Monday, January 12, 2015

Miss Manners

Ah, what a whirlwind of life! It's winter in West Virginia, and long-time readers will recognize that this is the season in which I work two jobs - my typical biologist position with added ski patrol for the snowy months. Except you know, this year it's three jobs instead of two because I'm working at two resorts instead of one. *shrugs* C'est la vie.

I would like to state for the record that despite the three jobs I am *not* working myself into the ground. This past weekend I pulled a double between the two resorts on Friday and had Saturday and Sunday all to myself. I've taken Sundays off from everywhere for the season and am gifted with the occasional Saturday, too.

Saturday was spent being domestic, but I pulled double-duty on Sunday and skied at a third resort in WV for a few hours before heading to the barn to work the horsebeasts.

Griffin: I've come to the conclusion that working two horses in one day is best done (for the winter months, at least) by riding one and working the other on the longe. Today was Griffin's turn for ground work.

I ended up working him for 25 minutes mostly at the trot. He'd get to do a lap or two at the canter to energize him and really motivate him to move forward, but no more. I put him on a loose setting in side reins coupled with a polo wrap tied to the surcingle that went behind his bum to better motivate him to step under himself.

I'd never tried the polo wrap before and was curious to see if it would make a difference. Verdict? Yes, for the first 5 minutes. After that though? *shrugs*

I focused on really having Griffin move forward with steady rhythm. By the end he was tracking up nicely and reaching into the bridle, though not quite as much as I'd originally desired. I decided to take his best efforts as "good" and quit there before he became tired and cranky. I haven't done a lot with him lately, so I wisely shelved my higher hopes for the day.

Q: I crave saddle time a lot lately. Especially behind these dark bay ears. I've decided that I will work the little mare under saddle on trails, but only if they are trails we've previously had a successful ground driving session on. This motivates me to do good by my ground driving goals and also rewards me for seeking out the effort to ground drive more.

Q has been so confident lately both ground driving and under saddle. I've kept my agenda clear beyond having sessions that are good for her mentally and curb her herd-bound tendencies. (Like when she tried to rush home during ground driving and I double-longed her until she'd settled.)

Yesterday's ride went much like the ground driving session with a few different tactics. I'm not 100% pleased with the tactic I chose yesterday as it had some flaws, but I had to stick with it at the time.

We had a great mini-trail ride on the trail we'd previously ground driven with success. Kenai came with us on this mini-ride and I realized something that changed with rides on Q between the first year I had her and last year: Kenai was with us a lot on the first year. I am more focused and concerned about Kenai's whereabouts than what Q is potentially concerned with in regards to monsters on the trail. As I watched and tracked Kenai yesterday, I noticed Q looking all about for things to spook at. Because my attention was primarily elsewhere and relaxed though (intent on Kenai), she never balked or bunched up to erupt in a spook. Not all that surprising really, but an interesting observation all the same that will help in future rides.

Once we were back in the field tracking toward home, Q became very motivated and drawn like a magnet to the barn and her friends. While I accept that this is a tendency of many horses and is instinct to many degrees, she must learn to dampen that instinct when a rider is aboard and mind her manners. With every indication of interest toward "home", I turned her away to do work in the opposite direction. Circles mostly with some trotting away until her focus settled calmly in the "away" direction.

When we were at the peak of our distance away from the barn (my boundary for the day's ride), and she was still demonstrating more motivation toward home I tried a trick Daryl recommended that Mr. Crandell told him to do with his horse: make them hate their own ideas and they might start to think you're right! Granted, more time and many repetitions (and modification to the way the idea is used) are needed. 

Because I was in an area on the landscape that was conducive to creating "more work" for Q if she wanted to go home (I was at the bottom of a hill that stood between her and the barn), when she motivated toward home I made her book up up that hill as fast as I could, and then at the top I turned her around and went the "away" direction at a nice, easy walk. See, mare? Home means more work, going away from home is much nicer.

With a calmer horse, we finally descended the hill in the "home" direction....except she passaged the whole damn thing. And so, she had to run up and "away" again. She did a walking march down the second time, not the calmest, but marked improvement nonetheless. 

From there, she was still expected to walk home. Every moment she broke from the walk into a trot or a hybrid walk/trot, she was circled "away" until she calmed. And then, as we reached the flat, she motivated hard for "home" again. 

(And here is the point where, in hindsight of course (d'oh!), my idea to make her hate her own idea reversed a little. I should have made things easier away from home and harder toward them if I was keeping with the original idea. I did the opposite though. Even as I was pursuing it yesterday I realized there was some error to the approach, but felt I should stick with it for the time for consistency's sake. Noted, and will modify for the future!)

A tired mare after our ride.
I turned her "away" on the flat part and cantered her to one end of the field and back until she'd settled. Then we tried walking again. She pushed the label, so we cantered away and then settled to a slow trot. We tried walking home again, she pushed to go faster, and so we trotted off "away" again. This was repeated until she was much more motivated to walk.

On the final approach across the field to the barn, if she walked, she got to keep going. The moment she broke into a faster gait, she was turned and cantered AWAY to the same place every time where she was then expected to stand calmly for several seconds time while facing away from home. Each attempt to walk home we would get a few steps further (snow is a beautiful thing for tracking progress!) before she'd try to rush. Each time we reached the You Must Stand area, she stood calmly more quickly (didn't fidget before giving in to standing). 

(While she seemed to be grasping that there was less work away from home in the area where she didn't have to move her feet, I still was pursuing the opposite of my original intent. Not altogether bad, but not good either considering my original intent.)

With time, she deigned to walk home. It wasn't on the buckle, but it was a marked success from the beginning of the session!

The funny part through all of this for me was how sassy Q was about not getting her way. On Griffin or another horse I would have been put out with a sassy attitude, but from this mare who was relatively meek about things in the past I am highly amused. She was just SO ADAMANT about trying to do what she wanted every time, so much repetition of the "wrong" answer. Each time I redirected her "wrong" attempt, she would let her breath out in a staggered grunting/groan noise for the space of one exhale. When that exhale ended, she would refocus on the new direction and settle. As she grew more tired, she wouldn't make the noise, but the breath was still there. 

I fully admit that the sassy, headstrong tendencies have potential to be no bueno if not honed well, but for now, I'm just eager to see this side of this horse. I hope I am able to hone the behavior into something beneficial for the mare and myself with regards to our working relationship!

I hope I am able to stay as cognizant of training sessions in the future and continue to improve upon them. Clearly, I must be making some strides considering that we've not had a session with a bad spook yet since our return to work. I know it will inevitably happen, but I hope that this practice of being diligently aware of how we're training, what's going on in both my head/body, and what is happening in the environment will aid in my understanding of why future bumps happen and how I can move forward to resolve them and try to prevent their frequency of occurrence into the future.

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