Thursday, June 23, 2011

Finding Your Nose, Unwinding, and Two Despooking Tips

I've been working with Lily on various things, mostly just getting her back into regular work. I was stuck with her on side passing.

Lily is highly trained. I know little about her background, but I do know she is trained to have about 7 speeds, neck rein, travel collected, back up straight, and do long division with her tail and a piece of chalk.

So when I couldn't get her to side pass I was shocked. I can get Smokey to side pass. I can get Woody to side pass. I know the signal. So why would Lily go in the opposite direction?

Loren, the horse dentist, was in town, doing follow ups on horses. She was happy to see how well Lily is doing, healthy and in good spirits. I asked her to watch her move to see if she felt she needed any other chiro work.

After a bit of riding I showed her the problem I was having side passing. Loren walked me through some dressage tips. (See anything here familiar, folks?)

To move right:
  • Don't lean. At all.
  • Drop your right heel and open that leg all the way to your hip
  • Drop the right rein, keep the left rein lifted slightly
  • Apply pressure - or just tighten - the left upper and inner thigh

Boom. Lily crossed over like a tap dancer.

My jaw dropped. I had, in what seems now like how a clown would execute a side pass, been doing this:

To move to the right:
  • Leaning on my left side, quite exaggeratedly
  • Applying pressure with my left calf
  • Incidentally applying pressure with my right upper leg to keep from falling over, therefore "closing" her right shoulder.
  • Trying to neck rein her over.

After I marveled at my new side passing horse Loren said it. "She's a horse that'll teach you a lot."

It was like suddenly discovering my nose on my face. Maybe I have at least one instructor who I'm already paying. In hay.



As for Smokey, here's where I am:

I can't forget what cowboy Dave told me. "I can train a horse, but I can't keep you from unwinding a horse." There's a line that'll stick in your head. This IS what I worry about. I don't know how to get from here to a place where I'm not unwinding. Am I unwinding Smokey? I see other riders and I know my skills are better than they were a year, a month, a week ago. It all builds. With Lily could I do more building? Perhaps this is more about not getting that one element - trail work - in and less about my saddle abilities.

I thought about how Smokey "deserves" a better rider. Then I heard about a horse in a terrible situation, even though they'd been with a great rider. So I wondered about the value of that guilt trip.

I thought that this may be a lesson about an element of me that can "cut and run" too readily and it's a lesson I'm going to keep repeating until I learn it.

I thought that if all this horse and I do is tool around the arena and local trails would that be enough.

Still thinking...

From Ray Hunt (found on this cool blog)

Clinic spectator: "Ray, how did you get such good judgment with a horse?"

RH: "Experience."

Spectator: "How did you get so much experience?"

RH: "Poor judgment."


Your Despooking Tips

There are two horses in the barn right now with HUGE plastic bag phobias. They are learning to live with plastic bags in their paddock, tied to fences. But here are the two things I do that the trainer has started to do as well.

1. Plastic bags in the round pen. While having bags in a pen or paddock and just having the horse deal with them is one thing, it's not the same as them having to listen to you while the plastic bag is doing its morphing thing in the wind while you're directing the horse.

I like having a plastic bag tied on the round pen in different places at different heights to teach a horse that they can listen even if there's a scary thing close by. It's made a nice difference with Smokey in the last two weeks.

2. Treats or grain from a plastic bag. You know how dogs will fly into the kitchen if you open their treat jar? Well, even if you don't train with treats, you can use a plastic bag to carry grain and empty it into the bin. Pretty soon the positive association will be there. Remember Pavlov's dog? You can make this work for you, even if you aren't trying for a Nobel Prize.

The Office - Pavlov's dog from Rauno Villberg on Vimeo.

Again, these are ideas. Your mileage may vary.

Also there were some round penning questions in the comments last go round. I'll post some answers (at least in so far as what I do) on my next post.


Dan and Betty Cooksey said...

Thanks, Breathe. Sidepassing with my horse, Sugar, has also been an issue. I'm sure most, if not all, of the problem has been with me. I'll give Loren's steps a try and see how it goes.

I've used the plastic bags tied to the round pen and it helps.

We also do some de-spooking every time we ride. When we put a saddle blanket on we walk around our horses shaking the blanket pretty hard.

Before riding we toss our 12' lead ropes over our horses' backs and around their legs. We also swing the rope so it slaps the ground. We start at their hind ends and walk backwards toward their heads swinging the lead rope all the time. Finally, I swing the rope over Sugar's head back and forth several times. She takes it all in stride.

Regards, Dan

jill said...

I laughed when I read that Ray Hunt quote on Ross Jacob's blog too! Glad you are reading it. that blog is full of great stories and thoughts. It may help you in your Smokey journey...good luck.
Get his book and read it! Good writing, an easy entertaining read.

Shirley said...

Lily sounds like a pretty nice horse.

Tammy said...

My Blue was your Lily. I have no doubt he knew more than me when I got him almost a decade ago. But until I learned what I didn't know, I didn't know what he knew. (Wow! What a sentence!)

My Windy is your Smokey. We were green on green. But I paid for her an education and then I'd get her home and always so afraid I would muck up everything the trainer taught her. But I guess she was intuitive. She learned that I may not be asking exactly what she was taught, but we pieced it together and still are fine tuning it.

Blue, he says "its about time"!

Anonymous said...

Ray's right - sometimes you have to go through stuff to get to the other side. And stuff happens, and we have to deal with it - it's all part of the journey with horses.

Anonymous said...

LOVE the Ray Hunt quote! How true is that!?

One of the things I do with my young reactive Walker is to ask her to touch Big Scary Evil Things with her nose. I've done a small amount of clicker training with her, so she knows if she touches an object I'm indicating with her nose, that means treat/praise/both.

Just asking that often helps redirect some of that fear energy--maybe not all of it all the time, but it's often just enough to get her to reconsider the situation. With a horse like this, I sometimes consider it a victory to get just a couple of seconds of mental re-evaluation rather than just: "AAAAH! I'M LEEEEEAVING!"

I wouldn't try this during a big spook or with something that made a lot of noise. But sometimes I get "big suspicion" from her regarding a new piece of tack, some new stationary object in the arena, etc. Using the "touch" request often dramatically swings the tide. She's a very curious horse, and I figure there has to be a way to use that to my advantage. I try not to use it in situations when I think her fear will prevent her from complying.

I totally agree with you--the real test is seeing if they can focus on a human in a fear situation. I know people who won't touch a horse on a windy day. Every owner has to try to set their horse up to succeed, but our little ponies have to live in the real world--just like we do.

BrownEyed Cowgirls said...

Oh yes, 'poor judgement' is a masterful teacher.

I also always like the saying, 'I've never learned nothin' by doing everything right.' I don't know who said that, but they sure got that one right too.

John and Regina Zdravich said...

My mare, Divna, used to spook at EVERYTHING. A trainer came over and de-sensitized her using platic bags -- it does work. He tied them in the trees, put on the fence, etc. He also tied one to the end of a riding crop, and while I held her on a lead line he approached her with the crop, started running the bag over her. It took time, but eventually he was able to walk up to her, put the bag near her face, then start to run it gently around her face and whole body. She doesn't spook hardly ever anymore....
P.s. Love the Ray Hunt quote!!!

Fantastyk Voyager said...

It's amazing how well a horse will do something when you ask them correctly. Horses ARE the very best teachers. I learned how to ride from my first horse, Alfie. I'd never even ridden before I bought him. And I never took lessons, except from him. And boy, did I fall off A LOT in the beginning!!! And then I learned what I could teach him. We went from prize gymkhana pony to western pleasure winners too.