Saturday, June 25, 2011
Another Lesson from Lily and Inside Turns
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.
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.