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:
Here is what pony ownership is definitely going to look like for me in the future! Except we won’t be animated 🙂
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!
- My pony won’t sniff her saddle without considerable work, but she sniffs the pad.
- My pony won’t stand at a mounting block, she swings out her hindquarters or walks away.
- 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.
- 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.
- My pony won’t stand still after I mount.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- My pony is hard to catch.
- 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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 . . . .
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!