So, to backtrack for the people who haven’t been seeing the texts between the rider and myself… I decided to go the Website Forum route because texting this information is extremely time consuming and I’m a much better keyboard typer than texter! LOL
This horse (14 year old Peruvian Paso) does not belong to this rider. The rider bought a horse from Checkerboard Farms and has been taking lessons from me for about a year and a half on that horse. Before that, she did not have many formal lessons and kinda rode by “the seat of her pants and VERY grippy legs”! (Like velcro, I tell you! LOL It was amazing what she could stay on! LOL)
Anyways, by getting on other horses, the rider is filling in the blanks of her training even though what she thinks she is doing is just alleviating her own boredom because she is in a different state far, far away from her own horse on vacation. :)
Originally, she sent me the first vid and asked:
- RIDER: “When you go to the left in the arena he always turns back. What do I do?”
Not that she showed me the problem in the video, which would have been helpful. If you are sending video to a trainer for assessment, don’t show the good part of the ride. Show the bad part so we can help with the problem. We are not here to say, “Looks good.” That’s not our job. That’s your friend’s job. Give your friend THAT video. Give the trainer the BAD parts of the ride video! LOL
Anyways, she asked if doing circles would help so I replied:
- ME: Yes, circles (crossing rein over neck) but sometimes not a full circle before taking them back the other way…so, half circle, half circle, half circle, full, circle, half circle… Keep them from realizing what direction you are taking them… never giving them something to fight, just deflecting and redirecting…
I texted that whole thing. Yaaay me! The next day, she rode the horse and replied:
- RIDER: Today I got him going the problem direction, after 10 times doing circles, he decided he has no problem with this direction.
Yep! She deflected and redirected this horse into the direction she wanted him to go without resorting to fighting. Though it may seem as if there was a fight but it’s a fight by sidestepping. We’ve all seen the bar room brawls on TV where the bad guy throws the punch and the slinky, ninja warrior ducks the punch by sliiiiiding sideways without lifting his hands in defense. This is what the little circles are. (Old cowboys used to call it Doubling-back.) Sliiiiiding sideways without giving the horse something to fight and the little horsey gets all outta breath and tired and the rider just sits there, reeling in rein and sliiiiding it out the other side until the horse wonders what he was all fussing about. Horses only fight to defend themselves. This little horse doesn’t understand the human world (being a rescue pony, he may never have had a real home and many owners with little knowledge yanking and cranking on him) and has had a saddle strapped on his back, a bit shoved in his mouth, and a rider telling him to “Move on!”
So, the above circling (doubling back and forth) fixed the issue with the not going forward in a particular direction of the arena and that’s where the Rider leaves off and comes home. She again goes back to this vacation spot, (it’s Las Vegas, okay? People go there often, I guess! LOL) and now wants to work on:
- RIDER: Also, when he is on a rail I can’t really stop him or go diagonal across arena, he start acting wired. How to fix it?
So, why would a horse, who has now found a human which he sometimes can get a glimmering of understanding from, why would he start freaking out again when he leaves the rail? Or when you pull on the reins to make him stop? It still goes back to the above issue. The same fix is used. We have a poor horse that doesn’t know the difference between Stop and Go cues and when you take away the ONE landmark he can focus on (the rail) it causes all kinds of internal freak out anxiety and defensive behaviors. Cues mean nothing to this poor horse except anxiety and possible yanking on his mouth and bouncing on his back and whip smacks. Which causes more anxiety. And any fix utilized is probably going to cause more anxiety because most people fight a horse into submission rather than letting the horse figure out the right answer without personal judgement.
A horse is not a personal reflection on a rider unless the rider does nothing to change the horse’s behavior. Reflection is not a moment in time but a series of moments strung together to show positive or negative progression. In other words, I won’t look at a horse/rider combo on one day and say, “They suck!” LOL I will see if there is any progress over a multitude of rides and see if the suckishness subsides. If it does not, THEN I can say, “They suck continuously!” and aren’t changing. That IS a reflection on the rider. If the rider doesn’t know how to change a horse’s behaviors, then it is up to him or her to learn. But a horse being bad on any one day is not a reflection on the rider. It’s a moment in time that will be left behind as the rider keeps the forward progression. So, quit taking offense at a horse’s defensive behaviors, people. Be neutral so they have no need to fight you.
So, back to our 14yr old, highly anxious, misunderstood ill-trained Peruvian Paso, take the horse off the rail, and he when he starts freaking out, even a little, give him something to do by quietly doubling him back and forth (about a billion times should do it) until he is able to walk on a long rein. He’s likely to wind up a hot sweaty mess until he gets to that point but the rider should be able to sip a cup a tea and not get caught up in the stress of it all. The horse is expecting the worse and you are going to sidestep his expectations and not let him get to say, “See! I told you so! The sky IS falling!” You are going to, as above, “Sliiiiide sideways without giving the horse something to fight and let the little horsey get all outta breath and tired and you are going to just sit there, reeling in rein and sliiiiding it out the other side until the horse wonders what he was all fussing about. Horses only fight to defend themselves.” If you don’t give them anything to defend against, if they are just wasting their energy and time, they give up and give in.
Remember to pull across the horse’s neck to bend it, down low towards the front of the saddle, not towards the side or back towards his hind feet. That would require another article to explain the why, and I will get to it someday, just not today… Just be aware that they can’t fight across the neck but can put their whole body weight against your hand if you pull to the side or towards their hind feet. And be sure, by gosh and golly, that once they give in, that you absolutely give back to them. Release, RELease, RELEASE!!!
Remember, a release is not a throw away the reins until they loop to his knees. If we think of the elastic play of our elbows moving back and forth, we can use that elastic play to follow the horse’s mouth movement as he moves his neck up and down, back and forth. We can either use heavy elastic or light elastic and all my seamstresses out there should immediately understand this elastic analogy but for the rest of you, these coiled springs are going to illustrated the concept. If you took opposite ends of one of these springs in either hand and pulled them apart, you would use more strength or less strength depending on the length and weight of the metal and the amount of coils per square inch. Some of these springs would be springier or easier to pull apart and give a lighter elastic feel and some would be harder to pull apart or feel like heavier elastic. A coiled spring, under pressure (pulled apart or squeezed together) is just stored energy. A coiled spring laying on a blue circle with no one pulling or pushing it is just curvy metal. It requires some energy to store and that is supplied by our hands pulling the ends apart or squishing it together.
Since we don’t have coiled springs in our reins or attached to the bits of our horses, we have to store that energy somewhere and the handiest spot is the hinge of the elbow. It’s not an automatic give like those inanimate coiled spring objects in the picture so we must learn to make it automatic by hard work and practice. So, keeping the concept of stored energy in your mind, and the image of a coiled spring in your head, connect to your horse’s mouth through your elastic elbows with 0.0lbs of pressure. Follow the horse’s mouth where ever it moves, without any slack, but don’t put pressure on it. A cue, such as trying to get the horse to bend or to stop, requires pressure, a little or a lot, maybe 2lbs. or 15lbs. until the horse responds and then you go back to 0.0lbs of following connection. Certainly not loopy reins but by using our elbows to go from 15lbs of pressure released to 0.0lbs of following connection but no slack. It’s a release through the elbows.
A horse’s give in may be just the tiniest bit of less-pressure in and amongst all the different harder pressures as he tosses his head and twists his jaws. Your job is to figure out how to release to a following connection the moment the horse releases and then when he puts the pressure back on again, you sliiiiide away by crossing that rein over his neck again and bending him into a half-circle or circle. Horses fight stuck, stiff elbows. Don’t get sticky elbows. Get elastic elbows and the horse will begin following the release of your elbows so there is never any pressure on his mouth.
So, as you come off the rail, and the horse’s anxiety builds up, you need to take a deep breath, (cross rein over neck) half circle, (cross rein over neck) half circle, (cross rein over neck) full circle, (cross rein over neck) half circle, (open soft rein away from neck) release, continue down your path off the rail, anxiety builds, (cross rein over neck) half circle, (cross rein over neck) half circle, (cross rein over neck) full circle, (cross rein over neck) half circle, (open soft rein away from neck) release, continue down your path (off the rail) until you can continue on a long rein without having to prevent the horse from running away by holding back on a tight rein. About a billion times should do it. LOL
Practice the off the rail work and get the long-rein walk nice and soft before you go into the halt work. Slide your hands down the reins so no slack is in them but there is no pull. A FOLLOWING hand (requires the elbows to move back and forth with the horses head movement.) Not a BLOCKED hand that the horse’s mouth bounces against. Sit back in the saddle, (but don’t dig your seat bones into the saddle) lift your seat bones, and then pull back with connected elbows. When the horse slows down, not necessarily stops, but slows down the movement of his feet, release. Wash, rinse, repeat–about a billion times should do it. :) Eventually, the slowing down of the feet tilts over into the halt. BUT… if you release while the horse is still pulling, he learns to pull instead of slowing down. Make sure you give at the right time or you risk making the problem worse rather than better.
If the action does seem to be building up anxiety instead of releasing it, take a deep breath, and go back to half-circle circles–(cross rein over neck) half circle, (cross rein over neck) half circle, (cross rein over neck) full circle, (cross rein over neck) half circle, (open soft rein away from neck) release, and then try again. Shorten the reins with connected hands, lift the seat bones, stop the movement of your hands, pull (with elastic-following-not-blocked-hands–again another whole article here that will get written,) until the feet slow and then you release release. The quicker you release properly, the quicker the horse figures out how to be lazy by stopping the feet instead of just slowing them down.
When you learn to release appropriately, and consistently, your horse learns to relax because he knows what to expect. Humans fear when they don’t understand something. Horses fear the same thing. If they don’t understand something, they fear it. With understanding, fear goes away. When you teach a horse that you are not going to yank and crank on their back and mouth, when you teach them what to do when you give them a cue, they are happy campers. It’s the release that teaches.
Practice the half-circle circles (doubling-back) and the halts sliiiiiding into half circle circles if the halt doesn’t work until you can get walk and halt anywhere in the arena.
The first lesson of this may take twenty minutes or it may take an hour depending on how stuck the horse is. It may take two. Your job is to take that time, disconnect yourself from any other emotion, (anger, exasperation, or time constraints) and sit there and bend and sliiiiide and bend and sliiiiide until it is done. The time you put in now goes quicker and quicker each training session until all the behaviors you didn’t like to see just go extinct and you only get the give in‘s that you want. Mr. Peruvian Paso in Las Vegas will walk and halt, and eventually paso fino and paso largo and halt, and then canter and halt anywhere in the arena… and then out on trail… and then everywhere.
It’s what we did with your horse, and what you will do with this horse, and what you will use for the next and the next and the next. These concepts, (pressure-and-release, don’t give the horse anything to fight except themselves, etc.,) are used for every horse problem there is. Even if a trainer tells you the concept is something else, you can find these threads of concept running through. Find them. Use them.
Food for thought…
QUESTIONS or COMMENTS?
Write it below and open a discussion… not an argument, eh? ;)