Saturday, April 15, 2017

Learning to Hear My Horse Whisper: New Obstacles

"A good rider can hear their horse talk. A bad rider can't hear their horse even when she screams. But a great rider can hear their horse whisper."

I am trying so hard to hear my horse whisper. It's not easy.  You listen, go lightly--then, for some reason, they explode--you pull back hard, trying to get them to slow down--you reprimand yourself for overreacting, you try again. 

The labyrinth requires demands whispering to one another.  So, I set up a labyrinth in my arena.  (Here's a post I wrote in 2012 about the concept behind "The Labyrinth" and what this will eventually look like.)


This is a very simple design.  I'll enlarge it when we can do this with no issues.  We had issues, so I may be taking one section off tomorrow.

Here are my thoughts about this exercise.

1. Going forward, they see it as an easy deal and they may plod right through it--pretty much on auto-pilot.  That is not good.  We should direct each and every step they take and be able to halt them several times through out.  Leah rushed it going forward.

2. If they rush going forward, do not proceed to back them through it.  Of course, I found this out the hard way--I backed her through it.  She did okay until the second bend, then she got flustered about her feet and stepped out of the maze.  We lost our connectedness.  Leah was very anxious.

3. Get connected.  Once we lost our connectedness, I had to try and find it again.  I stood outside the labyrinth and worked on gentle rein lifts--whispers--to get her attention.  When we started working "together" again, we went back into it.  Eventually, I realized we should be working on the forward--ONLY--and so, we spoke in whispers to one another: "One step, Leah. Halt. Good girl. Next foot, Leah. Halt. Good girl."  And we ended it.

4.  Do this in-hand first.  (Should have been #1)  We did.  I used her reins to guide her from the ground.

Next exercise: the chasey polls.

I purchased 5 pvc poles--4" in diameter for this obstacle.  They have to raise their feet up and be careful not to nick the pipes.  If they do hit the pipes, they will roll under them.  I arranged them in a row, but you can mix them up several different ways and also move them onto different types of ground.  Leah has worked with these quite a bit, so they're more of a confidence builder and a reminder to watch where she puts all four feet. Here's a 5 second video. 




I'm riding in my new saddle.  It is so different than my western.  Unlike the western saddle with its rigid fenders, on this one, you really have to work to keep your legs under you.  Also, I find that I really miss the horn for all the things I used to pile onto it.  Now, I have to walk back and forth and get things or carry them on me.  But it's light, and that's a big plus.

My Cowgirl Cave is almost entirely done.  My husband finished running the electric out today and when he flipped on the light switch, it all worked!  I did make a few changes though, and some of the things I've ordered haven't arrived.  When everything is in place, I'll share the pictures.  I can't tell you how much I love having it.  How did I ever live without one?

10 comments:

  1. ah interesting. I think that it's good for their minds and I can see that Carmen might have some issues as having her attention split between the task and looking around make things difficult to her.

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    1. Yes! That is the beauty of this exercise, it demands full attention and connection between rider and horse. Your hands have to be light,otherwise, your horse will step out. It is a matter of small whispers and two minds that are quiet enough to hear them. It's not easy. Horses like to reserve a part of their brain for self-protection and we're asking them to give that up, and control of their feet, as well.

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  2. What an interesting post!! I clicked through to read about the labyrinth. I've always found them fascinating. I can see how the meditative quality would be good for a horse & rider to feel together. Easier said then done, but a worthwhile practice. Also never thought about using "chasey poles", what an accurate name! Love all the different things you do with your horses & I can't wait to see your Cowgirl Cave!!

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    1. Yes! A small labyrinth demands the horse concentrate, which means they have to be MOSTLY thinking of your cues and their body in response to those cues. They have to be 100 percent there and together. If not, they step out. They also need to be able to stop, which demonstrates calm and the thinking part of their mind. Some horses are more natural at that. Leah struggles. I will probably make it a little smaller and work more in hand.

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    2. And I would add, concentrating deeply on something is meditation. I think playing piano and guitar are a form of meditation. The labyrinth also demands total attention of the rider to their horse and the boundaries around them. You're not thinking of barking dogs, or undone laundry, or anything except helping your horse successfully navigate.

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  3. The labyrinth is a good idea for working together. I've always used poles on the ground to help them realize where their feet are. I normally use wood poles though. I'm not crazy about them stepping on and cracking the PVC poles. It's a great exercise and what I like about the poles is you can set them up in different configurations. One of my favorites is a sort of half-fan. It breaks up the monotony of going over the straight ones over and over.

    Can't wait to see your finished tack room.

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    1. The fan is great! These pvc poles are very thick, so they would be difficult to Crack. My trainer had them next door at the barn and when Leah was first introduced, she acted like it was a water crossing. We worked and worked on them. She had horrible awareness of her feet back then, and she tripped all over them and got chased by them, too. Now, she loves them.

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  4. It looks like she relaxed with this exercise. Be patient with yourself regarding your reaction to the explosions. It's okay to go into self-preservation mode. Your safety is always top priority. I hope that Leah is just anxious because she's young, and with experience she'll permanently relax. Sometimes horses just have worrisome personalities, and they never change. For years, I kept wondering what I was doing wrong with Bombay and Gabbrielle, because I could never get them to relax, but now I know, it's just the way they are. That's part of why I stopped banging my head against a wall trying to get them past their hang ups. Despite being in their teens, they still spook at nothing and overreact when I catch them to do anything at all.

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    1. You're right, there are personality types and some horses are just less secure and more reactive. Leah is an odd one, she is extremely solid and super laid back on most things. I can tie her up all day long and she will relax and sleep. I can walk her through obstacles, and she is very tuned in and solid. The issues arise in saddle. My trainer has speculated that it's because I worked with her for years and years on the ground, but didn't ride her. Now she's like 11 or so and has developed a strong ground relationship, but an insecurity when she can't see me but feels bit, seat, and leg pressure. I am hopeful that we'll make progress because of how far I've seen her come. She's very calm on the trail and walks out well. She fell apart when I asked her to cross water and we had a disagreement. She lost connectedness. That's why I'm working on the labyrinth. It recreates the scenario, with different circumstances.

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  5. A good exercise- well both of them! The L or Labyrinth is a really good one for teaching colts to think about where they place their feet. Had to laugh about not thinking about things like undone laundry, it is so easy to let our minds wander and dang if it doesn't make the horse lose focus too.
    Those PVC poles are what they use in the Cowboy Dressage Court. If you ever get the chance, visit Jenni Grimmett up at Sagle, she usually has Thursday night riding for people who want to learn CD. I"d love to take my mare down there but the cost of international papers is prohibitive for me at the moment.

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Please feel welcome to join our discussion--tell us about your own thoughts and experiences.