Changes Are Ahoof (Har, har, har)

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.

The boys had a lot of fun at the fishing pond while I worked with H’Appy

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?”

Camouflage horse is the same color as the red clay we have around here. I also need to figure out what to do with his crazy mane. 

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.

He may be a Doofus, but he is my Doofus and I’m keeping him

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.

Find the Berner! Waggy now has feeling below the ankle and is able to wear a new type of brace to walk properly. She is getting more outside time and loving it

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!

32 thoughts on “Changes Are Ahoof (Har, har, har)”

  1. So happy to read this update! If you have limited time, I think ground work like you did, just working on bringing him in like that is perfect! Meanwhile I don’t even want to write about the change of events since Monday night with my idiot… I’d take my own advice except at night anything I try to do escalates to a dangerous situation.


    1. I always play with him on the ground leading in from dinner but I don’t think it was translating very well to riding days. By doing it in the pasture before entering the arena it made his focus click back on me.


  2. So great! I had a similar ride with June. We’ve actually gone back to longing for respect, rather than exercise- I need her focused on me from the get go. Glad you were able to have a fun ride! I guess you just need to replicate all those things every time you ride, lol


  3. Yay! This is wonderful progress! I’m so glad you had a great ride. I think your strategy with trying to remove the rushing on the way to the arena is a good one. That’s one that I’ve worked a lot with Gwyn on, and every now and then when I’m leading her somewhere, we’ll play the refresher game where I test to see if she stops when I stop, and backs when I back, goal is with no tension on the lead, step up is tapping on the shoulder, then correction in the halter. It was something I learned in groundwork clinics my old boarding barn would run. They were really beneficial and I use those strategies a TON.

    It probably helped him feel a lot more confident in you as the herd leader and replacing his buddies. I hope this continues!


    1. It seemed to go a long way in making him understand that he must listen at all times when I’m around and to ignore everything else. He is a smart guy so I think it won’t take long for it to stick


  4. Yay! So many positive things about this – I love it! I talk to myself ALL the time too haha. And that’s just it: baby steps! Doesn’t always have to be foot perfect, but for me, as long as the end of the ride is better than it began, it’s a win for me!


  5. This is terrific! Years ago, I watched David O’Connor teach a clinic is a huge public space. There was one horse that just. could. not. So David had the rider doing tons and TONS of little things like lateral work, halt and walk and halt and walk, changes of gait, turns on the forehand, etc. The idea was to keep his little brain so busy that he did not notice the huge space or the crowds of people, and to build in him a habit of looking to his rider for “what’s next?” It was awesome to watch the change over an hour. It’s always stuck with me.


    1. That would have been cool to see. It was interesting to watch him try to figure out what I was asking and how he reacted to getting it wrong versus right. His brain was smoking by the time he figured it our


  6. Glad things are looking up! I am a big proponent of talking to myself while riding. Not only is it a good way to focus on what you are doing, you also have to breathe if you are talking!


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