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.
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.
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!
- 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.
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
- My pony doesn’t hate me
- 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.
(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!