Sunday, May 13, 2012

Constant learning

Calabar and Jess--to every season, turn...

Calabar has been my teacher now for over four years. Sometimes the lessons are good, sometimes they are not. Sometimes he is learning, sometimes I am learning. Of course, it's better if we are both learning, and that does actually happen sometimes.

We have been dutifully working on our trot like Ellen showed us and the big trot steps behind have been happening--when we are in a tiny, itsy, bitsy circle inside the round pen.

The first thing Bar told me is he's not as good at circles without clear boundaries. Apparently, I am not good at giving clear boundaries with my outside rein because he will lead with his outside shoulder and suddenly we're going sideways instead of in a circle.

We could not make this work at a trot--I'm sure there was bus-driving on my part even if I didn't mean to--so we slowed back down to a walk and got his shoulder to stop popping out and his neck to stop bending quite so far into the circle. After a few good walk circles each direction, we went back to the trot and got better trot circles both directions. I called it good at that point. When all else fails, slow it down and get it right before moving on.

The next ride, we again had lovely tiny trot circles, and still no success in trying to tie them together when I'd go out to the outside of the round pen. Not that he wouldn't trot, mind you, but he would trot his normal jar-my-fillings-out trot as soon as we moved beyond the inner circle.

It occurred to me it might not just be him. The boy really is trying, and I am feeling big movement behind when we do our tiny circles. While I'm sitting that trot, I might add. Sitting the bone-jarring trot is a nearly Herculean feat in my opinion. Especially, as I reminded the big brown horse, sitting it on the sacrum we broke last year.

But I am convinced it is possible to teach an OTTB that the trot is actually more than a warm-up gait to be performed with a high head and entirely on the front end. I like my teeth, thank you very much.

So our last ride, I tried something new. I signaled him the same way on the outside of the round pen as I do in the middle of the round pen. I know. A completely rational and reasonable and smart thing to do, right? A thing I didn't think of doing.

So funny! He got it. I have no idea if what I'm doing is right, but the point is he knew the queue and I wasn't using it so naturally, he wasn't doing what I was asking. At least until I asked him the same way I'd asked-and rewarded him for--before.

Why this didn't occur to me long before now is a tribute to my own learning curve and not a reflection on the lessons this horse has given me. He's been trying for months to tell me I was doing it wrong and actually seemed to relax when I went back to asking him in a consistent way.

Go figure.

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