5/29/09

A Tale of Two Rides

I usually make a separate post for each ride, but, given that I'm having trouble typing right now - more about this later - I decided to combine two rides. These particular rides are probably best discussed together anyway.

I had tentatively titled the earlier ride "An Interesting Ride," because interesting it was. There was a lot going on - field work in both of Lowell's fields, Mike mowing, Bernadine mowing, so that might account for some of the excitement. Still, both Indy and Ami seemed as high as kites, especially Ami. She acted like she couldn't find Indy, and he was right there, in the small paddock just like always.

I've never seen Indy so worked up, and certainly not when I was riding him. It was really strange, especially when he started insisting on turning and racing for the entrance back into the barn, both he and Ami seeming close to panic.

I didn't have a clue as to what was going on with them, except that I couldn't let Indy quit on such a note. Now, if you've read many of my posts, you know that I'm not the boldest rider in the world - even before I had my hip replaced and smashed the heck out of my rib cage, I wasn't the world's boldest rider, much less now, even with a helmet and rib protector.

Still, I could not quit, so I took most of the slack out of the reins - enough to maintain some control but not pulling - held on to the saddle horn with both hands and kept going. Indy never tried to buck, but some of his turns made me glad I had that saddle horn! We trotted and cantered back to the barn, then we went out again, came back, went out... Actually, staying on was easy, Indy's trot and canter being lovely and smooth.

I never got either of them to calm down, but when I decided we could quit, I got Indy away from the barn to dismount. As always he stood still as a statue as I eased off trying not to stress my left hip joint any more than necessary. Then I walked him around the paddock a bit. He was ill at ease, but he never attempted to pull away or anything like that, so I felt it would be fine to end here.

Our next ride was last Friday. I again used the Myler bit, pulled snugly into the corners of Indy's mouth. This is definitely what he prefers - he hates for the bit to flop around in his mouth even a little. He also seems much happier with the thinner mouthpiece of the Myler over the thicker Happy Mouth. I think that, with Indy, less is definitely better. He hates having his tongue restricted, so whatever takes up less room and stays off his tongue is always going to be his preference. And, since it's going to be in his mouth, his preference is the one that counts.

Friday's ride was much better. Ami didn't seem much calmer, but Indy was. I could feel it not only through the reins, but his entire body felt different - softer. He still wanted to go back over to Ami, but he wasn't nearly as extreme about it.

I kept just a tiny bit more contact this time. There was still a loop in the reins, but not as much as last time, and if I closed my hands, I made very light contact. Indy has never been ridden on contact - until now! - and again, I didn't want him to feel trapped or punished. And all I asked of him was to keep his cavorting within bounds.

Not only did he keep himself within bounds, when I used the light contact to ask him to "easy," I could feel him not only obey, but actually accepting the contact and softening his jaw. It was brief, but it was real, and it was the first time. I feel that we had a real breakthrough.

A training breakthrough is always cause for celebration of course, but even more so for me here is that I, as they say, "did it my way." By that I mean no pulling, no punishing. I just keep him going when he's not doing what I want, and I praise him when he is doing what I want. Indy is so intelligent - really, he is - that I had to spend a lot of time figuring out the best way to handle him.

He's more than willing to offer his opinion about everything, and I didn't want to squelch that, while still having him understand that there were times when he just had to do it my way, period. I wanted him to respect me, and I always knew that I would definitely have to earn that from Indy even more than one usually does with any horse. But, I also wanted him to trust me and mind me out of that trust - not fear. And besides, Indy is not easily intimidated. With his smarts and self confidence, the "do it or else" type of handling would probably lead to disaster.

Fortunately, all my noodling over him seems to have paid off. I know he isn't afraid of me, but he's is very respectful and does what I ask - and I do ask, not demand. I really don't think he's been testing me the past couple of rides. I don't think that's what this has been about, but I think I did handle it the right way for us. I always said that if I ever had another greenie to train, I wouldn't make the same mistakes I did with DJ. Of course, I never intended to have another green horse. But, such is fate.

Being totally dependent on the weather is a severe handicap when you're trying to train a horse as green as Indy was. Consistency is hard to come by when training sessions are weeks apart sometimes. I don't even have a place to do useful ground training when it's wet, very cold, and/or very windy - not to mention all three at once. Around here the winter is pretty much a total loss without some sort of indoor facility. And it's not only the cold - which can be very cold. It's also the wind and the footing. Even on relatively nice days, the footing is nothing short of impossible - hard, slick and extremely uneven.

It's also hard training such an inexperienced horse without the benefit of other horses giving him confidence by example. On the other hand, I don't have a dozen well meaning friends advising me to do things that I would later wonder about. Tight nosebands, not letting him "get away" with anything, whacking him instead of taking time to figure out why he was doing what he was doing, etc. I was pretty green myself then, and I knew it. Now, well let's just say that since then, I've developed my own ideas about training - with a lot of credit to John Lyons - and they are quite different from the style I was using in the 1980s.

The two most important things I learned from John weren't techniques, but matters of attitude. The first is that my idea of patience was woefully inadequate. That's the mistake I regret most with DJ. I thought I was being patient with him, but I wasn't - not nearly, no matter what I was hearing from other "Monday morning trainers," or even seeing with other horses in the hands of other pros.

The other thing is equally important, especially for someone like me. And that is that it's okay to love your horse. It's even okay to love on your horse. I have to admit, other pro's I'd seen/read made me feel like an idiot because of the feelings I had for my horses and the way I loved to pet on them. John took an approach that was totally different. I'll never forget the first time I saw John kissing his beloved Zip. Maybe that's why John's methods work so well for me both in the saddle and on the ground.

Oh yeah - about my finger. When I was putting the saddle back on the rack after that last ride, I guess my grip slipped a little with my right hand, and somehow I caught my left pinkie between the full weight of the saddle and the metal rack. Yikes! I really smashed it. It turned a deep purple and even with iceing it, within hours it was so swolen I couldn't even bend it - or straighten it for that matter. Guess a few days of rain that we're supposed to be getting won't be so bad after all - this time.

John Lyons and Bright Zip


John Lyons and Seattle, by Bright Zip




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"From my earliest memories, I have loved horses with a longing beyond words." ~ Robert Vavra