Sunday morning I changed my riding routine with net positive results. Of course, I changed so many variables that there is no saying exactly what led to it but I think it is safe to assume it all added up to a lovely, if still highly flawed ride.
Change #1: No rushing
Riding is typically a rushed affair. When I see a spare hour before I have to get dinner going, or need to leave to get Wyatt or head off to the grocery store, I sneak in a ride. Not a terrible thing as it leads to riding but it also leads to a rush job to get in the saddle and a hurried atmosphere.
Sunday I had all the time in the world. I slowed way down. Gave a lot of praise. Gave even more scratches. This all led to a horse in the cross ties that was yawning big, gave a massive front leg/bow down stretch and had a hind leg propped up by the time I threw the saddle on his back.
Change #2: Ground work for the win
He was still not feeling too focused when I walked him out of the barn and to the arena. Instead of thinking “I’ll work you on the longe” and surviving the trek to the arena, I stopped in the pasture and made him back his rushing orange butt up.
He didn’t like this and tried to pop up instead. He got backed even more. Once he was backing I praised and halted then moved forward. He rushed. I stopped him and backed him. He blew forward. I decided to move his feet and do a mini longe with the lead rope.
Once he was calm he got to halt. If he tried to call for his friends, he got put back to work on the tiny circle at a walk. Once he was licking and chewing and no longer caring where his friends were, we entered the arena.
Change #3: Putting his brain to work more than his feet
I did still longe him a bit but he didn’t need much and was very good and tuned in to my voice and body. Once I got on him though he felt like a powder keg under me.
So I stopped and thought “How did I used to handle Gem when she was like this?”
Lateral work. When Gem used to get all up her own stuff, I’d find stuff to do to work her brain more than her feet.
I halted H’Appy and decided to see if he knew lateral work at all. I held steady and lightly pushed him over with my right leg. He went back. I told him nope and asked again. He went forward. We worked a little while until he gave me a baby step sideways at which point I praised and let him go forward as a reward.
Then I halted him again and tried again. His brain was working at top speed. He got a little pissy when he couldn’t figure out the right answer, but you know what he didn’t do? Give a rats behind where his friends were.
After he gave me the beginnings of the right answer, I moved on and circled back around to it if he started to get a little quick or distracted. It worked really well.
Change #4: Talking to myself
Once I moved to the trot, I decided that maybe it was time to work on that 20m circle again more so to focus on myself than him. I find that when I work around the arena at large, even with a specific plan in my head, I tend to have a whole lot of wiggle room so that if he isn’t precisely where I was thinking, but close enough I don’t really care. This is wrong.
A 20 m circle is a 20 m circle, not an oval, not a square and not 15 m once around and then 30 the next. It gives me a very specific focal point that I hold true to. Or at least try to.
I put him on the path and began around but instead of getting frustrated with him or myself I started talking out loud:
Release the inside rein
Hold the outside rein steady
Turn my entire body inside
Look 1/4 turn ahead on the circle
He always slows down here to look out the hole in the fence get ready before that and squeeze gently
And it worked! The more I acted like my own trainer on the ground, the better I rode. And the better I rode the more relaxed he became. By the end he was giving me a wonderfully rhythmic and steady trot and had bend around the circle which in turn gave him better balance and a better ability to do what I was asking.
I have no idea how long we worked but once he gave me a few rounds I praised him to within an inch of his life and slid off very proud of him.
Of course the moment I slid off he screamed for his friends, but hey at least he was quiet the entire time I worked him.
Overall it was really good. Not hoof perfect but we didn’t fight each other, I made a plan and kept my brain engaged and managed to work him through his own issues without it escalating. All big wins for team Doofaloosa!