Friday, May 24, 2013

Cool, Sunny Trail Ride

In spite of having rather cushy work-weeks, Brian and I were both pretty tired heading out to the barn today. In the car, we chatted about what to do, and eventually agreed it would be nice to just take our two most solid ponies and hit the trail.

We tacked up Steen and Bear, and headed out. Bear's energy and overall perkiness-factor have been way up the last few days, so we were hoping he'd hold up well out and about. Brian commented when we went down our first little hill that he was feeling really loose and moving well, so that was encouraging.

We went to the back corner of our barn's property and out the gate that basically lets us out on our vet's land. From there we went up a gravel road for a short stretch, and onto a nice grassy lane where we ran into a woman walking her dogs, off-leash. I'm all for letting dogs run free, but I tend to think that if you're going to let your dog off a leash you should have it trained well enough that it will come back to you when you call it.

This woman did not have that sort of control, and from a distance Steen saw them and got a little nervous. Lately it seems the only thing that bothers Steen is things moving in the distance when he can't figure out what those things are. His head came up and he got a little rigid, but I combined my Richard Caldwell lessons with some of what I've learned from Martin Black about doubling, and started taking the slack out of the rein, then asking Steen to step under behind and give his neck a bit. To do everything I was asking, Steen had to break both in the loin and at the poll, which has a naturally relaxing effect on a horse, and since I wasn't jerking or yanking, I wasn't contributing to his nerves.

Finally we got close enough that Steen could see the dogs were dogs, at which point he ceased to be concerned about them. But one dog, a little terrier, was not so sanguine about us. It was hanging back behind is owner and barking. We moved to the outside of the trail to give it more room. It continued to balk and bark and finally scooted past us. Which was great until it turned around and thought about nipping at Steen's heels.

I was ready to turn Steen around and chase it just to keep it from genuinely spooking him, but fortunately the walker managed to call it off before things got to that point. We went on, and a little bit later moved them into a nice trot. Bear was really trotting out, and I had to encourage Steen into a pretty long posting trot to keep up.

We crossed a gravel road, and encountered a field containing a tractor making hay. Again with the thing in the distance Steen can't quite identify, and again with the rigid neck. We returned to our mini-leg-yield/doubling exercise, and as soon as we got close enough to identify the tractor as a tractor, Steen calmed way down. We moseyed on.

We got to the bottom of the double-track and saw we'd been riding for an hour. Bear still seemed great, but we didn't want to tax him. We headed for home. Steen was jazzed to go when we turned around, so I made him stand until he could do so quietly. Then we walked back, and once again when he saw the moving tractor he got a bit rigid. So back to our suppling exercise we went.

And I have to say, by then Steen had gotten really supple. I'd pick up on the leg and lift my heel to ask him to step under, and he'd soften up and tip his nose away from the tractor and step under behind and look gorgeous. Then I'd let him go and he'd whip his head around and go back to starting at the unidentified object of doom.

But he wasn't getting more agitated, and he was getting more responsive. I have no doubt I could have left him alone and we'd have trucked by with no problem, but it seemed a good opportunity to work on this kind of thing.

We passed the tractor a second time, and agreed to trot along the grassy double-track towards home. Bear was motoring. He was trotting so fast, Steen had trouble matching the pace. At one point Steen suggested a lope would be a more more efficient and enjoyable way of keeping up. I brought him back to the trot, but a second later realized he was right. So I pushed him into the lope and we cruised along behind Bear and Brian until we got back to gravel.

From there it was just a matter of wending our way home through the fields. Steen stayed so soft. I kept checking in with him the whole ride home.

All in all, it was just a great ride. So fun, so relaxing. Bear had great energy the whole time, and both horses were well-behaved even in the face of adversity (aka: dogs and tractors). We got home feeling relaxed and happy and fond of our horses.

Ride Time: 1:30
Horseback Hours YTD: 68:40


  1. OK, another riding-relating question. I know you've described "doubling" before, but is it the same concept (or similar?) as "Bending" in the Clinton Andersen book? I find I often have different terminology for things, which makes me confused when people start talking about them. (I'm also thinking this may have been called "yielding to the bit" when I was younger.)

    Nice trail rides are awesome. Hopefully you'll be able to get many more in this summer. :)

  2. Yeah, the terminology with this stuff can get difficult. I had a lot of trouble understanding doubling at first.

    The way I understand things, doubling is not like bending (or a one-rein stop) in that when you double a horse, you don't modify his trajectory. You "bend" the horse in the sense that you cause a break in poll and loin, but the horse continues to move in the same direction, in the same gait. It's great for trail-riding because you can reduce impulsion without having to waller around in circles if your horse gets a little distracted.

    If you're good, you can double a horse by timing up with one hind foot and essentially causing that one foot to untrack for one stride, while the neck flexes the other way just a tad and the poll softens. It can be done at any gait. Basically, you are trying to take the drive out of the horse for one step, and make him supple through his whole body. In a case where a horse is nervous, this keeps him from gathering his haunches beneath him and surging forward.

    It took me a long time to really get this down at all, and really I still don't get it right all time. The most important part is the break in the poll, as a horse can step his hind over while keeping his head and neck stiff, which will just get the horse out of balance.

    Martin Black talks more extensively about it here, if you're interested in more detail. I know I had to work at this for quite a while and read about in quite a few different contexts before I "got" it. :)

  3. Ah ok. I found another description of it that had the horse turning all the way around. Yay for inconsistent terminology.

    So if I'm understanding this, the idea seems to be that you make the horse crooked for a step to reduce the forward. You're not so much looking for a smooth bend through the body, as a sideways bend at the poll and loin (in opposite directions).

    When you cue/train this, do you just use the rein to bend the head in, or do you use the leg as well to push the hind end out?

  4. Yeah, this is the "traditional" use of the term, for whatever that's worth. I've heard it used to mean different things as well.

    Exactly. When done at a walk, doubling is very subtle. I use both the rein and the leg. So if I'm doubling Steen, I might pick up my left rein, and wait until he gives at the poll and his nose tips in to the left. When that happens, I put my left leg on, back a tad so it influences the hind (as opposed to the center). If my timing is right, I'll push that hind foot as it leaves the ground, and Steen will step it beneath himself (to the right) while his nose is tipped slightly left.

    I've found keeping the rein close to the neck is helpful, otherwise you might get the whole head and neck instead of just the nose. Also, sometimes the nose will come first and it will take several steps to get the hind. It's ok to keep the poll soft while you wait for the horse to step under behind.

    When things don't go as well (when Steen is stiff or distracted) sometimes what I get is more like a mini-leg-yield, which I tend to think is an ok result. It doesn't take the drive out of the horse the same way (because the front and hind stay lined up) but it does supple the horse without having to resort to bending him in half. :)

  5. The other tricky thing with doubling, as far as I understand it, is that it can mean one little step, or it can mean bending the horse all the way into the stop.

    I remember watching a couple riders get in a small amount of trouble at the Martin Black clinic. He would watch and just say "double him, double him, double him" until they got their horse under control. In those instances, it was more than a few steps before the horse and rider got settled.

    Doubling is ultimately successful when you have the horse giving its poll and hindquarters to you. When we were on the trail the other day, that was just one step, but if you find yourself in trouble, it could be quite a few turns before you've successfully doubled them.

  6. I experimented with this some yesterday, and what I mostly got was the horse turning. I suppose that's not a terrible result, but not exactly what I was going for. I also got the mini leg-yield a time or two, which was kinda cool.

    Tranikla tends to be really stiff and bracey. It seemed as though he'd just brace against the rein if it was close the the neck, and was more likely to soften if I took it out away from the neck and back. I did usually get the whole head and neck, though, so I'm not sure if I'm "doing it right".

    For the riders at the clinic, where they actually going in circles while they were doubling, or did they keep the same forward and just maintain the break at the poll? What's confusing me here is whether I should try to keep the horse moving forward until I get the poll/hindquarters, or if I should let them turn in circles until it happens.

  7. Yeah, it's tricky. I must have played with it at least half a dozen times before I got it working at all :)

    As far as forward movement goes, if the horse breaks at the poll quickly, you're probably going to be able to keep going forward. If the horse braces on the rein or bends their neck instead of breaking at the poll vertically, you will have to shut down forward movement by bringing the head around further, and keep the hindquarters moving until the horse steps under. Once the horse is soft in poll and loin, you release and encourage them to move forward again. Gradually they will learn to do it with less and less bend.

    You definitely don't ever want them walking in a circle. If they're doing that, the front and hind are still united. So if you find yourself walking in a circle, increase the bend in the neck until forward movement stops and the hind steps under. Depending on the horse and how inclined they are to keep going forward, you might have to really bend them a lot.

    So basically, if doubling doesn't work while you're more or less moving straight, you end up in a deep bend and you might end up turning around several times while you wait for the hind, but there should be no forward movement while that is happening.

    Clear as mud, right?


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