Thursday, August 12, 2010

Tuning up Woody

Woody is my guest horse. The horse I can put a rank beginner on, and know they'll be safe. But he's also the most advanced horse, if you know how to ask him for his skills.

But beginners get on him, pull the reins across his neck like they're riding a horse out of a western movie, and fail to ask him to be honest. After several rides, he starts to get undone. And then I have to get on him and remind him of his skills.

We started with circles. I swear, and I'm not exaggerating, I can canter a circle around a cone on this horse and you'd swear it was a perfect circle. Go ahead, use a string and his hoof prints will mark a perfect radius from that cone. All done in a soothing, easy to ride, slow canter. Most that ride him can't get him to canter, because he won't canter if he doesn't feel you balanced on him. But with me, he gets into the canter right away.

His trot is awful. I mean, rough, a definite post of trot required. And when I ride him often, we don't trot. We go to canter from the walk. But with him out of tune with me, we had to bump through the trot to get to canter until he warmed up.

His stop was sloppy. So we worked on that a lot, and did a lot of backing up. Probably a few hundred yards worth if I added it all up. That's the first thing to go on him, and the last thing to come back. But it's so important, I really work him doing that.

He was reining well, so no problems there. Nice and soft everywhere. Yielded front and rear well. Side passed incredibly well.

He was popping his head up, one of his weaknesses. Every head lift was met with bit pressure and a release when he lowered his head. Beginners always let him get away with that.

Then the walk back to the barn...oh brother. I hate a horse that gets too energetic headed back to the barn. It took us half an hour to travel the last 100 yards to the barn, I kid you not. I circled him to a stop, backed him up repeatedly, and just worked him unless he was walking calmly, head down and flexed at poll, back to barn. After a lot of work, and several deep sighs from both of us, we finally managed to get back to the barn in a relaxed manner. Mind you, he's never out of control, and beginners don't even notice that he's high-stepping back to the barn, but I don't like it because I know it doesn't represent his best behavior. When I first got him, I worked for about 2 months to try to keep him from "jigging" on the way back to the barn. His previous owner thought it was pretty how he raised his legs so high and "pranced" back to the barn. But I knew it was just extra energy and an improper mind-set that was the issue.

Woody's a great old horse, but like a lot of them, he can get undone with the wrong kind of riding and if he isn't kept honest. Woody's faults are: loses his stop, picks his head up too high at times, and can be too energetic going back to the barn. But he tunes up quickly, and I hope to get him back into the shape I know he's capable of, with a few more rides.


cheyenne jones said...

Need to keep working them, my other mare, I dont ride her as often as the grey, she gets herself all swishy and "befuddled". She`s a real bugger when it comes to being ridden after a lay off!

Unknown said...

I love that horse. But he does come unwound, as you said. Glad you're giving him the time to get back into shape. As you've noted, it's tough to keep them all ridden. Hopefully you'll get some more training in some of the guest riders and they can help.

Had a terrific trail ride on Smokey today, and figured out what I was doing wrong on steering. Now we can work on refinement. Mine, that is!

As for his stop, we are stopping on an exhale. Not every time, but boy, when it happens I just want to shout! :)

Jan said...

TR, thanks for sharing the exercises you do for a horse tune up. Impressive about Woody's canter! Your comment about him not going into a canter unless he can tell that the rider is balanced, is very interesting. What a smart horse he is. What is the secret to how you attain a slow, controlled canter on a horse? Is the rider's balance the most important thing or are there other aids/skills needed also? I am working on the canter with my horse.

Trailrider said...

Jan: I've had a few horses that would not canter easily with an unbalanced rider, but who rode fine with me. I try to be very balanced in the saddle, not too far forward or back and with the feeling that I'm not putting a lot of weight on my stirrups. I picture that I'm bareback - can't be unbalanced bareback!

And a lot of beginners cue tentatively for the canter, because they really don't have the "seat" to cue properly. When I cue for canter, I put my heel in the side of the horse, slightly towards the back, on the side opposite for the lead I want, and I slightly shift my other foot forward, so that I'm positioned to ride for the lead I'm asking the horse to take. That way, the horse is set-up to canter in the correct lead. And I "think" more energy and canter. And my heel isn't "released" until I get the canter - no banging on the sides of the horse.

Awfully hard to do those subtle shifts if a rider doesn't have the seat and can just bang both heels on the horse while bouncing off balance in the saddle. Doesn't help the horse to feel secure that its rider is really ready for what they're asking, and it's usually apparent to an observer AND the horse.

As for slowing the canter, again, I've had to work on that with a few horses. Usually, it's about really being in touch with my energy. I work on trotting and SLOWLY, almost IMPERCEPTIBLY, increasing my energy until we are at a canter. That SLOW increase in energy usually lets the horse ease into the canter, rather than rush into it. That, and I circle at the canter - no straightaways where they can build up speed. When they figure out that they're going to circle at the canter every time, that cools their jets and they settle into a nicer canter. A lot of this can be worked out in the round pen, so you can just focus on energy, since the circle is already built in. And it goes without saying, this can be worked on from the ground in the round pen BEFORE ever mounting. That's where I start - controlling my energy from the ground while in the round pen, to get the slowest canter possible from my horse. In fact, I like to be able to do everything in the round pen for a time until I try from the saddle. I want a walk, slow trot, fast trot, fast canter, slow canter, good stop, good turns, and no hesitation to go in the canter, and ability to sustain all speeds at MY request IN THE ROUND PEN. It's much easier to teach the horse and ME in there, than in the field.

Jan said...

TR, thank you so much for such great and thoughtful information! I really appreciate your thorough descriptions. I will write it out and work on the instructions. Your focus on your thoughts, as well as your subtle but controlled use of energy is quite interesting. Also, it sounds like you are using the round pen as much for your own energy development as the horse. Fascinating! Thank you again for the time you put into this reply!