Riding/Horses

Redemption Ride

What is that saying? Tell a gelding, but ask a mare? After nearly eight years together I think I am finally figuring out what that means. You all were right – even a bad ride teaches you something.

Our selfie game needs a bit of work, but she was all cuddles after the ride. 

When I swung my leg over Gem Monday evening, the plan was to reduce the pressure and make it enjoyable for both of us. I also wanted to pay attention to what I was doing on my own that has been so successful but isn’t crossing over to our lesson. Gem let me know she had not forgotten our last ride by playing hard to catch, but I could tell her heart wasn’t in it as she circled around me but didn’t take off to the nether regions of her pasture. It took about 15 minutes of gentle pressure towards her, stopping when she did, then repeating for her to stand still and drop her head into the halter but the process served another purpose outside of catching her. It let me show her that I was listening and would back off the pressure when she responded in the appropriate manner and set the tone right from the start.

A little better

Once aboard, I focused on my position and asked for a walk. Gem trotted. I had a few options: I could get after her and make her walk right that minute (what I do in lessons), I could let her get away with trotting instead of walking (what I used to do all the time on my own) or I could try something new which Trainer had me attempt during our last lesson but Gem was too far gone for it to work at that time. I chose option #3. I sat the trot, leaned back ever so slightly and made it difficult for her to trot while making it very clear with my posture that I had no intentions of getting pulled into a trotting frenzy. And it worked!!! After about 5 or 6 trot steps Gem settled back into a flat and even walk without any fighting or fuss. I ignored her attempt at the trot and we continued to walk around warming up and inspecting the pasture ground for any litter or holes to avoid.

Through the ears view

After we were both warmed up at the walk, I gently asked for a trot and she responded in kind with a gentle trot. This is where things got a little interesting for me and I plan on talking to Trainer about it at our next lesson. Gem wasn’t foot perfect. She tends to start off in a gentle trot and slowly work her way faster and faster until before you know it you are zooming around at her endurance pace. The key is to not let her get that far. In lessons, Trainer has me do this by using half halts before she starts to speed up. Basically she has me starting to anticipate the change in pace and checking in with Gem frequently to let her know she is to maintain what we are doing instead of reacting once she has already sped up.

As I rode her at home, I realized that I was already doing this, but the way I went about it was very different. Jumping back to lessons again for a second, we work a lot on the 20 meter circle. We circle around and around with the goal to keep the geometry and pace even and consistent with each revolution, learning where she tends to slow down or speed up and countering that by using my aides effectively where they are needed. A half halt at 6 o’clock, a little leg needed at 11, more inside leg to push her out where she tends to fall in at 2 and outside leg to prevent her going too big at 4.

I’m not sure Echo has enough covers. She does this all on her own and loves to be covered up

It is a cool little exercise, but it is also one that Gem can fry out on pretty quickly. Circling over and over again can drive the mare to distraction at this stage as she gets bored and then begins to question the sanity behind going around and never getting anywhere. That is when the tension comes in and if I am not careful I’ll lose her all together.

At home though, I rarely circle more than once or twice in a succession. Monday night was no exception to my typical way of working on my own whether in the pasture or in an arena, but since I was particularly aware of what I was doing it registered for once. My method is to ask for the trot. If I feel her begin to speed up, I circle or make a large loop, or change direction, or add in a serpentine or go straight if I was on a circle already. Then we hold that new path until I feel her begin to change when I add in a half halt and then once again use the space to help settle her by changing our path of movement. I change direction frequently as well. In this manner, I keep her brain engaged while being insistent that we neither speed up nor slow down as we work around the space. I use half halts to balance her before turns or changes in direction. I add leg when she begins to slow down and get behind me. When we circle, which I have her do frequently, just not repetitively, I try to use my inside leg for bend and my outside aides but I’m not so good at those yet.

Do we reach the same end result? I’m not sure. Using my method, Gem rarely gets tense or braced. However, using my method, we also don’t work consistently on bend and the correct aides for that as we are always swooping and curving and moving about. I really want to talk to Trainer about it and see if maybe there isn’t a way to slowly work the two methods together until we reach a point where we can circle more and more without Gem losing her mind over it.

Gem and Pete enjoyed Irma under the shelter. 

Back to Monday. I rode Gem around the far end of the pasture at the trot. I required that she kept a consistent pace, but changed up our direction and geometry frequently rarely doing the same thing twice. She responded by dropping her head and releasing her tension. When she moves like that it feels like she is floating on air. All it takes is me looking where I want to go and she responds. It is all so light and free that I can’t help but smile and laugh. I could ride like that forever.

Things were going so well that I decided to canter. Cantering isn’t our strong suit, so I made a plan. I’d have her trot coming back towards home, and incidentally Pete who decided to graze in the middle of our work area, turn to corner to go back away and ask her to canter in the corner but not keep her on the circle as that tends to just make the canter fall apart. I started to the right for no reason other than we were already gong that way and she picked up the canter no issues. She seemed really happy to be cantering and I let her make multiple large loops around the pasture. She is no different in the canter than the trot in so much as she likes to slowly continue to speed up. If I am not careful she will begin to gallop around having the time of her life. The one down side to my method of keeping her feet moving in different ways is that it is really hard to do that in the canter when you have no idea how to do a flying change and don’t want to just end up counter cantering half the time, but I made sure to circle, go straight and make large and small loops.

When I asked her to come back down to the trot, she continued to canter. Hmmm…back to trying to think through what to do. The options seemed to be the same as at the trot: force her to trot immediately, allow her to continue to canter, or gently make the pressure escalate until she gives me the correct answer. I once again chose option three this time continuing to use stronger and stronger half halts along with a voice command until she began trotting followed by massive amounts of praise. I’m a little worried this approach is teaching her that she can continue to do what she wants until she decides to stop, but for now I ma going to go with it and hope the nagging pressure and praise for doing what I want will eventually work.

The only issue now was that she wanted to canter. The trot became a bit of a mess with tension and a lot of asking to canter whenever my leg touched her and all I wanted was a trot. Eventually she settled and I let her canter the other direction for as long as she was polite about it and then began the process of getting her to trot again. her trot work is always a bit of a mess after a nice canter. She gets fast and braced and decides that all the slow trotting is not worth her time, but I did my best to not get pulled into the fight. Once she trotted nicely without breaking to a canter for a single large lap around the end of the pasture, I called it a night.

It was a great ride. We didn’t fight. I refused to get pulled into her traps and she in turn stayed relaxed and light. I have a lot of questions as to if this way of working her is producing a horse who won’t actually listen unless she decides to or if it is the correct way to handle miss tension. There are times when she absolutely needs to do what I say when I say it: the dressage court is one, but there are also times out on cross country or when in the arena on a jump course where she just has to rebalance or slow down and I need to know that she will. I’m a bit concerned that by allowing her to continue to canter while I continue to ask nicely to get her to trot is teaching her that she can ignore my request until she feels like responding to it. It is the reason Trainer gets on me for making her trot right now, or walk right now or halt right now.

But the trade off for forcing my hand is a tense and braced mare and a ride like Thursday. I’m hoping that by being consistent in my asking and using a ton of praise for when she gets the answer right, that I’m teaching her that my requests won’t go away so she better just do it. I don’t know. Lots of food for thought and a lot to discuss with Trainer next time I see her.

For now I am going to bask in the feeling of Monday’s ride and the relief that came with knowing I hadn’t broken my trust with Gem.

16 thoughts on “Redemption Ride”

  1. It’s taken years to really develop our trot, although only a year to get a solid canter. We use a lot of serpentine work in my dressage lessons. It also has the benefit of making Ashke wait for my aids, since I randomize the directions of our serpentine and add halts and reinbacks when he gets too forward. Arabs are smart and need both the mental stimulation and to know we are a tiny bit smarter than they are. 🙂

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  2. yay for having a wonderful and reassuring ride together!! i think it’s awesome how you’re beginning to associate the “feel” you can get while schooling on your own to how it may change while in lessons. as you know i’m a dyed in the wool lesson junkie, but one thing i’m learning is that charlie needs a different kind of attention than isabel did. with isabel, while i was in a lesson i could just devote all 100% of my attention to the trainer without needing to think overmuch about how isabel reacted. charlie tho…. he really demands that i continually check in with him as we go — i can’t just check out and do whatever the trainer tells me to do without first seeing where he is and how he feels. in a way, it seems like that “check in” part is what you’ve gotten really good at doing while schooling Gem on your own. it’s been hard for me to balance that tho with rapid fire trainer instructions for “do this now” but… in a way it’s kinda cool knowing that *for once* there are some things i can feel out in my horse better than my trainer can see from the ground!

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    1. Lessons require so much focus for me that I do find myself losing a bit of connection with Gem. It is a really cool feeling at home now that we are in a better place together that I can be riding and take the brain cells required to think “ok….she is reacting like this and I want to be doing that so how can I get there?” Instead of just reacting like I always did before.

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  3. Glad you had a good ride!!! It sounds like what you’re doing is working and probably the best way to work with Gem with where her training is. My trainer is big on not putting a horse in “prison” bc it can just get them frustrated. This is all new to Gem to so you need to make her enjoy it before you start demanding her to do stuff. So it sounds like you’re on the right track and I’m sure Trainer J will understand. It’s all about give and take with mares and Gem sounds like she’s very opinionated!!!! Which makes her amazing but also makes you have to think through your rides 🙂 it will come!!! Riding takes a lifetime to perfect so no worries, you’re right on track 😉

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  4. I wondered if that might happen. One exercise that worked really well with Irish (mr ADHD) was to do an exercise called moving circles. Picture a ring: 20 m circle at A, then right to B- do another 20m circle, rode to C- 20 m circle, change across diagonal and repeat. It allowed us to work in bend but not get into a fight.

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  5. I’m glad you had this experience. In many ways, Gem reminds me of Booger. I have to know what battles to pick, and trying to do the same thing too many times in a row (even if it’s important) leads to her burning out and tuning my out!

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  6. Maybe the middle ground is slowly stepping up the more “demanding” requests. Say for example, it takes half the arena for her to listen to you asking to trot. Maybe next time, try to get it by the fence section before the halfway mark. Or she canters for 6 strides while you are asking, try for five next time. She might need a slower transition into perfection rather than perfection right now. Or she might not ever be a horse that does perfection right now. It’s a good idea to try other options and talk about the results with your trainer. Gem sounds like she needs a ride that is as unique as she is.

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