Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Real Answers, Real Plan for Leah

My new, extra-trainer, Rebecca, came over last night to help me with my "Leah Homework," and I got lots of answers to our issues.

I rode Leah first and showed Rebecca the T-Bone exercise.  Leah did her usual blowing out to the left.  Rebecca asked me to close off the left and open up the right.  I couldn't do it.  The memory of last week's fall was just too strong, and I wasn't willing to go there.

I asked Rebecca if she'd like to ride her, and she said absolutely.  I watched her for a while and afterward we had our sit-down assessment.

1. Leah has had a lifetime of moving "her way" and the new way is difficult and a little painful for  her. She anticipates turns & asks that cause her discomfort & tries to evade them. She needs lots of work moving the new way, strengthening muscles, breaking down muscles, and flexing. We'll work on massage (tonight), bending, and saddle work that teaches her body to move in better ways.

2. The reason she fell last week, Rebecca believes after watching us, is that she went to the left and I braced her to the right.  When you pull against a horse--bracing them--their natural instinct is to pull back and brace the opposite way, causing her to trip up.  That said, she thinks Leah is a horse who doesn't care much about falling. We'll work on give and take to avoid the bracing.

3. When you block Leah's forward and side pathways to get out, she wants to go up, but Leah is a slow thinker so you can feel what she's going to do long before she does it, giving you time to do something different.

4. None of the things I mention above should be problems with the right approach in her training.

5. Leah wants to please & is always looking for a way to do what's asked as long as she doesn't feel trapped.

6. Leah hates it when you say, "Good Girl."  Hates it!  She'll throw her head up every time.

7.  Trail riding is probably much more pleasant for Leah because it doesn't ask her to move her body in ways that are painful.  (Which explains why she did so well on the trail.)

8.  With #7 in mind, Leah hates the arena work.  Arena work, to her, is hard & boring.  We won't spend much time in the arena.  Rebecca is going to show me things I can do with her out on the trail that accomplish the same thing.

9. Rebecca is going to put a bunch of rides on Leah for me in the evenings.  We're going to switch back and forth with her, and together we're going to shut down the evasions.

Rebecca is a lot like my other trainer, Regina, and her willingness to come to my home and work with me in the evenings will supplement my 2-3 lessons a  month with Regina.  Also, having her put rides on Leah, along with my trail work, will help Leah get in shape faster.  It'll also fill in the holes and help me get past the fear of another fall.  A very real fear, considering last night's assessment, but there ways I can avoid it.


  1. Sounds like an excellent plan. Some horses like the arena and some don't. I'm glad that you are going to work with her and not against her.

    1. Yes, working with her is key. It shouldn't be a fight.

  2. What do you think she means by, "Leah is a horse who doesn't care much about falling" - that seems really hard to swallow to me. ?? With that strong sense of self-preservation horses have, I think I'd disagree with that statement. Wish you had a video showing exactly what she's doing, cause in my mind I'm seeing more speed than I think you're actually doing? Aren't you just working her at the walk with the T-bone exercise? How strong is her blow-out? I know. Lots of ??, but my willful/fighting seems to be escalating with Eags too, and it's really bugging me that I/we can't come up with a better way to work through this. Jessica is all about "making" him do something, and my gut is getting more and more in turmoil about how we're working with him. More and more fight is NOT what I want. There's got to be a better way. Hoping our seemingly mutual challenge might be solved similarly. What do you think? I'm getting desperate for ideas/ways to try that might work better, without drilling on the same thing.

    1. You do have a lot of questions. LOL. I feel your pain. No horse wants to fall, but some horses are more willing to go there. Leah is one of those horses--when she feels trapped. She has fallen a lot in her life, so I guess she's had practice. When I first bought her, she couldn't lope a circle on the lead without falling. She hadn't been trimmed correctly (she has crazy feet). My farrier got her and after her first trim she could run again. So, she's willing to put herself in more dangerous situations when she feels trapped. My first trainer, years ago, told me the same thing and felt that, if not handled properly, that could be a "dangerous" issue.

      Her blowouts are slow, but strong. She commits to the left and if you try to bring her back to face the fence, she pulls against and keeps going. If you shut her off with the left leg, she either goes through it or, if you put it on her stronger, she threatens to go up. Not pretty.

      The trainer I have is excellent--she doesn't force anything, she just sticks with the horse and redirects her. She doesn't ever let her "brace" or get "trapped", but she eventually does get her to do the thing she has asked. She'll be teaching me as she rides Leah and I'll report back to you about her methods. ;)

      Honestly, I think some horses just shouldn't be in an arena much. I don't plan on staying in this one long at all. She's going to show me a bunch of stuff I can do on the trails. For example, she recommended I practice loping up hills first to work on my loping balance with Leah. Just go up and down hills, sometimes walking, sometimes loping, until I'm comfortable with her at the lope.

      My trainer pointed out that these "evasions" though, are good to see and deal with. She said that Leah's evasion facing the fence could manifest on the trail whenever we come to a scary crossing--water, tunnels, bridges, etc. I am not comfortable working her through these evasions right now, so I'm more than happy to let a trainer get her through and put that foundation on her.

  3. Ok forgive me, I'm back. :) I've re-read your list again, and like most of your plan though. Trails vs arena work might be key because my horse hates the arena stuff too, seems bored stiff. And frankly, I'm not creative enough in there to come up with making it more interesting for either of us. I love it when I have a trusted teacher barking orders and observing, but Jessica is proving really good at helping me. I don't agree with her "training" methods, old school stuff, cowboy and make the horse do what you want, and I just don't like a lot of it. *sigh* So. Maybe I need to trail ride with Jessica and find someone different to work with us on technical stuff in the ring...I have some concerns about too many different ideas sometimes - but in moderation might be just the thing. I like your plan. Will be interesting to hear about it pans out. Yes - good luck my friend!!

    1. I was wildly surprised to see that this new trainer is so in sync with my own ideals. I feel very lucky. She rides like I wish I could. She has had loads of experience in her life and trained many horses in both disciplines. Her legs were too short for my saddle, but she didn't care. She can ride with no feet in the stirrups just as good as in the stirrups. Everything she did was respectful and kind, yet it was also direct & with purpose. Leah did all the same evasions she did with me--the side, the up, the head swinging, etc.--but she just rode calmly and stayed with her. Hopefully I'll be able to sum up what she's doing soon, but there was too much going on for me to absorb it all.

      Her big emphasis is to get Leah moving and working in ways she needs to move at work. One idea she had is to put a big log in between her stall and run so that she has to cross over it every day, multiple times, to get to her food and water. She wants me to find natural ways to get Leah stretching and building new muscles. She's also a student of massage & will teach some of those methods and point out Leah's sore spots. So, she's the whole picture kind of trainer.

      You might want to have someone put more rides on Eagle in the arena. He didn't have a long training did he? 30 days? Or, stick to the trail rides with Jessica and do whatever needs to be done on the trail. After all, that's what you and I really want--trail horses. When you think about it, don't horses bond harder with us on trail rides? So, lots and lots of trails may accomplish that partnership and lessen the sourness in the arena. Maybe working in the arena is a backwards progression--maybe it should be trails first and arena last?

    2. And, honestly, my first horse that I raised and trained--we spent about 5 days in an arena and it was trails from there out and he turned out to be an excellent trail horse. I didn't do any of this stuff that I'm doing now with Leah with him.

  4. Rebecca sounds like a great fit for the two of you. Looking back on what I learned with Carmen she learned that if she fought enough she got of work. Because her spookiness had multiple causes we had to break each one down and figure it out. The reason I say this (because I know you already know from reading my blog) is that I wonder if Leah's willingness to fall over is partly because she doesn't know any other answer to solve the issue of what's being asked and what she wants to do.

    I don't have good trails here (yet- that will be a fall project when the bugs are done) I do a LOT of arena work. But because my ring is large I can do lots of exercises to minimize the boredom and repetitiveness of it. I love the idea of combining what she likes (trails) with what she needs to do (suppleness).

    1. Yeah, you're right on. She evades to avoid work she doesn't like, which is pretty much all work except walking out on a trail and some of the trail obstacles she enjoys. I was thinking about Carmen recently, and I think she is much more supple and athletic and, as a result, better in the arena. Leah is stiff, fat, and awkward. It's going to take time and lots of work to change that. And, she will never be a Carmen. Trails, yes.

  5. Leah sure is an interesting horse. I had to laugh when you said she doesn't like you saying "good girl" because with Clancy, every time I said "Cowboy Dressage" she heaved a big sigh and looked disgusted.
    I wonder if she needs more body work, not just massage but a good equine sports therapist or osteopath. Because sometimes when they don't want to move a certain way, it's because they physically can't even though they seem normal to us, and evading work could be a learned habit to avoid working those hurting parts of her. And then it becomes habit once they find that it gets them out of work. It's good that Rebecca is going to do massage on her; really pay attention to her body language when she is doing it, I bet you find she is sore in places you didn't suspect.

  6. If she doesn't like "good girl" what do you say to praise her! Ha, I find that funny and opinionated. She does seem to have her own ideas about certain things. Sounds like this new trainer is a good find for Leah.

    When I first started with Dusty what she would do to avoid doing what she didn't like she would either spin "fast" which caught me by surprise the first time because I'm not a cowgirl and had never been on a spinning top. Or she would run and I mean run backwards. So they all have their evasions. I've never seen a horse actually fall down on purpose though my horse Erik did try to lay down when he got tired or more dramatically drag his back feet through the sand and leave hoof trails. Horses are characters with lots of personality for sure.


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