Monday, May 14, 2012

Joey Update.

We had quite a week of rain last week, so my riding with Joey has been hampered by the weather.  Despite the weather, I have managed to get in about 4-5 rides over the last 10 days.

Yesterday, I hauled him to Tejas Rodeo and rode in their big, beautiful covered arena.  I wanted to see what he would do without the training cones we had been using in our home arena to mark out his circles.  He did great.  We have established a warm-up routine, and this seems to settle him whenever we start work or travel to a new place.  It involves some neck flexing to both sides.  Some head lowering exercises.  A little hind end yielding, and some longeing on a training halter and lead.  We do all this from the ground before I ever mount.  It only takes 5-10 minutes, but it gets him checked into me and establishes our connection.  If he is still too distracted, we spend a little more time doing the exercises.  Then I mount, and we flex the neck a bit more from the saddle. A little warm up moving his shoulders and hind end, and then we are ready to perform. 

He did very nice circles in the arena.  I was able to use my legs to direct him when he moved a little outside of the circle.  His stops were good and aggressive.  He is really getting his hind end down and stopping quickly.  He is carrying his head better and rounding his back.

One of my main objectives yesterday was to get his lead departures done correctly.  This is something I have always struggled with on Joey.  And like every horse problem, it was probably my fault.  You see, I was kind of focused on getting his front end in position for the correct lead.  I was thinking about his back end, but probably not enough.  I did a little reading from Larry Trocha's website, and he stated that the rear end is what mattered.  The front end will follow the rear end.  Just yield the hind end, and then push them into canter, but don't quit on the horse too early.  In other words, don't let go of the heel pressure moving the hind end over UNTIL they start to canter on the correct lead.  My problems was: (1) worrying more about the front end when my emphasis needed to be on the back end, and (2) releasing my heel too early before Joey was in the canter.  Why was I doing this?  Because I let Joey train me that he didn't like my heel moving his hind end over and I probably was worried he was going to buck with too much heel pressure.  See, I don't hesitate with Woody, because I KNOW he won't buck.  But with Joey, it's always in the back of my mind.  But I pushed through that tiny kernel of fear, and just did it yesterday on Joey, and it worked wonders.  Yeah, he swished his tail the first couple of times, and acted bothered, but once he learned the release was coming if he would just canter off in the correct lead, it was pretty much over.

My thinking is a "hind quarter first" lead departure.  You can click on the link above from Larry Trocha's website for a better explanation.

The rest of the afternoon was spent with my friend's new horse.  This is a 20+ year old horse, used on a ranch in the past, ridden by everyone at the stables that wants to ride a horse, used as a lesson horse, used to carry the flag in opening ceremonies, likes to canter.  Remember, this is my same friend who was thrown from a horse and had surgery to his spine.

Yesterday was the first time I had the opportunity to "handle" this horse.  He was pulled from his stall after a week of stall time due to the weather and brought into the arena.  He was crowding my friend at the walk and while standing still.  He was just absolutely in his space.  My friend, Alex, wanted me to longe his horse as he saw me longeing Joey. But first, I wanted to see what this horse knew.  He would not flex at the neck without moving his entire body.  No biggie, a lot of green horses do this.  But this is supposedly a "super broke" horse!  His neck was like iron, solidly braced.  I got a little flex and his body still after about 10-15 minutes.

Then to longe, the horse had very little clue what to do.  I spent another 15 minutes getting him used to the idea on longeing on a lead line.  It wasn't pretty, but it got some energy off him.  He kept wanting to canter, but I got him licking and chewing and trotting easily after a bit.  He still had a major tendency to lift his head VERY high when worried.

Then to bit him.  He wanted to keep his head very high, and I don't like this.  So I spent another 15 minutes getting him to lower his head in response to pressure.  Then when I approached his head with the bridle, he leaped up and popped the lead rope.  Then Alex tells me, "Yeah, I heard that he was tricky to bridle".  Really?  You don't say?  Another 15 minutes of desensitization to get him soft for the bridle, and he was finally bitted up.  I have NO IDEA when or IF this horse had his teeth looked at or floated, and neither does Alex.

By this point, Alex was so freaked out about this super broke horse's behavior, that he was expressing reluctance to even ride him.  Along about then the head cowboy shows up, the one that's been giving Alex lessons and that encouraged Alex to buy this super broke horse, and proclaims that there's nothing wrong with this horse, and jumps on his back and rides him around the arena and shows everyone what a great horse he is.

At this point, I walked off and just stuck to Joey.

I have no doubt that this "super broke" horse could be a good horse.  But I also have no doubt that he's the wrong horse for Alex.  I could easily work with this horse, but Alex is so green, he's never even bitted a horse, and now he has a horse that is difficult to bridle.  This horse has poor ground manners, easily corrected if you know what you're doing, but Alex doesn't know how to deal with this yet.  This horse wants to just go and go and canter fast and furious, and Alex is just off a neck injury and cannot afford to fall.  I could see in this horse's behavior that he has Alex's number as a rank beginner, and he was taking advantage of Alex at every opportunity.  This is yet another disaster in the making.

I will only mention the other drama of some woman coming over and giving me free advice on how to handle Alex's horse.  I stopped working with Alex's horse and invited her to work with his horse if she was a trainer.  But if she wasn't then she needed to shove off as I would refuse to work with this horse with an audience of free counselors.  She left in a huff.

It was quite an adventure.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Guiding and a New Bit for Joey

Joey and i enjoyed a trail ride after some arena work this past Sunday.  On the trail, he stumbled once, and then his rhythm sounded different.  I couldn't place it. I was probably just too relaxed.  But coming back to the barn, I realized he had caught a shoe and flipped it off.  Just like that.  Amazing how easily they can lose a shoe.  That got him a 2 day reprieve from riding.  Thank goodness, the farrier was coming out for routine shoeing anyway.

But yesterday, it was back to work for Joey.  What follows are some follow up remarks from our first reining lesson last week with Todd Martin.

Problem: How to get a better stop on Joey.  It seems I used to have a better stop on this horse than I do now.

Answer: A big run makes for a big stop.

Solution: Huh?  What the heck are you talking about?  This answer really had me stumped.  Sure sure, I can understand that running hard will mean a better sliding stop because you'll carry more momentum, but I don't really care about that.  I just want a better stop.

And then I rode Joey the way Todd suggested, cantering him harder and harder, faster and faster, really driving him, and then abruptly stopping the ride with my body WITHOUT pulling on him, and he sat down and gave me a good stop.  Ah ha!  The thing is, now Joey WANTS to stop because he knows he's working hard and I don't care how fast he runs, and he's looking for a release, and when I stop riding, he gets the release by stopping.  A big run makes for a big stop.  Now, I get it.

Before, with me in his mouth trying to control the speed of his canter and letting him brace against the bit, he was insensitive to changes in my energy or my seat.  Now, running free on a loose rein, he isn't braced on anything, and he is clued in to my energy.  Amazing.

I am also making him back up with every stop, as Todd suggested.  But I think the difference has been freeing up the horse to let him FIND THE ANSWER, rather than controlling everything he does to avoid trouble.  That was just frustrating to us both.

Problem:  I'm not really progressing with getting a getter "handle" on this horse.  I expected he'd be neck reining better and responding better to my cues.

Answer: When you are cantering him in your hard circles, use the outside rein to guide him.  Rely less on your inside rein pulling him into position.  SUGGEST and GUIDE where you want him to go and let him find his way there.

Solution: So I did this.  And it works.  And now his reining is much better.  This has been one of the best tips I have picked up so far.  I was using direct reining far too often and too much.  I wasn't trusting Joey.  More specifically, I wasn't letting him make mistakes and THEN correcting him.  I was an over protective parent trying to keep him out of every trouble.

In addition, I am reining Joey in front of the horn, not pulling down and away.  I also used a leverage bit for the first time with him yesterday. He chewed on it a while.  He was very sensitive to the bit, but not SOFT.  This may take some time.  He hasn't really been soft with anything I've thrown at him. Not as soft as I'd like anyway, not as soft as say Woody or Lola, much older and experienced horses.  But I need Joey to come along.  Much is going to be expected of this horse.  The easy ride is over.  So far, he's been a champ.  I'm not going to rush him, but he isn't going to sit in the back of the class and avoid the assignment any longer either.