Saturday, June 25, 2011

Another Lesson from Lily and Inside Turns

Taking my lesson from Lily

Today I watched as the trainer took Smokey off for a long trail ride. She really wanted me to go, but there's no way. I'm still rebuilding courage and haven't taken a step off the immediate area around the barn. Sometimes you have to dive into the pool. Sometimes you have to slip in the shallow end and mess around there for a while.

I remember when I was young and nearly drowned in a pool. I got kicked twice in the head by an errant swimmer and started to go down. I was sinking to the bottom, feeling my hair brush against my face like an angel wing. The life guard pulled me up, out of the water, and into the bright light.

After the commotion died down, I sat on the edge of the deep end for a good 20 minutes, then jumped in and swam to the shallow end. I was more careful in the deep end after that, more aware of people around me. But I still swam in deep water, never really worried that what happened would happen again.

I will be there again with trail riding. But right now I'm still in my 20 minute period, I suppose.


Lily and I were joined by Sierra and steady Cody for some work in the arena. I'd read this post by Julie Goodnight and wanted to work on my reining - specifically not pulling back when working reins. I quickly realized I wasn't sure how to fix it, but realized the value of figuring it out. I too have the issue of not maintaining a canter after a turn because I'm telling the horse to slow down as I'm telling it to turn. Which is not particularly helpful.

Lily proceeded to give me a different lesson on cantering in a turn. I wanted to work on this because I keep ending up in a corner of the arena during a canter circle with Smokey. I couldn't understand what was going on, and had worked on getting his turns better at the trot. We could do it in the round pen but didn't stay on the rails. Something was wrong with that horse!

Then I was in Lily's nice slow canter when she did the same thing.

Well darn. Apparently it's me. (Again)

So I rode it again and again (breaking it up with some other work so Lily didn't just throw up her hooves and head out for a latte). Then I found it.

I was leaning. Frankly I don't even know if I was leaning left or right. But I wasn't straight. I focused on being straight as a mast on a ship and BOOM. We turned.

We sidepassed just to show I still had it, walked through the cones and stopped with a thought. Enough for one day.


In my post on round penning someone asked how to consistently get inside turns. I think there are two things that help make that happen: Correct body position and demanding it.

I work on the theory that horses know that turning their butt to you is rude. I don't know for a fact that this is true, but I've been told it enough to suspect that it is. So turning inside is like not cussing me out when I ask you to do something.

Body position
While round penning you have to be very aware of your body position. Think of your core, that area around your belly, as a satellite dish. Where you point it is where your energy is most strongly felt by your horse. Your shoulders, arms, legs, they all focus that energy. If you bend slightly, you reduce the pressure of that energy toward the horse. If you keep a very erect stance, you up it. In general you want to point it at your horse's hindquarters, not the shoulder.

It's easy to start watching your horse's face, looking at his ear, his head, his muzzle. But you really need to focus on the hind quarter and push it away from you with your body position. I can turn my horses with just a shift of weight and movement of my shoulders. If they are paying attention. So as long as you are keeping your energy in the right area, you can be sure you aren't causing an outside turn.

The second part is just demanding the correct turn and rewarding it when it happens. When my horse gives me an outside turn I get after them like crazy. I raise the whip, make a growl, make face, stomp. It's crystal clear. And we turn again quick. And again. The minute I get the right thing, and inside turn, I dial the energy all the way back.

But some horses who haven't been through the process are going to get it wrong. Some are going to test it. Some are going to over react. Some are going to freak. You have to be fair, clear, and realize that every horse is so different. I don't have the same round penning with Lily that I do with Smokey. Smokey thinks he's going to figure out how to get out of it. Lily is worried that she's going to get it wrong. Those require some adjustments on my part. But the body position and demand stay the same.

By the end, though, there is little question that we've gotten to where we needed to go.

Again, your mileage may vary. And remember, while this is great on the ground it doesn't wholly translate in the saddle (as I am living proof). But it does make for a much safer horse on the ground. And both horses load well and have stellar ground manners.

Worthy ends in and of themselves, IMHO.


Anonymous said...

I love your example of repeating an action until you figured out what was causing the problem - not minimizing it but just taking the time and space to figure it out. I'm working on a post right now on how important mistakes are if we can only take the time to really understand what's happening and not either deny them (sweeping under carpet) or getting defensive or touchy about them. Really nice work and a good model for us all.

Dan and Betty Cooksey said...

I totally agree with Kate (as usual). Also, don't let anyone push you into going further with your horses than you're ready for.

Think of fear as a pushy horse. We know it will take time to correct not only the horse's movements, but also his mind. We have to stay at it and we will have our good days with the horse and our bad days. At some point, we'll recognize not only different movements from the horse, but also a different attitude.

Fear is a lot like that. We have to keep facing it and, at some point, you will notice a new confidence in your movements and, more importantly, your mind.

It will come and it will come on your timing and your terms.


BrownEyed Cowgirls said...

It sounds like you have your body figured out and that is great. It's all about developing feel and it sounds like you are working hard to do that.

It sounds like Smokey is still getting worked, so that's good. Even though you two are not working together, you are both still learning. WHEN you are ready, it's probably going to feel a lot better this time around.

Shirley said...

Lovely Lily is a gem. I think the silver lining of your trouble with Smokey is that you're taking the time to ride Lily, and in doing so you are not only boosting your confidence, you're learning more about your riding skills. Knowing that Lily already knows stuff is sure helping you pinpoint the areas you can work on. Good Lily! And good for you in your progress.

Jeni said...

Good job with Lily. They really do have a lot to teach us, sometimes we forget to listen.

Your fear is not unfounded.. take your 20 minutes.

Once Upon an Equine said...

I believe you'll get back to trail riding. It's ok to spend some time in the shallow end. Especially since you are using the shallow end to strengthen yourself. Your posts are very insightful.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Sounds like a successful ride. Your words: "so Lily didn't just throw up her hooves and head out for a latte" cracked me up. :)


Grey Horse Matters said...

Sometimes it's good to take a step back and work on the things that build confidence. Lily is a sweetheart and I'm sure she's enjoying her time with you. You'll get back on the trails when you're ready. In the meantime don't sweat it and have fun.

Anonymous said...

You will know when it's time to push yourself.

Thank you for allowing us to journey through this with you. There seems to be kind of a culture among some horse folks that riders aren't supposed to acknowledge fear, which seems really foolish to me. I'm glad you have the chance to ride another horse and do other things with Smokey right now.

Trailrider said...

What is in the corner of that arena? The gate out of the arena? Near something that gets the horses' attention?

Ranch Girl Diaries said...

Fear is such a complicated thing. I am actually more fearful of my OWN horse than any of the many horse I ride on at the ranch. I should do a post about this soon because it's hard to explain.
I had a scary incident on my horse last summer. My horse is 95% a perfect trail horse. The worst he's ever done is randomly jig a bit when behind his mare friends or something, or shake his head because the bugs are annyoing him. This particular ride were about 10 of us family members that rode to a river while vacationing with our horses. It was about a 3 hour ride on a hot sunny day. I made one really stupid mistake. I used a bit on him that I hadn't use in over two years, a shanked snaffle. I also rode in his front SMB boots.
Halfway through the ride my horse jumped straight up in the air on all fours while walking down a short incline. That was weird. Well, it got worst from there. Off and on through the ride he reared and crow-hopped! My sister said she saw my life flash before her eyes as he would do this going up or down hill. It was the strangest thing and inside I was quite shaken. I still can't believe I stayed on him and finished the ride. When I got back I had a Corona and sat by the campfire and tried to figure out what had gone wrong. Two suspects: 1)the bit was hurting his mouth somehow. 2)when I took off the SMB boots they were caked with mud and sweat and water from the river, it was like sandpaper on his legs. Or were his arthritic hocks sore from such a long ride??
The next day I took my horse back out on a short trail ride, back to his ring snaffle and no boots. He was perfect. We rode in the arena the next day for our family rodeo and other than being his typical resistent self at the lope he was good.
I didn't trail ride all winter and took him out this year for the first time about a month ago, still half expecting the same random explosive behavior. Nothing. Horses can be so complicated. Why can't they just talk and tell us what they are upset about? I will never know exactly for sure what caused that behavior that day but luckily I haven't seen it again. But I never expected to see it in the first place, so it has shaken my confidence on him a little. What if it happens again and doesn't go away?
I wish you luck in this journey and I am curious to follow along and learn how you work through it, thanks for sharing the experience with us!
Sorry this was such a LONG comment!