Friday, July 24, 2009

When horses are smarter than we are...

I rode Panama a bit yesterday afternoon. I had a friend there and it was hot so I didn't ride for very long, for my friend's sake as well as for mine and Panama's. We were all in the blazing sun and I didn't think that was very good for any of us.

Anyway, I worked a bit on the exercises my trainer assigned on Wednesday, but because I didn't ride for very long, I don't think I made much progress. However, I have a funny story to share, one that shows how smart horses really are — they pick up on things we never intend them to.

I've noticed in the last week that I've suddenly developed a problem with Panama starting to trot when I don't want to. Sometimes I was about to ask him to, other times I wasn't. For days I couldn't figure out what was going on, and just assumed he was over-eager to trot.

It was during my training session that it occurred to me what might be going on. During my ride yesterday I realized that, without a doubt, my suspicions were right.

Apparently, I've been unconsciously saying to myself, "Okay," right before I ask Panama to trot. It's not loud, and it's not meant for him, it was just how I vocalized the mental side of my preparation before asking for the trot.

So Panama picked up on this, and started responding to the "Okay" instead of the cluck. (Panama is very sensitive to commands — obviously — so I don't use my legs much when asking him to trot. He seems to prefer the cluck to a nudge in the sides.) That's why he was trotting before I even asked him to. Also, I tend to say it at other times, too, which is why he was starting to trot sometimes out of the blue.

Like I said, I started to realize it on Wednesday, but not until my ride yesterday did it fully hit me that I am going to have to consciously change my habits. So part of our ride yesterday was also me practicing not saying "Okay" before asking him to trot. It's interesting to watch his response — I can tell by the way he swivels his ears that he's surprised by the absense of the "Okay."

It never ceases to surprise me how smart horses are, and how sensitive they are to cues you probably don't even know you're giving them. One thing is for sure — working with horses makes you more aware of all the little unconscious things you do!

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