Sun Pony Ranch

Diary of novice (clueless) ranch owners

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Horsin around, continued

Note: we're on vacation in WY right now, and I started the vacation blog entries last night... but then remembered I had written these on the drive up. So many blogs...

Sunday 9/26 part 2
The round pen lesson continued with a riding session. Rich is big on establishing "softness" in what ever we are doing. If your horse is soft - he's pliable, relaxed, and in a mind to communicate. If he is rigid… he's the opposite of all those things. We always begin with neck bends to either side, waiting for him to relax to that stretch, then release the rein when he isn't going to just snatch his head back. We've done this in every one of our 5 lessons so far - and Rich is still giving me pointers about how to make the exercise more effective. By now we're working more on not just pulling Gibraltar's head around, but instead cueing him to bring it around on his own: I take up the feel in the rein, and if he doesn't volunteer his head with that slight pressure, then tug quickly and firmly, until he does volunteer to bend his head.

This use of abrupt, 'authoritative' cues is new to me too. They seem excessive. However it is undeniable that they get through to the horse quickly about what is expected. The first time Rich handled Gib on the ground, he had him approach, and when Gib got too close - he gave him a pretty good bob on the nose with the side of his hand. But, you know, Gib didn't approach that close again that day.

Mounted, our theme was to ride on a loose rein in one hand, and work on two things: directing him with just leg pressure, and when ever he started going too fast to practice the softening exercise of bending his neck so that he turns into a circle, automatically slowing down. Stopping, after all, being key to a secure relationship.

It was interesting, but Gib was feeling pretty spunky this day, and at least twice actually started to trot off with me. It was extremely opportune timing, but surprising in any case. So my job was to practice grabbing one rein with my free hand and pulling back to direct his head to that side. My current reaction is to choke up on both reins and pull straight back. So I'm working on retraining that habit too. So he takes off on me, and I'm grabbing for reins, and the first time I flub it up by grabbing the rein, but also a big handful of mane - so that I effectively couldn't do anything with the rein. So Rich suggested I lift my hand holding the reins up, so that my other hand can grab the rein above his neck. And on cue he runs off on me again when I totally didn't expect it. I lifted my rein hand and grabbed… only with my Left hand I grabbed the Right rein! *facepalm* The commotion that ensued I'm sure was pretty humorous. Rich was like - what was all that? I told him I had no idea. Talk about feeling like an utter novice!

Oh well, we managed to have several successful stops, not to mention some leg yields to keep Gib out on the rail, and we called it a good day.

Equestrian Practice 10/2
Saturday we had our first practice for the SCA Equestrians that we've had for some time. The group has had a number of other things going on - we had a field trip to the Jousting Tournament at the Highland Games, we had a play day out at another member's ranch, we had a horsemanship clinic. So it was high time to pull out some of the games again.

We ended up with 5 riders, all of us who were either still pretty new to the games, or were introducing new horses to them. So it was a really good combination of skills levels for a relaxed learning session. We brought out the rings and the single quintain, neither of which has Gibraltar seen before.

We started out with our normal softening exercises, and I was noticing right away he was being really responsive to leg pressure. When I mentioned that we've had one disappointing lesson out of 5, that was a day he was completely and utterly dead to my leg. Of course it probably didn't help that I hadn't worked with him in 4 weeks prior to that lesson -- due in large part to starting a new job -- but he was just remarkably unresponsive that day. Let me tell you, if he no want to move… there just isn't enough leg strength in the world to make him do it. Which is where Rich found the opportunity again to talk about how it isn't about strength with Gib, or any other horse. We will never out-power them. But rather to 'make our leg active, until the horse responds and gets rewarded with a quiet leg.' Well, what ever I did that day I could not make my leg active enough.

At practice this weekend, though, he was being wonderfully responsive. We were leg yielding to the rail. We were trotting nicely, and every time I even thought about trying to soften and circle to a stop, he pretty much just died out naturally. So I went and picked up a lance for the first time. He didn't mind it too much. We walked around the perimeter of the arena with me knocking on the fence with it every few strides. It was all good.

So we went for the rings. The rings are set up on T stands, that are about 7 feet off the ground. There are three of them, with rings hanging off both ends of the T. You go down one side, hoping to spear 3 rings, turn and go backup the other side. The turn, you can imagine, is part of the challenge because it's pretty tight. We did this all just at the walk, but he was doing so great! He never objected to picking up rings, not even the rings that made noise as they bounce along the lance down to my hand. In the turns we were mostly able to do them just off leg pressure - with very little rein support. I was so excited. It was amusing, however, that when we would drop off our collection of rings for our ground crew helpers to reset (I'll have you know we were 18 for 18 rings at the end of the day) -- he kept wanting to examine the rings. They are various sized metal rings wrapped with ribbons that hang down off of them to make them more visible both when hanging off the stands, and more importantly when they fall into the sand and get buried. Every time she showed them to him, he really wanted to eat the ribbons! Silly goose.

We also approached and hit the quintain several times. He kept wanting to stop just after hitting it, to turn and watch it spin - LOL. So when I finally got him to approach, hit and then keep walking on past it in a straight path, we called it a wonderfully successful day.