Sunday, February 22, 2015

You Don't Mess Around With O

There are some things on this planet that you just don't do. 
You don't tug on Superman's cape.
You don't spit into the wind.
You don't pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger.
And you especially, especially don't mess around with O during her warmup.

After lunging on Wednesday, we drove and did some dressage work on Thursday. It was more than likely our last day to actually do anything before a winter storm showed up - I had to cram every client I could in to Friday, Saturday and this morning, in order to avoid the weather, which is currently happening and might knock us all out for a few days. We're currently under a Winter Storm Warning with a solid 1-2" of ice heading our way. Personally I'd rather take 2' of snow over 2" of ice ANY day - you can still get out and about in the snow, but we're all just sitting ducks in an ice storm. 
Anyway. Thursday we drove out in the neighbor's field. I made a huge mistake in our warmup - I decided I wanted to work on some of G's lateral work, turning in small circles and the like, working our way down to parking a wheel and turning. I didn't trot before I did this, just went from walking to starting our circles. It was too much, too fast - she felt strongly that she wasn't limbered up enough for that kind of work yet, and she let me know right off the bat that she was angry about it. I insisted for a few minutes, and that made her even angrier. She was all in a tizzy, hot and flustered, and I realized in a few minutes that I shouldn't have altered her warmup and thrown her for a loop like that. Usually I only use the lateral work for when she is being resistant, not as a general warmup. I always try to start our work sessions with her being relaxed and lazy, grossly underpowered even if I can get there. You can ALWAYS rev her up if you want, but you can never settle her back down to that relaxed state once you leave it. Once you add a little energy - and you have to add it in small increments - you're got it and you'll stay there. It's like she has kind of a sticky gas pedal - you can start it and move super slow, but the moment you press on it a bit, it sticks down into the next gear and that's the power you have. If you put the pedal to the metal, you better just hang on because you are toast. A million, billion half halts will ensure that you're not out of control, but the pedal is still on the floor in her brain and you'll be working against it for the rest of your drive if you're not tactful. If you really piss her off, you have to pay for it. You reap everything that you sow with this horse. 

I never really got her to settle into a relaxed state. I got some fancy footwork out of her, and she was pretty supple in both directions, but she was HOT to trot. We worked on transitions as well, and had some really nice trot-walk ones. She nearly always has great trot-walk transitions - she'll lower her back end and sit down into them, if you set her up well. You'll see in the video, the times we're traveling to the left - she's wiggling her head around a little but I'm giving her some half-halts and prepping for the walk right out of the camera frame. I'll have to find a better spot for the camera.... there's no really good place for it. 
The walk-trot transitions are kind of a different story, and sometimes the halt-walk ones too. It just depends on how quiet and tactful you are, and I'll admit that I play around with it a lot and haven't quite got the perfect combination of aids that keep her quiet during them. If she is steady, she'll bounce right up into them and all will be well. If not, she'll throw herself into her breastcollar, and throw her head up as well, which slams her mouth against the bit, which throws her head even higher. It's unorthodox, but I've been giving her a pretty slack rein during our transitions and that seems to be helping. I think it helps her when she tries to jerk forward and swing her head up, since she then doesn't have a bit with contact to slam into. Although sometimes I try the opposite, give her several half-halts and then take a firmer contact to keep the head from slinging. Both of these things work about 50% of the time. She is such a weird and complicated animal. She plays by her own rules.

Notice too at the end that she backs up like a perfect lady, although she does lift her head halfway through. That is totally fine with me at this moment in time - she went backwards in a diagonal pair and quietly. If you remember in our lesson, she braced against G and absolutely refused to listen to his backup command. She was just NOT gonna do it. I tested it out and yes, she still knows how to do it just fine! She just knows my command for it and not his, and she's not willing to try and figure out someone else's command.

I never did get her to settle down though. Even when I just wanted her to walk and finish up our session, she kept trying to burst forward into the trot and keep going. I'm pleased that she is fit for that, and always eager to go forward, but seriously mare, we have to stop SOMETIME. Even when we were halting near the gate to exit, she kept trying to bust forward and through it. I even turned her away from home and trotted her up the road half a mile, just to cool her jets about finishing a session. That settled her a bit.... she's not stupid, she knows we're heading away from the barn and she wanted to be done. She walked home like a lady. A powerwalking lady, but a lady nonetheless. 

It sounds stupid, but I have the best success with her when I'm goo gooing and ga gaing over her. She doesn't want to be told "hey, you did the wrong thing so now you really need to do the right thing instead." She wants you to go, "ohhhh goo goo ga ga pretty pretty princess, why did you do this silly thing? You silly lovely darling, you should give this a whirl instead, you can do it because you're so perfect." I'm anthropomorphizing here, but it really feels as though if you try to tell her directly to do something, she'll blow you off and tell you ten ways that you can go to hell. If you sweet talk her and tell her what a pretty pretty princess she is, she'll think about it and go, "why yes, yes I am. And I will do this thing you suggested, because I am so very clever and pretty." In reality it probably has to do with the fact that if I sit there and goo goo and ga ga at her, I am probably way more relaxed and pleasant and non-demanding, and she responds really well to that. And she'll do it with grace and perfection, whatever I am suggesting, if I am a smooth talker. But she will just as quickly fight me to the death if I am too firm with her.

She is definitely a very good lesson in patience, and horsemanship, and the idea that you can't force a large animal to do things it doesn't want to do. She still has to do the thing at hand, whatever it may be - it is just in the manner of asking that makes it successful or not. It's kind of like a toddler that doesn't want to eat their green veggies - you can't sit there and physically stuff them down their throat, you need to come up with a clever idea to get them to eat it. You can be a doormat parent and just let them do whatever they want, but that gets you nowhere. You can certainly threaten, bribe and coerce them into it. Or, you can try offering them up in different ways, with dipping sauces or roasted or in their favorite dish, and encourage them to give it a try on their own. The end result is the same: a kid that ate their veggies, but there's a difference in the way you asked, and the way they feel about themselves at the end result. (I don't have kids obviously but I have plenty of friends with toddlers.) The same thing happens with O: the end result is the same, say a nice quiet circle with a good soft contact. But did I make her do it, or did I push the necessary buttons to get her to stretch out and go out to that bit on her own?

If there is one thing this horse - and all my client horses - have taught me is the value of patience. I am naturally hot tempered and am quick to flare up and get angry. Horses are really big animals that sometimes do really stupid things, but really and truly I have found that 99% of the time, there is always a reason for the way they behave and it is nearly always the human's fault. Maybe the human is confusing, or too demanding, or not demanding enough, or too rough, or causing them to have some sort of physical problem (sore backs/hocks/ulcers/whatever). And nearly all of the time, with the exception of a physical problem that needs veterinary attention, you can fix all of it by
just being patient and trying to figure out why the horse is doing whatever they're doing. When you're under them all day every day, you get very aware of their every move and the reasons behind them, seeing as you could very well be squashed in an instant if you're not paying attention. A horse that is being kicky nearly always is doing it because they either are unsure about what you're doing and you haven't give them any reassurance, they are really off balance and you're not helping, or they are sore somewhere and you're putting pressure on whatever is hurting and are not releasing it. And 99% of the time, the horse gets a little swingy with a back foot, just to let you know, but doesn't make any contact (or just a tap). They don't want to hurt you, they just want you to listen to what they are trying to tell you. And if you don't listen - then you get kicked for real. 
If you are patient, and think about it, and go "ok what is going on here? How can I help you?" instead of getting angry right off the bat, most every critter will tell you what is going on. There is absolutely still a time and a place for some well-deserved punishment, if a horse does something really naughty, and I am a severe stickler for good manners, but everyone is happier when there is a conversation instead of a fight.

Speaking of conversations, I had my first real chat with P's baby the other day. Every time I talked to it, it would kick a bit! It's going to be a cheeky one I think.


  1. I had a mare like that in highschool--once her brain checked out, she was DONE and she never calmed back down. I failed at far more shows than I ever one, but if I stayed 100% dead calm with her all the time, she was amazing.

    Definitely a lesson in horsemanship.

    That said, my #1 favorite attribute of Courage is that he can completely lose his shit and then come right back to me. So much more ammy friendly.

  2. cheeeky baby!! so exciting :)

    my mare is similar in some ways to O - in nature if not in application (bc she's honestly pretty easy going these days). but once you dial her up to 11 it can be near impossible to turn her down again lol

  3. I meant to say this in the last post but since I forgot I'll say it here. O is so lucky to have an owner like you who actually listens to her. I could see her having a terrible terrible life living with someone else who is impatient or doesn't listen. Keep up the great work with her!!!!

    Also that video is awesome! How does that not hurt mom when they kick that hard??