Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Step back

A long time ago, I used to jump.

Okay, maybe not that long ago. Only a few years. I "quit" when I was about in my second year of college, I believe. My ankles couldn't handle the stress of hanging out in a half-seat for an entire hour-long ride which was the standard idea taught at my school on our geriatric old hunters. I'm sure the horses appreciated never having anyone on their backs, but my joints just couldn't keep up. But that's irrelevant.

When I was in high school, I was pretty serious about the whole jumping thing. Or rather the eventing thing, because I still really liked dressage but I also liked running around on a cross country course and jumping over things. It also helped that most of the girls that I rode with wanted to do nothing but run around a cross country course and jump over things.

One thing I do remember from back in the time of trying to cut down my times in my stadium rounds, is that trying to rush through things didn't help you. At all. Usually if I tried to push our speed too much at best our turns would be too wide and we'd hit awkward spots at each fence and pull some rails. At worst, we'd spin out on said turn and fall. The best way to actually cut your time down? Slow down.

Seriously, it boggled my mind at the time. Why would you slow down to make up time? The key wasn't necessarily to ride slower, but to ride smarter. If you had a longer stretch, let your horse out to a controlled hand gallop for a few strides, but the important part was controlled. Because you wanted to be able to then sit back, collect him back to a balanced canter, and bring your turn in tighter to get to shorter path to the next fence. And, consequently, a better spot. Rushing ahead without thinking just gets you where you don't want to be.

The metaphor works for pretty much everything else related to horses. So often we encounter a problem and we get frustrated trying to push through it. We end up spending a lot of useless time trying to address something that we haven't really even thought about. If you stop for a minute, analyze what the problem is, and then address the root of the issue directly, you'll save a lot of time and your horse will appreciate the direction of the activity. Most horses, especially when they're also frustrated, are just going to get more and more wound up the more you push an issue.

When I got out to the barn yesterday to ride, Indigo was, once again, feeling fresh. I'm wondering if this is going to be the new standard now that the weather is getting nice? I'd be okay if it is, because once we have our head in the right place, her movement is much more animated. I decided not to lunge her today, because really, it doesn't do any good for the problem I'd been having. I don't believe in lunging them until they're worn out in order to control them, and lunging seemed to just rile her up more in the past. So I thought I'd try a different tactic and just do some ground work before getting on.

So we did some simple ground work, she seemed to be starting to focus, so I headed over to the mounting block. She started dancing away from it. "Okay" I thought, we'll just work on some one-rein stops that way once I get on her, I won't get ejected. This went on for... maybe a half hour. No progress. At all. Okay, time to re-evaluate.

My problem wasn't that my horse was too fresh. My problem, at the moment, was also not that my  horse was bucking (although I had a pretty good idea from the hump in her back that the buck wasn't too far away). My problem at the moment was my horse not standing at the mounting block. Okay, back to basics then. Time to re-teach mounting.

So I set the mounting block up next to the wall to create a chute of sorts so that the wiggling would be minimized. We started out just walking straight through, to make sure the chute didn't bother her (some horses get very claustrophobic in that sort of set up). No issues. Then we walked through and halted by the block. She started flipping her head around and getting impatient. I waited until she was still, scratched her on the neck, then walked out. We did this a few times until she figured out that being still got her out of the block faster than fussing. At this point, progress happened faster. I gathered the reins, scratched her neck, walked her out. Walked back in, gathered the reins, stepped on the mounting block, scratched her neck, got back down, walked her out. Walked in, gathered the reins, stepped on the mounting block, patted the saddle a few times, got down, walked her out. Walked in, gathered the reins, stepped on the mounting block, leaned over the saddle, got back down, walked her out. By this point, she was starting to really pay attention. I'm not sure if she was confused as to why we were going through this whole circus, but she was listening, being patient, and standing quietly at the block. Finally, I managed to actually mount.

After that, we had a pretty good ride. Some focus issues, but then again, she's 5 and hasn't had a whole lot of work done with. Overall, I think it was a successful day and reminded me of a very important lesson, to ride the horse that you have in the arena that day, not the one that you're expecting or want. If I come in and she's acting like a 2-year-old who's never seen the mounting block before, there's no point in trying to push past it. We'll get there a lot faster if I slow down and address the problem.

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