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!

 

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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!

 

 

Honest Assessment: Part III and My Birthday Week!

It’s my birthday week!!!!!!!! Woohooooooo!!!!!!!!!!champaigne.gif

Ok let’s use up a ton of space with very little words so you can stop going crazy watching Lucille Ball freak out out of the corner of your right eye.

La la la la la la la la la la

Ok, so back to business, my birthday was Tuesday, but the party won’t stop till I’ve consumed all the birthday cake! I’m not sure what makes me so excited about my birthday, every year. Perhaps because it lands on the best date of the year!

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Everyone calls me J-quellin and quotes this movie^. The weather is ALWAYS great. It’s just good stuff! Plus I just love celebrating April. I feel like it’s when my real life begins. I’m not really hibernating December through mid-march but… I really come to my best self in the spring. THIS birthday week, however, has been incredibly rainy. Those may flowers better follow through on their deal. I was supposed to play with ponies and go on a huge camping trip, but oh well!

It’s been a few days since I’ve been able to chip away at my pyramid, but we seem to have regressed. Comfort was very upset that I’d trapped her in the arena and didn’t want her to move. Ugh! So much for that being a relaxing exercise. She just didn’t listen to my corrections and her head was somewhere else the whole time. Every time I gave her a light correction she ignored it so I increased and increased until she was annoyed. It just  didn’t work. We did work on sniffing things, and that was OK. I guess we should have just stopped there. I wish I could identify what went wrong, but all I can think of is that she wanted to be with friends and the farrier swung by earlier that day, and maybe she was just fizzled out on life given it was pretty late in the evening, already.  I think coming at it earlier in the day (a less stressful day) will help. So that’s what I will do!

 

 

Honest Assessment: Part II . . . And Some Photos and Updates!

Happy Friday, Y’all! giphy.gif

Hello, Pony World! Happy Weekend to You!

I’ve got some really good training updates, but first I must share that Comfort’s winter coat has shed out, which means new spots! I took a lot of photos chilling with her in the woods, yesterday.

Furthermore, Paisley is LOVING the spring weather!

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When it’s not raining that is…. Which it’s been doing a lot. Never really understood “April Showers” until I lived in Virginia.
IMG_2807Me too, Paisley. Me too. . .

Hopefully the may flowers will come and the showers will end because Comfort and me, pony trainer bestie, and two other friends are all going horse camping together, next month! Maybe some of you have done this before, but I have not, and I am SO EXCITED! I’m not really sure what to expect, but I know the campsite has stalls, which is pretty cool! I’m especially stoked since I’ll be in the company of really experienced, competent horsewomen I can learn from! Yippee! Another horsey friend of mine was suggesting to me that a great way to help my progress with Comfort is to get her off the property more, so this is a good start and I’m excited to measure the results!

floating flowers!

 


 

Back to my honest assessment challenge!

 

I saw a whole different pony after one session of doing the relaxation techniques. I was 2animals.jpgso relieved, to be honest. I’ve been stressing and worrying that Comfort has started to hate our work together, but it turns out I just needed a new approach and a break from the norm. Comfort and I had a crazy-cool connection; it was slightly spiritual. NBD.

So basically I couldn’t find the horses anywhere so I went into the woods and there they all were being precious and Comfort came right up to me!!! If I can get that twice more, I’ll take issue #9 (hard to catch) off the list! I hung out for a while on a log and took a lot of photos of her and then the horses migrated out, at which point Comfort looks back at me like hey are you coming? Which I did manage to capture in photo form:img_2820.jpg

So I hang back and then go into the field after the horses to actually get comfort and do something with her, even though I was soooo satisfied just with her feeling chill in my presence. I felt like she would be ok with me squeezing in a little extra time together. Sometimes once she’s sniffed me, she’s done with me, and I was worried she might feel that way once I went out to the field, but instead she let me come right up to her and put on her halter! Success! I walked her all the way across the field (it’s HUGE) and she was completely relaxed the entire time. She stopped twice (she usually stops 5 or so times because she has anxiety about leaving the herd), and I just told her to keep going and she did and stayed right where she was supposed to be (she also likes to try to get ahead of me). This was seriously phenomenal. I walked her up through the gate and then past the barn and right into the arena. She was so relaxed for the whole thing that I did one lap around the arena just walking her in hand and then walked her all the way back across the field to where her buddies were and just turned her back out. I was SO proud of her for how laid back she was! It really goes to show that it’s so worth it to check in and make sure your pony is relaxed. We were going to do our relaxation exercise, but she was so great that I just decided she needed to be finished for the day. I’m really glad I did, because I think short, happy sessions are great positive reinforcers, and Comfort completely agrees with me.

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So we didn’t work on problem #1 (sniffing things) because she was so great!!! But next we will definitely do the relaxation exercise again and work on duration of time, per my pyramid chart, and then see where things go. I might work on sniffing things or I might let her be finished. It will depend on how she’s feeling. More updates next time!

Honest Assessment Challenge: Fixing Things Phase 1

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“I’m just being honest!” Heyyyyyy Yaaaaaa! I got the gif here.

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.

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I LOVE the idea of doing nothing! YES! Got gif here.

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.

  1. 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.
  1. 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:

My Assessment

This time through the lens of Pineapple Express, because why not? 

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Truly what happens after a bad day with Comfort when I try to hide from my boyfriend that I fell off. Why I need to keep her relaxed…. 

  1. 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: 

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      from giphy

  2. 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!
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    • 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.
  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.
    • 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. 
  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.
    • 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.

hurricane.gifMy 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. 
  1. 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. 
  2. 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.
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      It escalates quickly with Comfort….

    • 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. 
  3. 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.
  4. My pony is hard to catch.
    1. 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!

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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.

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Honest Assessment – time to acknowledge what I need to work on and JUST DO IT.

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Yes, I hate honest assessment, even though it’s basically the only way to have real growth or progress. 

I HATE honest assessment. It makes me point out my flaws, which I’m too prideful to be comfortable with. I have to force myself to do it, but that’s where real, good training comes from, I think. Once you’ve identified something has gone off course (no pun intended), you have to be willing to hone in on the baby steps which is so hard and frustrating and forces you to be creative and actually think and … Ugh. Work. Yes, sometimes it’s better to walk away if I’ve lost my cool, but then I need to come up with a plan and come back and try that plan out and break it into fun, tiny pieces. Boy that’s NOT easy to do. If it is for you, you should probably go do this pony thing professionally, because that’s an incredible gift!

I have been in a nasty cycle of wanting to continue progress with my pony while watching little pieces flake off along the way. After a while, I have to acknowledge the little pieces I’m dropping and take care of them. It’s annoying because I have a fear that if I’m always going back for the little pieces, I’m never going forwards. Unfortunately, I’m DEFINITELY never going forward if I’m losing pieces along the way – that one I really didn’t understand for the longest time.

Here, I’ll share my honest assessment, and I challenge you to do your own. Ponies are notorious for their stubborn ways, but they’re actually way more flexible and open to change than we humans are. You can pretty much smooth out any issue if you come at it the right way.

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So maybe my pony thinks she’s the head, especially when she’s anxious. Do we need to work on trust? Sure, yes, totally, always! But I also know that, in reality, I am in control, unless I choose not to be. Ponies are not stubborn, they’re smart. Sometimes it seems like they’re smarter than you, but you can ALWAYS outsmart your pony. You have logic and reason and there’s really nothing you can’t do.


My Assessment 

And I’m not afraid to list it out, because I know I am in control and can fix all of this with my powerful logic and reasoning capabilities and patience! If I want it to be, it’s just a matter of time until these are no longer issues. Let’s do this!

  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.

Ok, there! It’s out there in the universe. So what should I work on first? What’s most pressing?

I’m going to make a couple assumptions in order to move forward

  1. My pony doesn’t hate me
  2. If she’s not relaxed, I need to break it down further

I am going to spend the next few blog posts addressing each issue and coming up with a solution that makes sense for me and my pony (and trying it out). This first post, however, will be a little different. The thing that seems most pressing to me is that my pony isn’t relaxed and doesn’t have a clear sense of my rules, still, and we need to practice this and make it second nature. That means having clear rules, structure, no confusion, kindness, trust, willingness to take a new approach, and patience.

Because of this, I’ve chosen something that I know will be engaging, that I can break down into tiny, tiny pieces, and that will be confidence building for my pony and me. I also wanted to pick something that would be useful for all my other issues. So I’ve decided I am just going to work on getting Comfort to stand still and only move when I say she can. If this happens to lead to an awesome new ability to ground tie, I am sooooo into that! Most of the time, when I teach Comfort something new, I base it off what someone else has already vetted. So this is going to be based on Julie Goodnight’s ground tie article in TrailRiderMag.com.

What I’ll do is stand in front of Comfort and off to the side, a little, with her halter on and me holding the lead rope and say, “Whoa.” Comfort knew whoa when I got her, and I also use it when lunging, so this is something I don’t need to teach. As soon as she moves (this could be her nose starting to lead her into a turn or a foot moving) I’ll flick the lead rope so she knows that wasn’t the right answer. I don’t want anything to escalate with Comfort, so being clear and fast is really important.

Where we practice is important to Comfort, I’ve learned over the years. Being in a big grassy field isn’t really conducive to her learning. Being in the arena with a bunch of new things could also be a little much. Ideally, Comfort learns best when she doesn’t have the thought in her head – Why are we here or why is that there? It just gets in the way. So, I’ll probably work on this either in the arena with no new jumps around or where we tack up. If she gets anxious and starts pacing at the end of the rope, it’s going to really muddy up our communication and make it hard to teach her. I don’t want to deal with that at all.

Eventually, I can start lengthening the duration of time I stand there, then the space between us, and then start making small movements so she gets the idea that when I move she still stays. I don’t want to wear her out, so I’ll do this exercise slowly over time and in little pieces and always quit while we are ahead.

Ultimately, I’d like to be able to move around my pony completely without holding the lead rope. This will be an awesome foundation for working on calmly picking her hooves! I’d also like to be able to just walk away. All of this will be great for mounting and halting when riding, too. The thing is, if I work on the practical applications too early, I could mess up our training of the foundational concept, so I am not going to put this to the test until I’ve finished training it completely. I think I tend to jump ahead too quickly and then I don’t know how to recover. I don’t want to have to do that, so I have to be conscious of not skipping ahead. This will make everything a lot easier for me and for Comfort.

One thing I’ve learned with training is that if you don’t have a clear pyramid of “easy to difficult” in your head, you can accidentally skip ahead and confuse yourself or the animal. I had this revelation reading Brian Kilcommon’s Good Owners Great Dogs. Maybe, in my instance, I’m asking for duration of time and distance all at once. That probably isn’t going to work. I’ve got to break that down and choose to do one or the other until it’s mastered. So for training my quasi-ground-tie, I’ve made a little chart so I can make sure I don’t accidentally go overboard.

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(Despite my capitalization errors) I think this is a good approach for Comfort and me!

So, as we master this, I’ll update with new posts and then I can move on to working through everything else on my list. I think I’m really going to come out strong if I stick to this, and I am excited to fix our issues so we can keep moving ahead! Just as I’ve broken this down, I need to break down my 9 issues, too. They might be related, and working on one could really help another. In my next post I’m going to make sure my issues are in the correct order so that it’s as easy as possible for Comfort and me to overcome them. Until then!

 

 

My Experience Riding a Medium Sized, Narrow Feeling Pony

I’d like to share that these are findings I’ve gathered from experiences with my own pony, and they may not work on or apply to others. I hope this information is helpful, but know I am not an expert, and I am just contributing my experiential knowledge to the giant horse library that is the internet [[[besides the part that is just “My Little Pony” fan art; I am in no way in cahoots with all that.]]]

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How I feel about My Little Pony, lately. Thanks, Tumblr!

Back the the point!

There is something I discovered about riding Comfort that I could barely find ANY information about on the web: How to ride/stay on narrow, medium sized ponies. Firstly, most information on the internet about ponies is from the UK. Secondly, since most people writing articles and posting on forums are adults, these UK adult riders typically ride large ponies. I have a medium sized pony and I swear she has bird bones and the fitness and flexibility of an olympic gymnast. If she becomes fearful and jumps sideways, good luck! If she wants to drop a shoulder or turn on a dime, have fun staying on! All of this is to say – there’s almost no advice out there about how to stick with a pony like Comfort.

Comfort is a POA, and most POA’s have a little bulk to them. Comfort, on the other hand,  looks like someone took a shrink ray to an actual thoroughbred and just hit the miniaturize button and then sprinkled on spots.

Grand champion POA stallion KS’s Pony Farm:         And then there’s Comfort:

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Comfort the POA!

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KS’s Naturally Nifty 2014 POA Southeast Regional Grand Champion

So Comfort obviously doesn’t look precisely like a typical POA, but hey, she’s cute and is bonafide! But in her all-around “mediumness” Comfort poses a lot of challenges to an adult rider.

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Here is a comparison! Thanks to my friend Danny who took this photo of my friend and me. Check out how little leg Comfort takes up. Also check out the amazing face she’s making!!!

Comfort is a narrow pony, in the sense that when you sit on her, the V created by your legs is not quite as broad and stable as it would be on an equine with a bigger rib cage. Riding her bareback is CRAAAAZY feeling. It’s not that the pony is too small for me to ride, it’s just that her build is atypical from the average lesson horse. You will not feel a big bulging rib cage and belly supporting your legs. This is a major benefit of big horses and rotund ponies (bless their hearts :). When I mount a horse and I feel my legs stretch around either side of the horse’s body, the last thing I think about is falling off. I’m extra-super secure feeling. With a pony like Comfort, you immediately notice that big blob of support is missing. It’s up to you to stay balanced, and everything you do is going to require a tad more work on your part. One particularly awesome rider on an airplane once sympathized with me saying riding Comfort sounds like you are “riding an envelope.” I completely agreed!

Comfort can move fast, and you can get unseated pretty quickly. Your weight has a huge influence over a pony her size. Sitting up tall and sticking with her is crucial. BELIEVING you can stick with her is the absolute most important thing you can do. You have to trust the connection. Mentally relax and feel yourself completely give over your weight to the pony. Be in the saddle, not on the saddle. Don’t be an half empty sack of rice, but make sure you are actually sinking your weight into the saddle. I think I got that concept from Mary Wanless, but don’t quote me. I think it was she that said your center can’t be floppy. I love Mary Wanless, check out these awesome before and after photos from people who have worked with her! Wow!

Anyway . . . Next topic:

NEVER LET GO!

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Stay in the saddle with the pony! Never let go! (Link)

At some point when you get on, your seat has to say to the pony- Hey, I trust you and I am not going anywhere. Here I am, don’t expect any changes, know you can always feel me here.

I think so much of good riding comes down to attitude. At first I didn’t realize it, but for a while I was distrustingly tensing my muscles ever so slightly when I rode Comfort. I didn’t know it about myself until I was on Comfort when she was totally relaxed and on a trail ride. As she remained loose and her body shifted over obstacles, hills, and dips in the trail, I realized I wasn’t letting her carry me; I was still carrying me. I think (and I could totally be wrong!!) that’s what people mean when they say to “be deep in the saddle” or “let your weight sink into the saddle.” My decision to stop carrying myself was 10% feel/muscle and 90% awareness/trust. I think many issues with riding come down to your mindset and trust. Ever since I felt that sensation, I’ve been able to recreate it in our rides, but it’s very easy when your pony is in a flat arena for this to go unnoticed. I really think trail riding is a great tool for bringing your attention to things you might not notice in the arena.

So I hope that’s all helpful and useful or at least interesting. I would love to hear stories from other riders who have ridden medium sized ponies like Comfort. Do please feel free to ask me questions or comment and share any more ideas/experiences if you feel compelled. Thanks for reading!