Tuesday, September 22, 2015

First Day of School: Homework for My Horse and Me

Today was my first day back to school with my green horse, Cya.  It was eventful.

First, I remembered this morning that she hasn't trailered off the property in over a year, but I hoped she'd do as good as she always has.  That was not the case today.  She went in the trailer right away, but she started prancing around and acting scared.  I let her stand for a minute and then backed her out, hoping that I could settle her down by loading and unloading a few times.  Instead, she wouldn't go back in.

Time was ticking, and I didn't want to be late for my lesson, so I ran to get my solid trail horse, Penny.  I loaded her up and then Cya went in easily, but was still worried.  With no time to spare, I secured the divider and left for the lesson barn hoping for the best.

On arriving at the barn, all seemed well, and I unloaded Cya to go to her lesson.  However, as we walked away, my well broke trail horse, Penny, started kicking around the trailer, so much so that it sounded like a train wreck. I went back and unloaded her and ended up taking her to the lesson area and putting her in the round pen...just to be safe.  All of that shaved about fifteen minutes from my lesson--but my trainer compensated and went longer.  Whew!

The lesson itself was great.  We worked on four things which are now my homework.  I hope I remember them correctly.  If not, I'll get a reminder at my next lesson.

#1 Bending.  When my trainer saw the way I was bending Cya she didn't like the fact that Cya was releasing too soon and I seemed to be doing all the work by pulling her head around.  Instead, she had me place my right hand on her withers and hold the slack in the rope with my left, tighten the rope to slightly taut (but not bring it around) and when she bent in on her own, instantly release--instantly. Of course, her head went right back to the front, but she had me pull it taut again and then instantly release it when she chose to bend in--giving full slack from my left hand, through my right.  By full slack, I mean enough that she could easily get her head back to the front position.  After doing this four times, Cya stopped taking her head back and instead kept it turned in toward me.  My trainer wants her to choose to bend into me until I give her a cue for release.  Cya got to the point where she'd keep her head bent toward me for a long time.  She was relaxed and paying attention and it was all her choice.  The point of this was to say to Cya, "Yes, there's a lot going on around here, but you don't have to worry about it, I will." The ability for her to give up control and surrender it to me gave her the relaxation she needed. The tautness in the rope seemed to me too little at first.  My trainer reminded me that horses are extremely sensitive and could feel that slight tightness.  At first, I didn't think she was responding, but my trainer pointed out that she actually was responding with a slight pull away, very slight, almost imperceptibly slight, but then chose to give the bend.

#2 Bubble.  Since horses can see us better when we're further out, my trainer wanted me to work from a four foot bubble to get Cya to learn to choose to pay attention to me.  When her attention shifted from me to something else (and there was lots going on at the barn to lose her attention to, such as, another lesson being taught in the same outdoor arena, semis coming and going, and lots of horses boarded around the arena who were finishing breakfast) I was to walk slowly away from the direction she was looking and see if she'd turn her attention back.  If not, I was to push her hip away from me (maintaining the 4 foot bubble) and when she got the hip out, tug on her halter, square my body up to her, and give the line a lot of slack.  Cya got to the point where she would square up with me right away and maintain her four feet of distance.  This also helped her become super soft.  Sometimes getting her hip around required something that looked a lot like lunging, but the point was for her to get her hip out.  We started at a small ask and built to bigger ones, followed by the same dramatic release and squaring up.  Again, it was telling Cya that she didn't have to pay attention to all that stuff going on.  I would take care of her.

#3 Circles around the bubble.  Unlike most natural horse people, my trainer doesn't like for you to push the horse from the hip when doing circles.  She wants your energy to be at the withers.  I've always been a hip person, so this was new to me.  However, there was a dramatic difference in the two strategies.  My trainer wanted me to stand on my spot and not move, except to turn around as she went around (something else I didn't do beforehand), direct my energy at the withers, and when I went to stop her, tug on the halter and give her the big lead rope release to let her square up.  It was kind of magical, the softness she had when I directed the energy to her withers rather than her hind.  She was better rounded and much more soft and attentive.  If she stopped, or got confused, I continued pushing her forward until I asked for the stop.

#4 Backing up.  Maintaining a four foot bubble required that Cya knew how to back up when I asked.  She didn't.  At least not when I was asking from four feet.  My trainer wanted me to walk toward her and ask that she move back as I moved toward her.  Cya stood still.  I started waving my lead rope--nothing.   My trainer told me again I was doing all the work.  Instead, she wanted me to use the end of my lead to slap her at the shoulder until she moved.  The end of a carrot stick would have worked, too, if I had mine with me--which I didn't.  When I took a step forward and she took a step back I was to give her release.  Eventually, she should be able to do this with a simple wave of my lead rope.  And again, it was small asks that build to big ones.

As we were ending the lesson, I told her I was a little worried that Cya doesn't show interest in things.  She demonstrated with her horse how she used the four foot bubble to direct him toward new objects and have him put his nose on them.  He did it pretty easily using the techniques we'd worked on during the lesson.  I will be doing that, too, when she gets a little further this week.

I got her into the trailer at the end of the day with a little help from my trainer who was standing behind.  By the time I got home with her I noticed she had a little scrape on her hind end that probably came from rocking back in the trailer.  I'll be doing a lot of trailer work this week, too.

After my morning at school, and dropping Cya and Penny off at home, I loaded Cowboy for an afternoon ride at Palisades Park.  I was so happy to be back with the horse I know so well.  It's hard for me to imagine feeling that way with my green horses, but I guess you've got to start somewhere.


  1. Everything takes time. One little step at a time will lead to progress. It's nice to come home to and old pro after a training session with a green horse. Sounds. Like you had a pretty good day all in all.

    1. Yes, it was a wonderful day. It's good to get out of our comfort zone with our horses every now and then. And to learn new things, become a better communicator with your horse fam....who could ask for more?

  2. hmm. I like #2- that seems to be a good thing to work on

    1. I enjoyed it, and I was really impressed when she figured it out. Seeing her square up and relax was amazing to me.

  3. Very similar to the work Shayla is doing with Josie. And I agree about getting on the broke horse- every time I ride Beamer, I only have to relax and enjoy the ride!

    1. Our trusted trail buddies! Love 'em!! There's a lot to be said for relaxing and enjoying a ride. I've been doing that for a while now and neglecting my green horses. Cya isn't totally green--I've ridden her a few times in the arena before and sent her away for two weeks of training, which would have been more, but she developed cinch sores and had to come home. Since she's sat out in the pasture for 3 years, I've had to start her all over, but she a good memory for some of the earlier training.


Please feel welcome to join our discussion by telling us about your own thoughts and experiences.