Having a Vocabulary for Pony and Horse Training (AKA Things I Say to my Pony)

I’ve been quiet for a few days, because things have not been going my way at the barn! I know I can’t record a manicured version of training, but I also can’t stand hating how a lesson went and then having to write all about how much I hated it. It didn’t seem productive or fun. Now we are in a happy place, and I can look back on the last few days and see where Comfort and I went wrong.

  1. Comfort had too many sessions in a row that were a lot of hard work
  2. I was impatient and demanding
  3. I didn’t communicate enough and wasn’t willing to be very flexible

SOLUTIONS!

More fun/relaxed time. Always end on a good note. Don’t go overboard – short and sweet. Put in the extra work to try to understand how my pony feels. Be flexible to my pony’s mood and be willing to take the mental effort required to get creative or hit the reset button.

It’s surprisingly easy for me to get lazy while having big expectations. I’ve got to be conscious of this.

VOCABULARY

The most important solution, though, was vocab!! Vocabulary is what has gotten me out of the bad and into the good again with Comfort. She feels heard, and I feel understood. Win win!

I discovered, this week, that one of the reasons I feel like I have a great relationship with my dog is because we have a vocabulary we share.

Down, stay, wait, come, OK, sit, leave it, in, out, name recognition, heel, by me, let’s go, good girl, bed, etc.

I feel really good knowing there’s a whole language I have with my dog. I feel like we communicate better and are a team. It occurred to me that without a language for my pony, she’s sort of left out of the conversation all the time. The realization actually sent me reeling into a state of guilt for a few days. So, I’ve started to make words for everything we do, and she’s responding SO well!

We have several new words and phrases, now.

  1. Name Recognition – I try to say her name before asking her to do something. I expect her to look at me when I say her name.
  2. Come – I want her nose facing me and her body as close to me as our personal space bubbles allow.
  3. Whoa/Ho-ooooo – either stop right next to me when leading, come in on the lunge, or “stay” and don’t move while I do stuff – sounds like maybe I need to teach her “stay” too. With riding – stop and don’t move.
  4. Walk/Trot/Canter/Other Way (turn) – mostly all used on the lunge. Sometimes with riding.
  5. Slow – for riding, leading, and lunge
  6. By Me  – my nice way of saying there will be consequences if you try to pull ahead of me when I’m leading you. Slow and by me are kind of warning signals for her that’s she’s broken formation.
  7. Eat Grass– this is something I stole from trainer bestie. She taught this to her pony and I think it’s genius! I point at the ground and say this and Comfort starts grazing.
  8. Let’s Ride – I say this when I get on the mounting block to ask her to position herself so I can hop aboard.
  9. Foot, Please – I say this when I ask for her foot to pick her hooves
  10. Touch – I say this when I want Comfort to sniff something/touch something with her nose
  11. Back Up – I am trying to distance myself from the physical cue, but it’s taking a lot of work. I am really tired of having to smoosh her chest really hard, because she doesn’t listen the command.
  12. Walk On – when riding or lunging. I use it as a “let’s get started” command or a “don’t pause there, keep going” command.
  13. In/Out – for stalls, gates, etc.
  14. OK – This is my release command. I am sure it’s a given, but I think having a release command is paramount!

I think that’s everything! Considering Comfort can usually learn a new word every three days or less, I feel like we should have a much bigger vocabulary, actually. Are there vocabulary words you use with your horse that you find helpful? Share them in the comments! I’d love to know all about it!

UPDATE! I found somebody else doing similar work with their horse. There’s a nice running list of comments about how people talk to their horses that I found pretty interesting! The blog is called At Home with Horses. The post was written by Michelle Anderson in 2014.

 

Part V.5: First Riding Lesson Since Starting the Challenge

I’ve now gotten three rides under my belt since starting the challenge and Comfort is still being pretty consistent about being brought in from the field. I am pretty excited about it! I have been making two sacrifices, though. First, I am not mounting from the mounting block when I don’t have a buddy on the ground. Second, I am not letting Comfort sniff the saddle. Since getting Comfort, I’ve had a pretty firm philosophy that her sniffing the saddle is her giving me permission to ride her, which trainer bestie told me about and I really liked. Lately, if I try to let her sniff the saddle, it just gives her a lot of time to think and wonder and possibly worry or even feel like I’m chasing her with it. I’ve decided to let her sniff the pad and get going. Otherwise, she has way too much time to start getting weird on me. I’d really like to go back to doing that, though.

Improvement with mounting! Even though Comfort isn’t really improving with the part where I get on her, the part immediately after has improved dramatically! Usually Comfort always walks off when I get on. The last two rides, she’s stood quietly and waited for me to tell her to go forward. I am QUITE excited! I consider that a win even if she doesn’t have all the pieces together, yet.

My last lesson, Comfort and I had a little incident and I fell off. She and I were having a PERFECT ride and we were trotting around the corner when she suddenly did this weird left right left lightening dance move all in .5 milliseconds, and I came off. I really don’t know what happened. My friend says maybe she got worried about how well the ride was going and freaked out. My instructor says she’s a pony and that stuff just happens with them, and I’ve got to stay vigilant. I know Comfort isn’t mean. I am just really unsure what that was about. I didn’t see anything she could have spooked at and neither did my instructor. Whatever the cause, I don’t think I made it happen, but I do think I made it worse by coming off. Sometimes, it’s just out of your control. I need to be prepared for it to happen and be balanced when it does but not anticipate it happening and make her nervous. It’s hard for anyone to stay balanced on Comfort, and I’ve been getting a lot of “you have really good balance” from friends and my instructor, lately, so I think I’m definitely improving, even if I don’t personally see it. The only indicator I have is when I get on other horses. I think – gosh this is easy! I really don’t feel like I’m going to come off at all! Even if a horse took off with me, I’d feel super stable up there. There’s so much more horse to wrap yourself around.

My instructor told me that at the rate we are going, I’m really going to feel great about where we end up by the end of the summer. I hope she’s right. That would be so exciting. I feel like we are really making good progress! I know falling off sounds bad, but other than being embarrassed, I really didn’t care. I felt like it was an extremely successful lesson with Comfort offering things on her own that completely exceeded my expectations and overcoming things that have traditionally been hard for her. I’m really proud of how she did!

Oh and on our second ride she improved on a difficulty she had in the last lesson and also put the bit in her mouth all on her own! One point for bridling! She was a little stiff, worried, forward, and distracted, but she tried SO hard for me. It was late, it was about to rain, the horses were being turned out left and right, the humans all left. I mean… I’d be stressed out too! Despite her feeling this way, she really tried to do her best for me. We did some great lunge work and I felt good about the ride.

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So, a quick overview!

Bridling wasn’t on the graph, nor was standing after mounting, so I’m pretty excited to be making new headway and not just getting better at the same old stuff, although some of that has been improving, too, yay! The only thing we haven’t started with is standing quietly at the mounting block for mounting (which she used to do, but I am not going to get sad about it, I just need to keep moving forward). I feel good about the progress we are making, especially since the thing that is working out best is the most foundational – getting her from the pasture. This makes me feel like every day as we work on all these little things, she actually wants to do it and be with me which has probably been the most meaningful thing I’ve gotten out of the challenge so far.

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Just as a visual to see where we’ve been I thought I’d include some previous graphs.

Last time I checked in on the left and the time before that on the right.

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Well that’s it! Next I’ll have a relaxed day with no riding. Just some basic leading practice and some standing still and doing nothing practice. Maybe I’ll practice some other stuff too like a quick lunge to work on downward transitions. We shall see. Until then!

Part V: Still Consistent After Reintroducing Riding – A Good Sign!

Ever since starting the “honest assessment challenge,” I’ve been putting aside riding to get some of the basics back. I finally reintroduced riding into our routine, and Comfort was almost the same in the saddle as she was on the ground! After our ride, she was calm and quiet. She blew out when I hopped off and received lots of pets and love. I also kept her on a loose rein the whole time! She has a couple spots in the arena where she prefers to trot. This didn’t change and she still tried to trot there, but it wasn’t a battle with us, just a quirk. I think she enjoyed the ride. To me she looked relaxed and happy. At one point, she stretched down into the contact a little, which was exciting!

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As you can see from my technicolor dream graph, Comfort is doing better and better all the time. When all these get to 10, it’s going to blow my mind! I can’t believe the improvement we have had with catching from the pasture. Since we’ve begun this challenge, I’ve only had trouble catching her twice. The first time she wandered off and then decided to be caught. The other time, she was more feisty, but it was much less running around than it used to be. Most days, she will come up to me or at least let me come up to her. She’s been very consistent.

Leading has also been way better. I have a new system now for corrections. When we halt, if she goes past me, I back her up by pressing her chest. If she goes past me at the walk, I make her walk circles around me, but I don’t move my feet. So basically I make her use her head and she has to actually think in order to self propel on her own which gets her to calm down. She also thinks it’s boring and is more than willing to re-engage with me when I make her do the circles.

That’s pretty much it. Today I have a riding lesson, which will be the first since the challenge and only the second time riding since the challenge. I think she’s going to do pretty well! Watch that blow up in my face.

 

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Just a side note, this is my first time making my own gif. This is a gif of my sister’s cat, Finzi! 🙂 I am going to attempt a gif of my pony at some point in the future!

Part IV.5: Traveling Circles and Catching Ponies

New news in the world of pony training!


WHERE WE AREN’T PROGRESSING

  The pyramid (my graph for charting the progress of standing around for 10 or more minutes without moving)

We haven’t gotten anywhere with the pyramid, unfortunately, because of the flies! So funny how little stuff like that gets in the way of something you’re actually serious about. When I ask Comfort to stop and stand still, she stomps her feet and swishes her tail and scratches her face on her leg because of the flies. So . . . I really have to pick up some fly spray so we may continue our training on schedule!

Riding – I’ve got a lesson on Thursday, so we shall see.


WHERE WE ARE PROGRESSING!

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Haltering Comfort in the pasture today felt THIS GOOD

The BEST thing happened to me! Comfort actually came up to me in the pasture and willingly let me halter her!

Whenever I move Comfort to a new barn, she is always so easy to catch. She loves me more than the other horses, because she doesn’t know them yet. As soon as she gets comfortable with the herd, the issues come back. So I am very excited my approach is working. Today, she didn’t wait for me to walk up to her, she actually turned around and walked up to me! It was SUCH A GREAT FEELING!  She knew I was going to halter her and she was perfect about it!

Another thing that’s working out well for me – leading!

When Comfort is a willing and attentive participant in leading, halting in hand is a breeze! When she isn’t, she acts like she is leading well and then when I ask her to stop she keeps going and gets pushy. That’s when I realize she was just going through the motions the whole time totally distracted – rats!

I had a cool, new epiphany, today, that Comfort responded to quite well. So I was reading up a bit on Parelli, which I do from time to time. I found something called the circle game. I didn’t realize it, but it was something my trainer told me about months ago – traveling circles. Basically Parelli was explaining that the circle game forces the horse to take responsibility and think, something that is really, really great for Comfort! Basically, it’s like lunging, but you don’t drive the pony forward with your body language.

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Comfort orbiting around me turned out to be very positive! Yay!

You don’t turn your feet as she orbits around you. If the pony stops, ask her to keep going, but don’t do any more than that. Make them maintain their gate and momentum on their own. It keeps their brains engaged and keeps them better connected with you. Every time I lead Comfort and her shoulder passed mine, I’d send her into orbit. Then once I felt she was sufficiently paying attention to me, I’d offer for her to walk next to me. If her shoulder passed mine, she’d go back into orbit again until I deemed her ready to travel by my side again. Finally I got her paying enough attention to where she lead straight to the gate without acting pushy. I don’t know if she’s ever done that at this barn more than perhaps three times since I moved her? I was SO proud of her! And that was after leading in the arena (and halting in hand) like a pro, so that was doubly awesome! What a great day!!!

 


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In my opinion, we are still on part IV, so I’m considering this IV.5 . . . IV.V?  I think Comfort coming up to me in the pasture and then hanging around for me to halter her is a significant milestone, deserving of a “6.” It’s exactly what my ideal looks like, and all I need is for it to become a consistent thing. Leading is definitely up to a “4,”now. Although she doesn’t lead like a gem and still gets pushy and sticky, I know what to do to get her attention back. Furthermore, in the arena, she was pretty close to perfect. Her attention drifted and at one point she got a little worried, but most of the time she was calm and attentive. Her head was low and close to me, and her feet weren’t in a hurry. Something I’ve really started to enjoy with Comfort is giving her huge slack in the lead rope. If she’s nervous, she has room to drift, and when she’s not nervous, she voluntarily magnetizes back to my side. When she feels trapped, she panics, so the drifting room is really great. That’s a mixture of some Parelli and John Lyons concepts rolled into one big, beautiful pony training burrito.

Until next time!

 

Honest Assessment: Part IV!

 

Let’s start things off with fun gifs and then get all textually active later down the line, shall we?

I’ve been thinking about some visuals of the biggest issues I have with my pony and  visuals of our ultimate partnership. Unfortunately, my gifs of my ideal pony relationship all come from children’s films, but that’s cool. Whatever.

Here’s what pony ownership looks like for me right now at its worst. I chose these because this really is what my pony looks like when she spooks, although none of these gifs are me:

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Here is what pony ownership is definitely going to look like for me in the future! Except we won’t be animated 🙂

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If you’re just jumping in, I’ve been working on some fundamental training issues in what I’m calling the honest assessment challenge, something I totally made up. 🙂 Details below!

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  1. My pony won’t sniff her saddle without considerable work, but she sniffs the pad.
  2. My pony won’t stand at a mounting block, she swings out her hindquarters or walks away.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. My pony won’t stand still after I mount.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. My pony is hard to catch.
  10. NEW! My pony can’t stand in one place without trying to walk away.

As you can see, every issue related to riding has been left unaddressed. That’s because, right now, we are working on the issues that I think are underlying problems for our riding. For example, if leading in hand still isn’t what I’d like it to be, riding at the walk probably won’t be what I’d like it to be. If she can’t stand and do nothing, she probably won’t stand while I’m doing something like mounting her.

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One of the biggest struggles Comfort and I have: catching her from the field. (By the way I hate calling it catching, it just screams – PONY DOESNT WANNA HANG, DUDE! I feel like it’s just a bad mental approach). Anyway, are you thinking, “Ooh, that’s a sign?” It is and it isn’t, in my opinion. Comfort was a little hard to catch before I bought her, and that hasn’t changed too much. She LOVES the herd. It’s really hard to propose any better activity to Comfort than being with the herd. It’s just how she is.

¡But!

Lately (since I’ve started working on the challenge) Comfort has been a dream to halter in the field. She lets me approach her and then turns her head, allowing me to gently grab her head and put on the halter. Weirdly enough, she doesn’t want to be approached at the shoulder. She wants you to stand further back in her blind spot, and then she’ll turn her head and invite you into her “front space.” It’s quite interesting to me, but I think it actually comes from me working with her at liberty. When I was working with her at liberty, I’d walk backwards from her head down her body until she’d want to turn and follow me. It’s sort of like a physical point of intrigue.

I’m very, very happy about her letting me halter her in the pasture. If she’s ok with that, it tells me she’s ok with everything else we are doing.* There’s another layer, here, that we have to address, now that I can get her halter on without chasing her around: leading. Comfort still gets sticky walking from the pasture down to the barn. She starts out really relaxed and then she just stops moving after a certain point and does that several times, always at least twice. When I get her through the gate, she does the opposite and tries to charge ahead of me.

I’m trying to address it while following my three rules of leading that I created for my  challenge. I realized part of my issue was that I was inconsistent, so I laid down some strict guidelines for me to follow:

  1. Don’t pull on the lead rope. There should always be slack so she feels comfortable and also so I can make little corrections using the rope. I think I got that concept from John Lyons.
  2. Always make sure you’re standing in the appropriate place next to her. If you find her charging ahead (shoulder passes your body) use your judgement to either jiggle the lead rope to get her to listen; stop and regroup; or ask her to back up. Or redirect and avoid the whole situation if you can! <— No clue how to do that one, really, but I’d like to know. Any ideas? When I’m at my wits end I tend to let her walk in a circle around me, which doesn’t really work. Another thing I do when I’ve started getting exhausted by the whole affair is to stop- and she’ll stop  3-5 steps after me – and then I wait a moment and ask her to come. I kind of guide and reel her in with the lead rope until her attention is on me, and then we keep going.
  3. I always set the walking pace. I’ve noticed this is surprisingly hard when you have a pony really trying to set the pace, herself. It’s like patting your head and rubbing your tummy. You hear her footfalls and you so badly want both of you to be walking together that you find yourself trying to go a little faster to make sure you stay positioned correctly. It’s really hard for me, at times! Sometimes I have to count my steps out loud, “One, Two,” to make sure I don’t start walking at Comfort’s pace.

*The majority of what I’ve been doing is really mellow activities like hanging out and asking her to chill or graze. Sometimes we work on standing and doing nothing or tolerate me playing with her forelock or something. Other times I groom her while she’s tied or in a stall sized feeding pen and on other occasions I’ll lead her around and work on leading and then halting. I’ve been doing a good mix of staying in the pasture and going up to the barn/ arena.

Our motto? Chill. Reallll Chilllll . . . .

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Anyway, there we are! My hope is that this will help me stay on track, but also that someone else having similar issues can get something out of how I’ve fixed the issues and/or comment about how they’ve been approaching things. I know my pyramid is missing in this post, but Comfort has just been too wound up to work on that in a serious manner in the arena, so I’ve just let it be and will return to it in the near future. More updates to come!