Monday, August 17, 2015

Lesson Time! 8/15/15

So, after the past few rides out from the property, both solo and with other horses and riders, have gone less than optimally, I knew it was time to call out the big guns.  Celena is a great trainer of horses and riders alike, and I've had a few sessions with her, both one-on-one, semi-private, and in a small group clinic, but I knew that for THIS problem, she'd have to come to me instead of me going to her.  We made plans for her to come out on Saturday.

I arrived an hour or so early.  I originally thought I'd do some groundwork first, then realized that Celena would be starting with that, of course, so I probably shouldn't bother.  Arya'd be working hard enough once the lesson began.  :-)  So I just groomed her up nicely.  It'd been a while since I'd combed out her mane and tail, so I did a thorough grooming including those tasks.  Isn't she pretty?

But I can't really see her mane or tail, you say...

Well, here's here tail...

But this is what happens when I try to take a photo from the mane side when the sun is shining from that side.  :-)  Just watch the photos of the actual lesson for fluffy mane and tail.  :-)

When Celena and Paige (her trusty working student and today, puppy-sitter) arrived, the first order of business was for me to greet Tribe, Celena's new puppy.  He's SO adorable!  She also brought Luna, who I'd met before but got duly greeted as well.  And I let Noelle out of the house so SHE could greet everyone.  Happy puppies all around.

Then Celena had me show her in the round pen how I usually work Arya.  The truth is, I haven't been doing as much groundwork as I should be.  But we did some, then Celena took over to show me all the ways I was doing it wrong.  No, not really, she's much too nice to put it like that, but seriously, that was essentially the purpose.  :-)

First, I need to be sure I'm teaching Arya "responsibility."  She needs to maintain the gait she's put into (later on, she should also maintain speed within that gait, but we're going to just focus on the gait itself for now).  I've been pretty good about working on that when lunging.  She also need to work on the end of a line when lunging withOUT leaning on the rope.  I have NOT been good about reinforcing that.  Oops.  Celena also had to remind Arya a few times that when she cues her to go, she needs to GO.  Celena told me that when training a young horse, or a horse new to a specific task or cue, sure, you should gradually increase the "ask," by turning the virtual dial up slowly--1, 2, 3, 4, 5.  However, once a horse KNOWS what you're asking and is just being stubborn (e.g. Arya), then you can and should ask nicely, but when they don't respond, immediately turn the dial all the way up to reinforce that their life will be much more pleasant if they respond right away.  So ask with a level 1 or 2 cue, then immediately move to 5.  (Or 11, if the situation warrants.)  Arya was pretty stubborn about the "go" cue the first few times, but Celena got her moving off pretty consistently after a bit of work.

Working on the "go" cue and maintaining responsibility at the end of the line.

Then she showed me how I should be working on not just turning Arya around to head in the opposite direction, but actually asking her to STOP and disengage her body from its previous path and turn to face me (but yet not come in toward me).  Arya actually got the hang of this pretty quickly with Celena, but I'm always much less coordinated, so was curious how it would go with me.

Celena did usually have to cue her to turn her hindquarters just a bit further away, but by the end, Arya was getting the hang of even that part of the maneuver.

So after Celena got her good and warmed up, it was my turn.  And as predicted, it didn't go nearly as well as it had with Celena at the helm.  :-)  Arya took one look at the changeover and though "ha!  now's my chance to take advantage!"  I had a hard time getting her to go, so Celena showed me how to escalate my cues, and even had me practice whapping my whip with better aim, after I whacked Arya in the face (ouch!) and on the saddle (ineffective) when I should have been whacking her rump.  But with a bit of work, we actually got her going AND stopping quite well.  In fact, she did great with the stopping for me every time, now that she knew what we wanted.  Going was a bit harder, but once we got a couple very good sessions, we quit.

The next step was to take her for a hand walk off the property.  Her BFF (and the co-problem-causer, along with Arya herself) was in the front pasture, so we planned to walk right by it.  Wouldn't you know, Emma was too busy eating to actually come up to the fenceline, but we did still see some barn/herd sourness from Arya, so Celena got to work on addressing that.  I didn't take any photos, but she started off with walking, then halting and backing, to reinforce respect for her "bubble," then also added in some circling.  Arya would get "sticky" on the part of the circle where she was heading away from home, and "rushy" on the part where she was headed toward home, so Celena asked her to circle again until she at least didn't STOP, even if she did slow a bit.  This went fine for the first time or two, but one time when Arya stopped because she wanted to stick close to home and Celena asked her to GO, Arya got pissy and actually kicked out at her.  Celena stayed calm but also let her know that that was NOT the way to go about things.  Hope it stuck.  After getting kicked in the belly and getting VERY lucky that it didn't do much damage, it makes me really nervous.

After Celena felt that Arya was being respectful from the ground, even though she would have preferred to go home and hang out with her buddy, it was time to RIDE.  First Celena, but I brought my helmet along so I could get on out on the road as well.  We set off on our usual path for a solo ride, and I pointed out to Celena the intersection where she gave me the most trouble this last time.

Here's something innovative--Celena didn't just hop on and ride to where she wanted to go (like I've been attempting to do).  She got on and asked her to walk away from home, then turn and head home, then away from home, frequently circling or doing figure eights to keep her mind busy and her body supple and always checking in with her to see how she was doing in both regards.  Duh.  I don't know why this didn't occur to me, but it truly didn't.  I'm not sure how it would have gone even if it had, though, given my nervousness, but of course with Celena it went really well.  Arya had plenty of moments of "but I don't wanna!" but Celena insisted, and then rewarded after she did it.  Something else I need to work on through all of this is NOT nagging.  I have a tendency to micromanage the speed and steering.  Celena told me to focus on getting the right GAIT, but if it's a totally pokey walk (away from home) or a totally rushy walk (toward home), don't worry about it for now.  We can fine-tune later, but for now as long as she doesn't stop altogether or break into a trot, we're not going to care what speed she's going.  I'm also not going to micromanage which way her nose is pointing (toward home, duh), as long as her feet are doing what they're supposed to.  However, I do need to pick a path along the road (dead center, one tire track, whatever), and insist that Arya stick to it, rather than letting HER pick the route we take to get where we're going.

So yeah, Celena asked her to trot (going away from home) occasionally, halt occasionally, and did lots of circles and figure eights.  She insisted that she keep moving away from home, even at the intersection where Arya showed her obvious preference to head home.  She ignored whinnying as long as the rest of her behavior was good.  And when she felt Arya was ready, she asked if I was ready to get on.  Uh, I guess so.  :-)  I'd been nervous that morning prior to Celena arriving, but after seeing her working with Arya, and working with her myself, I actually wasn't nervous to get on this time.

Celena did a LOT of circles!

And a bit of "drunken sailoring" while trying to show Arya that she COULD walk in a straight line!

It's fun to see someone else ride my horse!  This is only the second time since she's been mine that anyone else has ridden her.  And as you can see, my nice custom (for me) fenders don't work so well for even relatively tall but shorter-than-me riders.  Oops.

We took her a bit toward home than the trouble spot where Celena had been working, partly to get Arya in a little more of a comfort zone, and partly to find a bit of a ditch for me to use as a height advantage.  :-)  Paige held Arya and Celena held the off-side stirrup, and I managed to heave myself on.  And it's not an exaggeration to use that word--I did kind of have to pull myself up the last little bit--I do NOT spring up far enough to mount lightly even from a block, but definitely not from the ground!  However, Arya didn't seem to mind, so I got on, got situated, and got a drink.

Then the work began.  At Celena's direction, I did circles and figure eights.  And as soon as Arya's feet did something I didn't expect, I started to hunch forward.  This is my go-to move when I panic, even though it's exactly the WRONG thing to do, and Celena coached me through it.  Lean back!  Boobs out!  Keep contact!  Don't cross your hands over her withers!  But it was exactly what I needed, and after the first couple circles with her constant reminders on just about every aspect, I got into the groove and was circling without much except the occasional verbal reminder (sometimes just to SMILE--this is supposed to be fun, after all!).

We worked at the "bad" intersection for a while, then started working our way home, constantly circling, but rewarding good work with a nice free walk (no tugging at the reins as long as she didn't break into a trot) toward home.  When she started to get TOO rushy (i.e. trotting), we'd circle back away from home, halt a moment, continue on away from home, then circle back toward home and allow her to walk as long as feasible again.  One thing I noticed, that seemed pretty consistent, was on the side of the circle where we were headed home and then turning away from home, she was nice and soft and had a good bend in her body.  Then when we were headed away from home and I cued her to turn TOWARD home, probably because she was in a big hurry to get there, she would PLOW around the turn like a semi, no bend to her body, all stiff.  So that's probably something to work on in the future, but for now, as long as her attitude stayed soft and supple, we didn't worry about the little things.

LOTS of circles.  This wasn't the "bad" intersection, but we did lots of circles here, too.

Does this giant mustang make my butt look smaller?

Both of us walking with a purpose.  Me, to stay calm yet in control.  Arya, to get back home (behind us, as you might have noticed based on her ears) as soon as possible.

Circles, circles, circles...

Hey!  It almost looks like we're enjoying ourselves!  Even Arya is happy.  :-)  (She's headed toward home)

More looks of determination

I keep harping on the toward/away from home thing.  Her most obnoxious (and potentially dangerous, though my nervousness makes a much bigger deal out of them than they really are) behavior improved a TON just based on the groundwork, and then improved more with Celena.  But you could still have closed your eyes and known whether you were headed toward or away from home at almost any point--she was a slowpoke headed away from home, would pull toward home when perpendicular to the route, and would rush toward home when headed that direction.  Something to work on longer term, but a HUGE improvement over our latest solo ride.

However, when we got pretty close to home, I'd been riding her on a loose rein but she was still rushing toward home, but at one point, she actually relaxed and quit even rushing.  Maybe we were close enough that it counted as being home, maybe she just figured we'd get there eventually, who knows.  But she completely relaxed and no longer worried about how FAST we'd actually go down the driveway, and even calmly walked right past the driveway.  Good girl!!!  Celena had been talking about getting back on her herself, but decided to reward her good behavior by having her be done.

So when we got back, I pulled tack and immediately let her graze on the green grass in the front yard.

Isn't Tribe the cutest?  I tried taking a bunch of photos, but most turned out blurry, of course.

Then, per Shar's request, I turned the two geldings (Flash, and another boarder named Jag) out to graze, too.  They munched on the nice green grass for a little while.  And meanwhile, Arya headed over to eat some brown dry grass instead--weirdo!  Then the boys went for a bit of a walkabout and explored the property.  Jag even round-penned himself.  We'd apparently left it open after we used it, and he moseyed inside, took a spin, and wandered back out again.  :-)  They eventually headed back to the green grass (they're smarter than Arya), and I put Arya away and headed home.

Jag finishing up his round pen session
Lessons for me:

  • I have to do more groundwork, and I have to be consistent
  • When I do ride, I need to have confidence.  She CAN do what she's asked, I just need to stay calm and remember how to ask
  • However, I also need to set ourselves both up for success by taking small bites instead of big ones--i.e. doing the circling and such from the get-go so that she doesn't get single-minded about her goal while I tune out and hope for the best, but rather we both tune into each other from the start.

Obviously, having Celena work with Arya helped a lot, but I think more than anything, just having her there to direct ME helped a TON.  I have homework to work on before we attempt solo riding from home again, but I actually feel confident that if we were to try, it might not go perfectly smoothly, but that I'd be able to handle it, which is more than I can say for how I felt a few days ago.  So yay! 

I was supposed to go work with Arya Sunday to reinforce all the good stuff from Saturday, but I was home-bound with sinus issues from all the smoke, and didn't want to venture out.  So I'm going to MAKE myself go out there tonight, no matter how crappy I feel (less of a feat when I'm already out of the house and more than halfway there), and do some groundwork and a bit of a handwalk.  No riding tonight.  

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