Sun Pony Ranch

Diary of novice (clueless) ranch owners

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Horse Talk

I stopped taking riding lessons back when we determined that Jordan's bum hock was giving him too much troubles to continue without intervention. As intervention (hock injections) were fairly pricey, my lessons funds went into that instead. That must be 8 years ago now. I've been itching to get back into an instructional setting again, but I just don't see having the time to trailer somewhere else for a weekly or bi-monthly lesson, and the prospect of finding someone who can come to our ranch was always daunting. *shrugs*. But after our accident I decided it was no longer optional to get help, so I asked around. A friend had a recommendation. Rich is unfortunately based a few hours away, but he regularly comes up to our neck of the woods to conduct clinics and such, so she thought he fit the bill as not only a great trainer, but one who travels.

It was a Friday afternoon in July when in pulls a 4 horse rig, and out climbs a towering cowboy, complete to the cowboy hat, snow white handlebar mustache, and tall yellow cowboy boots with jeans tucked inside. I think my eyebrows rose. But he introduced himself, and in shaking his hand my questions dissolved as it just seemed clear I could work with him.

We've had 5 sessions so far, and 4 have been really incredible experiences. Gibraltar and I had a rather off day last week, but that is bound to happen from time to time. Things have progressed so well that he's now instructing Dave in addition.

I've decided that blogging will help me review what we've learned each time, as well as providing a log that I can look back on. Hopefully some of you will find the journey interesting as well.

Gib is a big horse. Rich estimates 1700 pounds - I've never taped him. Or, actually, I think we did tape him but our tape wasn't long enough to fit around his barrel! But he is also a very sensitive horse. He is incredibly tuned to how I sit on him and what I'm doing with my body. When we are well in sync it is a simple thing to just sit down and bring him to a halt without using the reins at all. That is a pretty incredible feeling I've never had with any other horse.

But he also has an inkling of how big he is and just how much he doesn't HAVE to do something if he doesn't want to. For the most part, he wants to please, as long as he understands what is being asked of him. He does have limits though, and when he hits them his instinct, just like all horses have to some extent, is self preservation. We're trying to work through this so that what ever we are doing he has confidence in both me and himself, so we can vastly expand his comfort limits.

Sunday, Sept 26, 2010:

Sunday we were working in the round pen, because lessons were happening in the arena. Have I mentioned how much we love our round pen now that we've relocated it and made it bigger? It's fantastic to have a second area in which to work that is big enough for riding as well as ground work!

I did have to laugh - I admitted to Rich that I've come to the clear realization just how much Gibraltar is teaching me about my own inexperience in working with green horses. Only, what I said was my inexperience with 'training' horses. Huh -- seemed like the same statement to me, but Rich immediately replied - "Oh, I don't know anything about training either." …. I paused.

Actually my mind de-railed.

I tried again and said -- "well, you know, you have to learn to understand each other."

"OH - you mean communicate? Yes I know how to communicate."

OK, ok I get it. We're not shaping the horse to respond to our instructions, we are learning how to speak the horse's innate language to communicate our desires to them. Check.

So if we are working on communication, this needs to work just as well when I'm on the ground as when I'm on his back. So this week we spend more time on ground work. I've been having some troubles keeping his attention on me on the ground. He does have an expansive capacity to ignore the peons on the ground. Every time Rich has handled him I've been impressed at how immediately, and how completely he is able to get Gibraltar's attention. It's that authority thing. "You need to pay more attention to me, than to the other people or horses around, than to the cars coming and going, than to the grass growing under your feet." Rich gets that from him. I'm still working on that. But Sunday I had his attention pretty good.

So we were in the round pen, Gibraltar was at liberty, meaning he was free as I carried the halter and lead rope with me. The exercises are to get him to turn and face you. Once you have his attention you then have his permission to approach and pet him. Then send him off to walk or trot around the round pen, until you give him permission to stop, turn to face you and possibly approach you. It is pretty shocking how using the right moves, some of these challenging sounding responses are easy to elicit. It's just the moves are completely unintuitive if you aren't fluent in the language.

Picture a round pen, you in the center facing out. Your horse is in front of you, perpendicular so that he is facing to your right. How do you get your horse to turn to face you? You walk to your left, towards his hind quarters. Seriously. I've never known this. I've ridden and worked with horses a lot in my life -- not an enormous amount and I'm no expert and certainly not a professional - a lot of people make that assumption because I'm one of the owners of Sun Pony Ranch. But I feel I have a very good working knowledge of horses. Well, until I started working with Gib that is! Anyways, this natural horsemanship is a whole new way of working for me, one that I'm chiding myself for taking so long to pursue.

What became evident doing this work, however, was the fact that Gib actively resists letting me on his left side. I'd gotten glimpses of this habit , but not having ever done this much ground work at liberty before it's never been nearly so obvious. If he was circling to the left, when he stopped and turned in to face me, he'd go more than 90 degrees so that I was ultimately on his right. If he was faced to the right, and I approached and petted him, being able to work my way around to his left side involved having to put my hand on his face to move it to my left so that I could get around it, otherwise he would just keep avoiding me.

Certainly all horses have a preference for one side or another, but Rich says his reaction is interesting because typically horses prefer people to be on their left. This is more familiar since we have the tendency to work on the left more often. Horses are traditionally saddled from the left, bridled, and led from the left side. Mounted from the left. The right side they just have less experience with people over there. What it means that he prefers me on his right is interesting, but we don't have any idea why this might be. But, as Rich says -- ah, ha, this is an opportunity to work on.

Obviously I'm thrilled to have come into working with Rich, so I'll end with his contact info. I don't see how I could have found a better suited trainer.
Rich Scott (303) 807-5337



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