Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Big Difference

We had another very productive ride today. Steen's willingness to give me a "soft feel" was increased from the beginning, and after I mounted and practiced a few times, he walked off quietly. He's been obsessed with hopping into the trot our last few rides, so that was a nice change. We walked around for a while and he stayed at the walk. We stopped and worked on our soft feel some more and then walked some more. Then I asked for the trot and he picked it up willingly, but then started trying to drift towards where Brian was riding Bear.

One of the things Buck said over and over in the clinic was, "Do so little you don't think you'll get a response, then do what it takes." Basically this means making a dramatic difference between asking nicely and telling firmly so your horse can learn to yield to the softest possible cue but won't learn a gentle touch can be ignored. So as Steen started to drift towards Bear I put my leg on his side and gave him a little nudge. He ignored me and continued his drift. So I gave him a very little kick.

Steen has been highly sensitive to the leg since I've got him -- so sensitive in fact that he's caused me to develop a rather bad habit of riding with my legs sticking out just to avoid sending him off inadvertently. The clinic included some talk about proper rider position and it made me realize that my pandering to Steen's over-sensitivity is not only not doing his training any favors, it's not good for my seat. So the last two rides I've been careful to ride with my leg right up against his body.

Even though my kick was not hard by any standards, it startled Steen. He leaped into a trot and I stopped him with one-rein and pointed him again in the direction I wanted to go. He walked, no longer veering towards Bear.

This is how the ride mostly went. Steen had his moments, but they were brief and his little flares of temper were cowed immediately by my new arsenal of consistent responses. By the end of the day he was giving me the soft feel quickly, stopping very well and no longer trying to pick up the trot or edge off after I asked him to stand. His flexes were awesome and he's adjusting to the new way with very little trouble. I even let him lope for a while, and he cruised around on a loose rein. His "Bear magnet" diminished steadily over the hour we rode. By the end I think he just had too much on his mind to worry about where his buddy was.

So, today's ride was pretty wonderful with a lot of really relaxed moments. I also got the sense Steen was thinking and understanding and saying to himself, "Oh, that's what she's meant all along." It's amazing what a clear system of communication can do for a relationship.

Ride Time: 1:00
Horseback hours YTD: 64:55

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