Tuesday, May 12, 2009

I'd like to be perfect right now, k thx?

Argh, I know I haven't updated in forever. Here's the quick recap:

Thursday was excellent!

Friday was terrible. Friday night the package from OSU arrived with Champ's hair and hoof impression, and I went into a deep sulking depression all weekend. I only pulled out of it, somewhat, after finishing off Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell. He made a good case that nobody's actually very good at anything until they put in 10,000 hours of practice at it. This made me feel slightly better about my abject failure to turn a green broke horse into a calm, collected, willing partner in 30 days. Or my failure to turn myself into a fantastic, brave, fair and effective trainer/rider in 6 months.

So yesterday I slogged back out, yet again, to work on becoming a better rider and work on teaching my horse to, I dunno, do stuff. She was really quite good! And I had another huge revelation!

I can, pretty easily, unlock my arms and follow the motion of her head with the reins. I can also close my fingers to give her a rein aid. I could not do both at the same time. The reason she gets so pissed when I try to USE the reins is because whatever hand I activate freezes up and the bit yanks on her mouth. Sigh.

Once I figured that out, I spent a full hour yesterday working on following her head while I closed the fingers of a hand to activate an aid. She was much better, and I really feel like that is the main problem she has with the bit.

It's a really stupid lesson that took me a really long time to learn, but I'll never forget it, I bet. :)

Today we had a minor disagreement while I was grooming her before tacking up. Dixie thought her chest had been brushed enough, so she did that "quit touching me!" super-slow-exaggerated air-bite right above my skin. I thought that was completely out of line, so I screamed like an Ebola monkey and took a swing at her as she backed up. Then I threw both brushes at her, one at a time, and nailed her both times. Screamed the whole time too. Then I turned away from her, got completely calmed down, went and picked up my brushes, and groomed her entire body over again. She was a complete angel.

That's only, I think, the fourth time one of my horses has tried to bite me, and that's exactly how I handle it every time it happens. Champ tried once, Poppy tried twice (lunkhead!), and now Dixie's tried once. Screaming and acting like I'm going to kill the biting horse, then completely dropping the matter, usually fixes things permanently.

Anyway, once I finally rode, we did some not unrecognizable serpentines, some good speeding / slowing from my seat, and some actual straight lines down the scary side of the arena. Yay!

We're not perfect, and I miss my Champ, but we're muddling through things ok.


  1. Oh Fund..that box would have been a toughie to swallow. I am still in a shock for you with how it all occured.
    I miss him for you too~

    Your revelations sound great. Closinhg your hands is a huge thing..they need you to.
    I got critized this past summer-(SHIT OLD BARN) for having hard hands(funny, my reins are never short enough in lessons) and it made me very aware of my contact and following the mare's head...only having a couple oz of contact..all winter I worked on it out doors and she began to come down with my leg asking and a closed-following contact..now I keep a rythem talk on the reins and my leg pushes her head down. It does help to think of "Riding through your elbows" it is very cool communication!
    I love to hear all your news...
    Wa has only ever stink eye'd me with the gorth area..if she w=does not want to be brushed she moves away...which pisses me off!

  2. Ohohoh! You MUST read the Tipping Point. (same author) SUCH a good one! There are some logical fallacies within it, but very few. I adore it... it's one of those things you think about during your daily life. I really want to read Blink too, but I'll get there. ;)

    You know what, I used to do the hand thing too until this year. I'd ask for a lateral bend and a leg yield, and all of a sudden my hand wasn't soft anymore. D'OH.

    Stay strong Funder. We're all thinking of you!

  3. Sounds like you will never get bitten by a horse LOL!! Good strategy. Hope your week is looking up from the package moment.

  4. I have only been bitten by a horse (stud, at that) once and it was on the boob and it hurt like a mofo for weeks. Since then I am very nasty with any horse that even thinks about it, and my approach is similar to yours. Works well.

  5. Your post has such great timing. I noticed yesterday on my training ride that at the trot my reins are jiggling at the trot:( They dont' do that at the walk, but I don't know if it's just the motion of the trot that makes them jiggle or my hands - the reins are really loose (no contact on the trail). I tried to experiement with putting my hands on her neck and then keeping then 1 inch up etc etc. Grrrr.....I want a happy horse. Farley doesn't like the bit either and avoids contact. How much of is it that I don't know what the HECK I'm doing????

  6. Kacy - it's so hard to keep all the different elements together for good riding! I think maybe Dixie is starting to relax down into the reins a little bit. Sometimes. Maybe.

    DiJ - I read Blink too! I've on the waiting list for Tipping Point, but it'll probably be a week or so before it comes in to the library. I thought of some alternative explanations for some of his theories in both books, but they've both got cool insights into human behavior.

    Flying Lily and DP - it's not that I don't get bitten, I just don't get bitten TWICE. It's in the same "Completely Unacceptable" category as deliberately kicking me.

    Mel, I know. Surely if I could do this all perfectly she'd be perfect like those theoretical horses in training books!

  7. Yeah, that box probably wasn't much comfort right at first....but I said out loud yesterday (for the first time) that I don't miss Story *so acutely* every day anymore. It's been 2.5 years.

    I still miss her, every day. But it's not so painful anymore. Finally.

  8. Yeah, I'd like to be perfect now too. Unfortunately, I still have to work hard to do my part to keep us living indoors, so I don't get to ride enough to make the kind of progress I'd hoped I would. I have SO much to learn.

    Still, I'm having fun, and I guess I can't ask for more than that.

  9. Didn't read all the posts, but hope this can help....

    It sounds like you are dealing with the typical TWH Bad Mouth Syndrome, where they are "trained" using a big bit and are taught to turn and stop by yanking their mouth around. So it might take you some time to teach her to soften and let the bit help her rather than hurt her.

    Here's a stretch for you that you can do with her, if you haven't started already. It will help you unlock your elbows and keep you more mobile.

    To initially teach it to her, start on the ground. Stand in front of her holding the reins on either side of her head. Now, imagine that the mouthpiece is not metal but a rubber band. You now need to stretch the rubber band. Stretch the reins to the side. Use your chest muscles and not your arm muscles--this will keep you from getting tired. What Dixie will do is drop her head and reach for the bit. You want her to drop her whole head and neck. She might be all weirded out by this at first. Just let her move her head around and possibly back up or try to turn--just stand your ground and don't worry about her. If she shows any dropping of her head, release the reins and tell her what a good girl she is. The pick up the reins and do it again. She will start to reach for the mouthpiece and realize that oooo, this feels good! She will then want to stretch her head and neck down. I have had horses stretch all the way to the ground and stay there with their eyes closed because it's so comfortable!

    This can be transferred when you're in the saddle both standing and at a walk. Bge sure she understands it on the ground first. Then get in the saddle, sit up straight, and stretch the reins to stretch the bit. Once again, be sure to use your chest muscles instead of your arm muscles so you won't lean forward. As soon as she reaches for the bit, release and tell her she's the smartest horse in the world. You can also do this at a walk, gait, canter, whenever, to get her brain back in gear and rebalance her. It is an exercise that works wonders.

    This is the first exercise I do with all gaited horses I run into with hard mouths. It teaches them to soften their jaw and poll, and it resonates throughout their body and lifts their back. It is also extremely comfortable and releases endorphins into their system.

    As far as the biting, the same tactic has totally worked for me. I remember reading in John Lyons' book and my John Lyons instructor telling me that you have three seconds to "kill" them. If you blow up, then go completely calm, you have just communicated to them in their language. It works really well!

    We had a gelding who was cryptorchid and he was a biter. One time he lunged at me when I was standing next to his stall and his teeth snapped right in front of my nose. I leaped over the panel, grabbed his nostrils, and bit him on the lip. HARD. He never tried to bite me again.

    I'm so sorry about Champ. I hope that you get to remember what a wonderful life he had and that he was truly loved. I know that all animals appreciate their time here on earth with their humans when they are loving and take great care of them. So I'm sure he's happy up at Rainbow Bridge and you will see him again!

  10. Awww... Champ. :( I wish I could have met him. He sounded so wonderful.

    You know how I would say that I would always move my hands with Peanut's head as he cantered, like a jockey since my first instructor was a racing trainer? In a lesson this year, I was told to knock it off and keep my hands still in the canter. ;)

    I thought I was doing good following his head! But maybe following him at the canter kept him from being collected?

  11. I've never been happy about getting bitten. Especially not since the time that a horse (not mine) bit the vet in the personal area. It was a gruesome illustration of where biting can lead to. Doru can get a bit mouthy at times, and the end of a stout lead rope can deliver a good slap across the muzzle if those teeth approach with bad intent.

    I did see someone bite her horse back to teach him a lesson. It did the trick, but she took a while to get rid of the fur from her mouth.

  12. katphoti, I've been working on the "lower your head and relax" thing for MONTHS. I tried to do it on the ground, like you suggested, but she was way too interested in licking my hands to figure out what I wanted. I went ahead and tried again after I mounted and it actually worked. We really are making progress :)

    Sara - That's crazy! I would ask for the reasoning behind that - maybe she means you should be able to follow him with your hips and keep your hands relatively steady? I dunno...

    Julian - I've met lots of people who swore by biting the horse back, but I don't think I'm fast enough to put my face that close to her teeth! I'd rather make my displeasure known with a rope or by throwing something.


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