Saturday, June 18, 2011
Limbo - Options and how to round pen the snot out of your horse
I've been thinking.
But you know that.
I've been thinking that I owe a little to all the people around me - including the commenters here - so much for helping me on the journey. We are in week two of Limbo and I thought I'd share a little of the one thing I really feel I know how to do well.
I've learned, from spending so much time with horses who behave badly, how to round pen a horse back to a solid place. (I think I've also identified something about my short comings in saddle work too, but I'll get to that shortly).
So here, with a million disclaimers including I may not actually know what the hell I'm doing, are my tips on Round Penning.
I enjoy round penning because it's an incredible place to spend with a horse. Everything disappears. The circle is filled with only what you and your horse bring to it. Granted, your horse can't leave, but if you are working at liberty it's really only the force of your energy that makes things happen.
Smokey and I are starting back, a bit, and I've found a few little holes here and there. It is, as it nearly always is, about taking your time.
When we first enter the round pen, I see what horse I have to work with. A few of the mares are in heat and one in particular is quite... slutty about it. So right now Smokey needs to immediately run out the testosterone.
Everybody gets a couple free laps. Sometimes with Lily she just moseys in and has to give all the poop piles a sniff. Sometimes she has to toss some bucks. It's all okay at the start.
When things are where they were with Smokey, I make my requests for turns big. If he doesn't turn on a dime, I *insist* he do so. If he turns with his butt to me, I get equally big.
But I don't get mad. Okay, maybe a little irritated, but I try to keep all my reactions physical, not emotional. Not turning? Then here comes the big mare.
For those who don't know me, the rope NEVER comes in contact with the horse (although I have accidentally hit myself before. Sigh.).
In the beginning I'm only asking for direction. I don't care about gait. I always care about body position, though. I don't want a hip cocked toward me. This is one thing I was never too conscious of but got better about after watching the round penning videos by Chris Irwin.
Once turns are good and sharp, it's time to work on speed. I use the angle of my shoulders and the energy of my body to bring down the canter to a trot and the trot to a walk. If it doesn't work, I step slightly in front of the horse's shoulder. If that doesn't work, then I turn him. And turn him. As Kathleen taught me, it's his job to try different options till he gets it. It's your job to reward the right thing in the right way. Step back. Drop your stance, folding slightly. Almost a bow. Lead mare happy with Smokey-san.
Generally at this point you'll get this. With some horses, less "testy" horses, this is submission. With this horse this is "whew, can we be done?"
It's fake. You still have work to do. Even if there have been some licking and chewing, you need something much more. You discover just how fake the submission is when you try to send the horse back out.
Smokey: Ah, come on. Do I have to?
Lead mare does not negotiate.
I am looking for one thing. And it has to show up in both directions.
Nose nearly to the ground, while moving, no arch to the neck. That is submission.
Now we are done.
Unless... Unless your horse doesn't come to you and follow you around after the whoa. Because some horses learn the "trick." But I've found that if I wait for this moment, then we are where we need to be. We can begin other work, or maybe this is enough for the day. Sometimes it's 5 minutes. Sometimes it's 45 minutes. But when it's done all the way, this horse is willing to go precisely where I point him, at the speed I request, and turn on a dime with a tiny hand gesture.
Again, your mileage may vary. Best videos online for the subtleties of round penning are Chris Irwin's who, unfortunately, has taken them down.
Darn that capitalism. If I find a sneaky way to find them, I'll let you know. He does have a series on riding collected here.
I have come to the conclusion that while I have some identifiable holes in by leadership with Smokey, more of the issue is very tiny holes like a colander. Big stuff doesn't get through, but little stuff does.
At this age, with this horse, I have to be "on" very consistently. And for me, miles and miles is where can it be hard to be on the whole time.
The trail. So I've been taking Smokey bushwhacking. We aren't riding trails. We are riding through cedar trees. Up rocky hills. Around cactus. In and around big rocks. Things that require me to concentrate and him to concentrate. These have been very much bonding rides, they come after he's had a chance to run and work hard in the round pen or the arena. We go further each time, further from the barn, for longer, we're up to 30 minutes. It's been so much fun. We have been very solid in each case.
Donna has agreed to take him on some long miles to get that trail time in.
And I'm continuing to mull.
Next time: Despooking tips.