed just hanging out in her tack and also feels good about us riding, which will just take time.
- My pony sometimes takes one step back when I lift the bridle to her face. When I put it on, she likes to take a couple steps forward.
- I’m going to try asking her to turn her head towards me and encourage her to bring her head to the bridle instead of away from it. I need to include her more in the bridling process instead of just throwing the reins over her head and taking her by surprise. She doesn’t like that. I think this one will be an easy fix.
- My pony won’t stay still if I drop the reins when I’m on her and at a halt. She might, momentarily, but then she decides to walk off.
- I think the relaxation exercise I’m working on will REALLY help with this, so I need to make sure I use my verbal cue, whoa, to ensure she associates the exercise with her situation. I also think that because Comfort really likes contact, this one might take a while, because dropping the contact is intimidating to her. This one might be something that I work on towards the end.
My pony won’t stand still after I mount.
- A holder person/blockades could help with this. For now, I need to beat her to the punch and ask her to walk on before she decides on her own. At least that way I’m in control.
- My pony tries to pull ahead of me when she’s anticipating something and I’m leading her. When she isn’t anticipating, she’s usually great.
- Basically, eliminate the anticipation. Generally making our sessions more clean, clear, and relaxed will help with this. One thing I know I need to do is make sure I’m always in the correct position next to my pony – guilty as charged. If I’m all over the place, how is she supposed to know where to stand? I also need to focus on asking her to whoa and go without pulling on her. If she won’t use my body language and verbal queues, a wiggle of the lead rope to stop and a tap of a whip behind to go gets a better response from Comfort. Sometimes backing up is good, too.
- My pony pulls through direct rein pressure when she’s anxious, this includes when I’m on the ground about to mount her or when she’s distracted and no longer listening to me while riding.
- This is related to the last one. Basically the same issue and the same solution. Of course, I can’t do that from the saddle, but doing a lot of this ground work will help and be relatable. Using my voice, weight aids, and then going to the contact is best. Making my contact a wall instead of pulling is also something I can work on. It’s less of a war, that way.
- My pony still won’t stand still for her feet to be picked and will try to get away from me. When she’s in the right frame of mind, she’ll stand patiently.
- I’m really excited to use my whoa exercise for grooming. Looking back on me writing this, while her feet are the toughest part, Comfort just throws a fit sometimes when she’s being groomed in general. I think I’ve slacked off and stopped noticing a little because she’s tied or in a pen or stall and isn’t posing a threat to anyone. So, again, I need to flesh out exactly what behavior I want from Comfort, and then be very precise about it. It will help if I give her some aids like another horse next to her, a bucket of grain, etc. We can work up to it.
- My pony is hard to catch.
- This one is just my pony’s personality, right now, and it’s a symptom of her seeing our interactions as work instead of fun. I think this will wear off over time. I have some techniques in my back pocket that work for me. For now, I’ll wait and see how things looks when we fix the other 8 issues.
It’s my hope that after all of this, we will be better than ever!
More updates to come! We will keep working on relaxation and see where it leads us! I think today we will work on that and then follow it with quietly leading her around and letting her sniff things. So, problem #1 – you’re up to be fixed! I’ll let you know how it goes!
I am at block #2, going for 10 minutes.