Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Getting Lena to be subtle

Lena is an expressive horse--dramatic some might say. She's big, beautiful, spotted, and tends towards large movements even when small movements would do. Her breeding an natural athleticism play a big part--she was bred and trained to be a cutting horse--but her big brain needing entertainment doesn't hurt, either. When boredom ensues, it often comes out in larger-than-life movements--usually sideways at least six feet, quite possibly faster than Bar ever launched himself out of the starting gate. (Don't tell him I said that, though.)

In other words, subtle is not the word that comes to mind with Lena.

For example, when asked to move her hind end--just her hind end--she will often sidestep around you in a big circle. It is hard not to laugh, and certainly easy to appreciate the physical talent her efforts demonstrate, but small movements are also good. They help teach her to isolate and move specific parts of her body and respond to subtle cues from her rider. They also help (in theory, anyway) her to focus and pay attention to what you're actually asking, rather than what it is she anticipates you're going to ask next after you get through with this one little thing. "I'm just going to skip ahead, okay? Is that what you wanted, is it, huh, huh?"

I worked with her the other night and actually achieved a small amount of success getting her to slow down a little. Of course, that meant I had to slow down a lot and toss her things she wasn't expecting just so she couldn't play the anticipation game. I also have to keep at things until she slows down and relaxes, teaching her that as soon as she relaxes, the pressure goes away.

The mounting block--as always--proved to be a good test for her.

Lena doesn't really like mounting blocks. We've never really used them so she isn't entirely sure they won't eat her.

We have two in the indoor arena right now--a two-step and a three-step. The three step puts my belly at over-whither height for both horses, so if they stretch their necks up, we are eye to eye. (I'm short and they are both tall, yes.) Bar will allow me to position it next to him so I can get on, but I have to chase Lena with it, though eventually she'll give in and let me climb on from the evil horse-eating-step-monster.

Neither of them are particularly good about walking up next to one, but Lena is a lot like a magnetic opposite--get close, veer away. So I stood on top of the three step and just had her circle around me, waiting for her to choose to get close enough for me to lay across her back. It took awhile to get her next to the mounting block and a little longer to let me touch her, but she finally stopped and allowed me to drape myself over her.

We called it good after that since I still had to work Bar, too, and she'd given me a tiny bit of subtle.

Good to see the wheels turning inside that big, spotty head.


Maximus said...

One of the things I did with my very tall appendix (who I need that block for as he is 16.3 and I am only 5'1) when he resisted and moved away from the block is ask him to keep moving. If he wants to move, that's fine, but we stop when I say stop. I then try the block again. With both him and my paint mare it took only one session for them to understand it's better to stand quietly at the block.

Buckskins Rule said...

Good grief, I would swear you were describing Smokey. Everything he does is BIG (especially spooking). I choose to blame his TB sire for his goofiness ;)

Jessica said...

Great suggestion, Maximus--thanks! That seems like exactly the right tactic to try with both my movement oriented horses.

And BR, I have often thought that same thing in reverse when reading about Smokey and his antics. Lena's dam had TB roots, including Man O'War, and to look at Lena, you would have to wonder if it all trickled down into her near-16 hand self. (She was supposed to be a cutting horse. Oops.)