Training the Mind of the Horse and Rider

Training the Mind of the Horse and Rider
Click on Logo (Original artwork by Lanie Frick for Messick Quarter Horses. Not permitted to be copied)

Friday, April 10, 2009

Finally back to Riding and Training

Weather is warming up and I am finally back to riding and training. With a bang! One horse that needs conditioning for CTR (Competitive Trail Riding). One horse in training, a mare with an attitude.

That doesn’t seem like much, but I do morning chores, which consist of feeding a herd of cats (and as many as I have, it is a herd!), 5 dogs, 2-4 puppies (until yesterday, the last of the Beagle pups have sold!), a stud, a pasture of 10 horses, and the pen of the 3 yearlings and the older gelding who has babysat them all winter. Then I go to my tack store, Messick Tack & Feed, until 5 or 6 pm. Then home again for ride time and chores.

I try to be done riding by 7:30 , done with chores by 8, and inside to a hot shower. When I had a full barn of training horses, I used to be in the barn until 9. But either I am too old to be busy that late, or I just don’t want to be busy that late any more. I’ve gone from 8-10 horses in training to 1 or 2 horses. Geez…where did the energy go?

Anyways, I am finally back to riding after not riding all winter, and I LOVE it!

I couldn’t wait until winter was over! And I couldn’t wait until March decided to have warm temps, which it finally did, but every other week was freezing!

Except this past weekend, when I’m finally back to writing, and it’s winter out there! Luckily, temps were warm, and the snow that came, melted as it landed on the ground. Northwest Nebraska was harder hit. And I am sure glad that I don’t live in Minnesota and the Dakotas.
3 weeks, (now actually 4 weeks since it’s taking me a week to write this), have past since I have started riding. In the meantime, I have had my first Granddaughter’s baptism and the Nebraska Horse Expo. I have had a week, or 2, or actually 3 weeks, of putting my store back together. And I have had an evening of babysitting my grandson, Caden.

OK, back to training. The first thing I do is free lunge the horse. In the arena. No saddle. I want that horse to bond with me. I turn the horse, changing directions. The horse knows that I am boss and needs to listen to me. Typical natural horsemanship. Once the horse licks his/her lips and turns to me, I stop. Sometimes the horse never turns to me, and so I lunge for a certain amount of time and stop. I continue free-lunging the next day. Usually, after a time or 2 of free lunging, the horse accepts you as boss, and after a time of lunging, the horse will turn to you. If the horse never turns to me, I continue free lunging each day, know that the horse may never turn to me. I have only had a few of these horses, and even though they are respectful, I always wonder if they treat you as boss or just mind their manners while you are working with them, and don’t understand that you are boss or want you as their boss. As long as they stop and let me approach, I leave them alone, building respect this way. The mare that I was riding turns and walks towards me, letting me know that she wants to be my friend.

I lunge with the saddle. No play time. With a saddle on, there is no bucking or kicking out or running around the arena like a crazy fool! Once again, I change directions, building up dominance while letting the horse get used to the saddle. If a horse doesn’t give to the bit, I like to bit back. In the beginning, I use baler twine so if the horse reacts and tries to pull his head up and fight the tightness, the twine will break. I tie from the bit to the rings of the cinch. Once the horse knows to give when he is bit back, then I use the reins. I lunge both ways, walk, trot and lope. This may take awhile for the horse to know how to lope off . This is the beginning of collection and it is hard for the horse to understand and to do. The horse needs to use the hind legs with impulsion to push himself up into the lope. The horse usually just trots faster before breaking into the lope. In the beginning, this is fine as they are learning how to lope with their heads down. Necks are level though, and they learn to break at the poll and at the withers. Once they learn to lope off, then I try to keep the trot slow as they lope off.

On to riding. Bending the neck in both directions to loosen up the horse. With the mare that I just got done riding, she bends well. With her, I worked on keeping her neck straight and her body between my hands and legs as I rode. She was definitely a wiggle worm to start with. But within the first 2 days, she could travel straight. She already gave to the bit, so that was easy for her to do and I thought, to understand. I did have to work with her mare attitude. She gave to the bit, she understood where to carry her head, and she easily traveled straight, yet she wanted to head toss. My first thought was that she had a sharp tooth that was causing pain. After checking with the owner, her teeth had been checked and were fine. She was in a very nice, balanced bit.

I believe her head tossing was part of not wanting to work. I understand mares, so instead of fighting her, I just got back off her and lunged her more. Part of why I lunge is to make sure there is no buck in them, part to wear them down if they are excited or anxious, and part to get them to a point where their minds will listen to me. She did act better and did less head tossing after a 2nd lunge time of 10 minutes. During the next few minutes, her head tossing stopped as I continued to trot her. But each day, she would go back to a little head tossing as I wanted to trot off. She clearly was showing me that she didn’t want to work. I started to leave her trot off on a loose rein even though her head was up. As she moved on and didn’t head toss, I slowly picked up contact on the reins until I had her head perpendicular to the ground, making sure that she was not behind the bit.

This mare was in for training and I had 2 areas to make sure to work on: to side pass better and to lope slower and with collection. I first worked her at a pace that was easy for her, at the trot. Nose tucked, neck down and level - not head up and nose out where she wants to be. She likes looking out into the distance to see what is there. But riding a horse when they are like this is not comfortable for the horse or rider. The horse is not balance and has hollowed her back. If she is on a long trail ride, she will get a sore back. The horse will bounce on the horse’s back more if they are not posting.

She trots beautifully and the owner took a picture of her with full extension of her front legs. She rides beautifully when she is like this. Smooth, ground covering, extended trot that is easy to post. But she did not want to keep this frame and lope off. This was hard for her to do. She needed to learn how to propel herself with her hind legs. This was hard work for her, either her body couldn’t do it easily or she plain didn’t want to! She left me know it as she would kick out as she loped off. I needed to get that kick out of her. So we did a lot of transitions. Trot to lope. Walk. Trot to lope. Change directions. Trot to lope. Walk. Trot to lope. Walk off on a loose rein and let her alone for a few minutes. I didn’t want her being a mare and getting mad just because she was working. I wanted to get her to a place where it would be her idea to lope off in collection.

A few times, if she kicked out, I would lope her a little, stop, roll back and lope off again. I would keep doing this until she wouldn’t kick out as I loped off. Then I knew she could do the lope off without kicking out, and I would stop and rest her. I would go through this lope pattern 1 or 2 more times, but not too long as she would become tired and irritable. I’m hoping that, with the owner riding her and working her in small stages of work mode, in another month, she will lope off easily and without irritability.

We moved on to 2 tracking (half pass) and side passing. Once again, she remembered how to do this and we just need to fine tune. Her neck became a wiggle worm again. She needed help
moving her hip more. I reinforced the hip moving with forehand turns, keeping the front feet planted and moving the hip first one way around the front feet, then the other way. Then I would move off into a straight line first. As she traveled forward, I would add my leg, as far back as I could reach, to pushed the hip over. Both the outside front and hind feet should cross in front of the inside feet, while maintaining a straight line, and without allowing the horse to turn the body towards the direction that you are 2 tracking to.

Side passing was next. Once again, keeping the body straight and not allowing the front or the hind end to move ahead of the other. Sometimes, I put the horse on the arena wall, facing the wall. They can’t move forward as they are side passing. We practiced side passing logs next, keeping the log below our leg, which gave the horse room to slightly move either leg forward or backward without hitting the log. We practiced side passing to the rail and to the gate.

I didn’t have the time to put a whole month of this mare. With only 3 weeks of training, the mare lopes slower and with her head down. She will need to be told to keep her head there as she lopes. She has the basics of collection. She will need help to keep her neck and body straight as she 2 tracks and side passes. The mare may need more time to deal with her personality.

But on the trail, the mare moves out beautifully and without hesitation. She stands quietly to cut back brush while on horseback. That is what the owner wants and the mare cooperates. I’m sure the owner will have the mare loping with collection, willingly by the mare, before the end of summer!

My fat Finny needs lots of trotting!

I’m looking forward to being out on the trail together. And I hope you have a chance to be out on the trail somewhere too!

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