1. Leah escaped to the left when closing the gate.
2. Leah escaped to the left when walking along the cliff trail across from the Waste Water Treatment Plant.
3. Leah did not want to cross the State Park bridge obstacle.
1. I need to practice controlling where Leah is putting her feet.
2. Leah is a forward horse (likes to move when nervous), but she needs to learn to wait to see where I'm asking her to put her feet.
Sounds simple, but as I'm sure all of you know, it's not.
First, you have to know where each of your horse's feet are at any given moment, which is hard to do from the top. Second, your horse doesn't want you to control its feet! In fact, your horse pretty much gets pissed off when you want to control its feet.
In light of all this and the many steps it takes to get a horse from point a to point b, we started by playing the T-Bone Game.
(I feel like Beel & Ranger with this hand-drawn diagram. Be patient with me.)
The T-bone Game: Walk Leah in a circle and guide her toward a fence post. Let her choose to stop herself. Keep her at that "T-Bone" position (90 degree) angle to the fence. Rest. Repeat. The goal is to teach her to stop and wait patiently for direction and to look ahead and think about what's coming.
At first, Leah wanted to walk right through the fence, but after a few tries, she began to stop ahead of it on her own. We did it circling both ways and were getting some great stops. Eventually, though, she got tired of doing it and started to veer out to the left again (like the other day). To the left, to the left, to the left. My trainer had me go with her--keep calm--and let her stop--all the while having her face the fence in that T-bone position. If her evasion got too fast to the left, she had me pull her head toward her tail and make her work harder to go to the left.
Once she was stopping nice and consistently, we moved to diagram 2. Stopping Parallel to the fence. The goal here is to control her speed & the "wait", and to direct her feet near the fence and be able to push and pull the fence & her body.
Leah didn't like stopping on the left side or side passing to the fence. My trainer said that it has probably always been an issue with her, but it just took the right circumstances to bring it out--like the State Park Gate. I stayed very patient with her and if it didn't work out, we just walked off into the circle and tried again. We did it both ways--left and to the right. To the right, she did wonderful.
Once I got her relaxed and parallel to the fence, my instructor had me reach my hand over and push and pull the fence--pulling and pushing Leah's body as well. At first, Leah was easy to move--she wasn't balanced. Our goal was for her to balance and brace herself against the weight of my pull.
I rewarded her.
Repeat. She got better and better.
All of this work was pretty easy, but mentally taxing for Leah. Those two sections took about 45-60 minutes.
Which led us to our ultimate goal. Opening and Closing Gates.
We did the same thing we did in diagram 2, but our approach to the gate was foot by foot--very deliberate placing to approach the sweet spot--the place where I could reach down easily and open the gate. On our first attempt, my instructor did all the actual opening of the gate. I was to position her correctly and then follow the gate with Leah's body in the same angle as the gate. Each step, we were to rest & practice the "wait". (Leah did not like to wait, but she did.) After we'd get relaxation, we'd move another step or two. Then, we'd circle her shoulder around the gate and go the other direction. Having my trainer work the gate was nice. We did that about 4 times until Leah was relaxed waiting & okay with the gate "moving" in her space.
To top off the lesson, we went back to the bridge, but this time my trainer wanted me to ask Leah to wait at the bridge until I gave her a cue for movement. When she could do that, she had me ask for the right foot onto the bridge. Then the left foot. Then her whole body...and on and on. It was all about waiting and specific direction for her feet. Leah, of course, just wanted to go right over the bridge herself, in her own time, with whatever foot she wanted. But she learned to do it my way. At the end, her waiting and her foot control was excellent. We'd also learned to communicate to each other, in our own way, about which foot to use and at what speed. I would lift the reins up gently and shift to the right to ask for her left foot to come up, and vice versa. It felt like she was mirroring me or I was mirroring her. You have to put your weight in your right leg to be able to lift your left leg.
She was finally waiting and listening!
She was finally waiting and listening!
My homework is to do all these things at home and to have her practice waiting & using specific feet going into the trailer and going into and out of her stall.
As for her blowing out to the left, my trainer suggested that I bring her head toward her tail, when she does that, and let her work in a tight circle. The couple of times I had to do it today during this lesson, Leah responded immediately. I think it will put a quick end to the left side "blow-out".
All of these waiting & listening lessons will help us in tight situations. It will also help her be more patient in the trailer. I guess you could say they are the building blocks for pretty much everything.