Friday, August 01, 2008

Back to Basic Training

Trail riding is great, and if we could, we'd probably do most, if not all, our training out on the trail. But we can't and it's necessary to do arena work for all kinds of good reasons. The problem recently is not just that our horses that don't want to work in the arena, it's that their humans are bored of circles, too.

But training still needs to happen and one of the interesting things I've experienced as I learn to train my horses is even things you've tried before that didn't seem to work can have different results when you come back to them again.

Longing is a tried and true training tool, one I've used in the past with both Bar and Lena with very limited success, and had abandoned for different reasons with each horse. Lena doesn't really get tired, and when she was an only horse, Steve would ride first and take care of all her goofy behavior so by the time I got on, she was mostly obedient. (Mostly.) When we first got Bar, the round pen was way more trauma than it was worth. He was new and we were making him deal with two enclosed spaces--the round pen within the indoor arena--complete with a whole set of echoes he wasn't used to. Oh, and pigeons, we can't forget the pigeons. By the time he settled in with us and his new home, we didn't really want to be in the indoor arena anymore, either. The fact that both Steve and I get a little dizzy longing doesn't help, nor did the fact that it really didn't seem to take the edge off either horse.

But in my desperation to alleviate the arena boredom and still get both exercise and discipline to happen, I decided to give it a whirl and see what happened. So far, both of them have worked really well for me. They actually seem to be willing to cooperate, listen to my voice commands--both on and off the actual longe line--which enables us to work on things like ground manners and doing what I tell them to do when I tell them to do it without all the other baggage that sometimes happens when I'm in the saddle.

Not that I have any baggage, of course.

It was also a great opportunity for me to watch them in action from the ground and without a rider, so I could see their natural movement. Both horses move well, though sometimes Bar has a hitch in his right rear before he warms up a little. (And don't we all after a certain age!) I always start him out going counter-clockwise, since it seems to be easier for him (or more natural, probably) to go that way. I had both of them responding not only to voice (cadence) cues to go faster, but also to slow down. Since neither one of them slows down very well, I felt particularly good about the latter.

Cindy--Peter's wife--and I were talking about how sometimes, when all else fails, going back to the basics can be a good training tool. It allows you to work on something simple and that gives both you and your horse a positive outcome, which fosters trust and growth.

It is one of those things I know, and certainly one of those things people have told me before, but seems to be better learned by stumbling over it again.

And maybe the real lesson is to kick yourself out of a rut sometimes just to see what happens.

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