Sunday, July 26, 2009

Counterintuitive

It rained buckets last night. When I got out to the barn this afternoon, Panama was filthy. Why is it that getting rained on makes him dirtier rather than cleaner?

Dirty horse

Our riding session was a bit counterintuitive toward the end, too. I started out just trotting him around the pasture, practicing the posting exercises my trainer is having me try. I also practiced breathing and holding in mind the rhythm of the pace I wanted, based on some of the things Kate has been blogging about lately in her series of posts about the Mark Rashid clinic she audited.

It all worked perfectly. Panama seemed to know exactly what I wanted or needed, and maintained a nice, steady, comfortable trot the entire time. He even stopped speeding up in the spots where he usually does — meaning that Kate's breathing trick immediately fixed what I've been working on for weeks! Wow — thanks, Kate! I knew I should have tried this sooner!

After we'd been trotting for a while, he started pulling on the reins a bit. Also taking a cue from Kate's posts — in this case, the one about getting softness — I tried the little mental trick of mentally creating an opening for him to come back to me. (In fact, I found I was saying softly to him, "Come back to me.") I can't explain it any better than Kate did, but it really did work — within seconds — almost every time!

We'd been doing really well, so I decided I would practice a few full stops, and then we'd quit for the day. That's when the whole thing went to pieces. Panama was having a hard time stopping, and when he did, he wasn't standing — as soon as I released the pressure on the bit or told him "Good boy," he started moving forward again. Talk about frustrating! So I started working on getting him to stand and wait for a command, rather than trying to anticipate what came next.

During this part, I got frustrated with him and asked him to back up, to come back to where he'd been when I initially stopped him. He walked diagonally, sideways, everything but straight backward. So after we worked on standing and waiting, we then started to work on backing.

This part turned out to be an exercise in frustration, and the other reason for the title of this post. Panama KNOWS how to back. He's known how for a long time. But I think he was sensing my frustration, and physically translated this into a ridiculous little sideways/diagonal dance every time I gave him the command to back. When I'd try to nudge him back straight again with a leg yield, he'd immediately switch and start walking forward.

Panama was getting just as frustrated as I was, tossing his head and swishing his tail. He knew I was trying to get him to go backward, so he started even ignoring my command to stop — he'd just keep going! Then at one point, he started to "get it," so I praised him — and he promptly started running diagonally backward again. Arrrgggghhhhh!

It took probably twenty minutes, but finally Panama "remembered" how to back. He backed in an almost straight line when asked, and stopped when asked. I immediately praised him, dropped the reins, and let him stand and stretch his neck a bit. After a moment, I took up the reins and asked for it all again, and he did it perfectly once again.

I figured twice in a row was good enough, so I walked him around the pasture a little on a loose rein, halted him (without any problems this time), and then dismounted. As soon as I got down, I hugged his neck and loved on him a bit, so that he knew I wasn't mad at him anymore!

It seems we have some things to work on next time, for him as well as for me. Next time I ride, in addition to practicing my posting, I am going to practice our turns around the forehand. The reason being, I cue him for this by sliding my foot slightly back, and using leg pressure to move his back end around his front. I'm hoping that if I practice this with him, and then practice backing, I can help him draw the connection that leg pressure may also be used to straighten him out while backing.

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4 Comments:

At July 27, 2009 at 7:45 AM, Blogger Kate said...

Here's an idea - you want to teach your horse to figure out himself how to back straight and how to stand still instead of giving him the answer - Maisie and I had some big issues with both of these when we started. That will pretty much fix itself as the horse learns. And keep in mind that young horses can be extra restless.

To help your horse learn how to stand (this works for ground tying as well as standing under saddle), ask the horse to halt. If the horse starts to move, ask him to circle - this isn't a punishment, just redirecting the energy. As soon as he offers to stop moving - watch closely, this will just be a hesitation - let the horse stop. It doesn't matter at this point if he's in the same location as when you started. Repeat as needed. Most horses catch on pretty quickly and are able to decide on their own to stand still.

For backing, don't correct backing crooked by using your legs to straighten his body - this is just correcting what he's done wrong instead of letting him figure out how to do it right. In fact, don't use your legs at all when you back - just ask with your hands. The trick to helping the horse how to back straight is to keep the head straight, as the body will come back in line without any action by you. So, if your horse's head is pointed north, and you want him to back south, keep the head pointed north no matter what the body does - no leg. It's OK if the head is turned to the left, still facing north and the tail ends up pointed west for a moment. If you keep the head straight the horse will learn to correct the body by stepping under himself, and will gradually learn to back straight. Expect a young horse to take a while to master backing. As the horse is learning how to back straight, you won't always end up on the same line you started with, but the head should always point north - don't worry about this, as this problem will go away as the horse learns to back straight.

Hope this helps - sorry for the long comment.

 
At July 27, 2009 at 8:13 AM, Blogger Callie said...

LOL, thy're dirty after the rain because that's the best time to roll. Sounds like a productive session and you've really come a long way with him! Kudos!

 
At July 27, 2009 at 10:15 AM, Blogger Nuzzling Muzzles said...

I've seen praise work miracles with horses, but I've also seen it get in the way. When I say, "Good boy!" or "Good girl!", my horses tend to stop all together, because they figure they did it right and so now we can end the lesson and I can get off their backs. So, in those cases if I want the horse to keep moving forward, I keep my leg on him/her and stroke the neck for praise, since my mouth seems to get in the way. I thought it was interesting that you had the opposite problem with him moving off when you verbally praise him for stopping.

It is a struggle to train your horse to wait for the cue when they are so good at reading our minds.

 
At July 27, 2009 at 11:15 AM, Blogger Katharine Swan said...

Kate,

Wow, thanks for the ideas! He stands really well on the ground, so I think when I'm riding it's because he knows I'm going to want to get going again soon. Also, if I'm asking him to stand while I talk to someone from his back, he does it without a problem, so again I think he's just anticipating that there's no reason for me to ask him to stand, therefore he knows I want him to get moving again soon, and he's just jumping the gun a little bit.

If I develop more problems with it, I'll try your suggestion, but when I stopped working with him yesterday, he was standing pretty well. Usually if he started to shift his weight, a slight bump with the reins or a verbal reminder was enough to keep him still.

As for the backing -- don't forget, he previously knew how to back more or less straight, he just had a major brain fart yesterday. In fact, he's been backing fine since early on, and though I haven't practiced it much he's always backed straight. Would you still recommend the same approach for a horse who has temporarily forgotten how to back?

Callie,

LOL! Yes, I do know that, but I think it's funny. Panama in particular loves to roll when he's wet (whether from rain, a bath, or if I don't towel him down after a ride), which is funny because he's so particular about most other things.

NM,

Yes, sometimes praising Panama can backfire! This isn't the only case of him going right back to what he was doing wrong as soon as I praise him for getting it right. Usually a little growl from me reminds him that getting it right doesn't mean he's on vacation now. Naughty geldings! :o)

However, for the most part praise works really well with Panama, particularly when I can tell that he's really been trying quite hard. I can just tell when he's really proud of himself to have done it right. :o)

I wonder -- are you saying "Good boy" or "Good girl" right before you dismount? Perhaps that's why they think it means the session is over! Kind of like how I was saying "Okay" before asking Panama to trot, and he started responding to the "Okay" instead of waiting for the actual command.

 

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