Saturday, June 01, 2013

Doing What It Takes

We stopped at the barn on the way to Chicago today. It was still soggy, still overgrown. So we rode inside. But we had the place to ourselves. That makes a big difference.

I rode Laredo. I started off with some groundwork with the flag. Brian and I have both been trying very  hard lately to draw a more obvious line between the "good deal" and the "make it happen" aspects of training with Laredo. I had this in mind from the very beginning.

We started with basic circle work. I'd point, offering him the chance to follow my feel. If he didn't go, I did a big, over-exaggerated cocking of my arm, preparing to bring the flag in to whack his shoulder. If he didn't go, I followed through with a firm whack. (For the record, the pole of the flag is flexible, and the fabric is soft. I don't think you could hurt a horse with it if you tried...) I didn't give him any other ask between the good deal and the flag coming in.

The first time, he needed the whack. The second time, he went when I raised the flag, so I didn't need to follow through. A few times later, he moved off a feel. After that, he was on the ball - paying a lot of good attention to me and putting effort into doing everything I asked.

I didn't belabor it with the groundwork. I mounted after a few minutes. We walked off, and when I asked him to turn I got his trademark sluggish, downhill, heavy-on-the-forehand-while-losing-all-momentum response. I nudged him with my heel to ask him to bring his front through with more energy. No response. So I set myself up, raised my leg way out, and brought it down with one firm kick.

He shaped right up, and several more turns in that direction were good. Then we went the other way, and the same thing happened.

But after that he was awake and alert and had good energy. I worked on gently correcting his head position when he got his poll too low or his nose too far out in front of him. I tried to vary the ride a lot, both in speed and what I was asking for. We worked on canter departures from the walk, and got some really nice ones. I think he's to the point that we can challenge him a bit more and that will help keep him interested. All in all, it was a better ride than I've had on him in a little while.

One criticism I sometimes hear of the methods of the tradition we follow is people can perceive them as rough or abusive. While I disagree entirely with this opinion, I do still find it difficult to dial up the pressure sometimes. The thing is, when done correctly, there is no doubt one moment of enough pressure to get your point across can replace literally hours (and sometimes years) of nagging. I see so many horses at our barn that are dull to all kinds of pressure. They are also lifeless and unhappy in their work.

To paraphrase Betty Staley: What is more abusive? Upping the pressure on a horse once to a degree that it makes him really uncomfortable? Or kicking him over and over, multiple times a ride, every day for the rest of his life?

Ride Time: 0:45
Horseback Hours YTD: 74:35

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