Monday, January 16, 2012

Finally, A Positive Reaction..

A thoroughbred is a different breed of horse, one that plays tricks on their riders and feigns their vivacious emotions to get out of work. The trick to getting around these reactions is to ride a thoroughbred as you would a warmblood and vice versa.

Rion, being the thoroughbred he is, has created a plethora of emotional tools to escape having to listen and actually work. I have been told a million times when he rears, or just refuses to go forward to 'use my leg'. I agree, of course, but as Mark said to me it is not as easily said as can be done. To receive forward from Rion and any horse that is so inclined to behave like him needs to be pliable to the leg and pliable from the hands. Rather than be braced by the hand. He must stay in front of the leg, long and low - at this stage - working from behind through to his shoulder, relaxing over the back. He must remain on the bend of the circle, only when he drops the head and he takes the hand forward do we give the reins and allow him to walk on a long lead. This is the reward for taking the contact rather than bracing against it.

Today, I warmed him up on the lunge, a little sluggish to the aids at first but ending much more responsive to me he was showing himself as a much calmer horse. Mark jumped aboard first. Moving him forward into a marching walk, keeping him forward. Mark made the importance clear to me in not throwing my reins away while I was riding, keeping the contact in the direct line to his mouth but giving my hands towards the bit. I noticed as I took Rion for a spin after Mark schooled him that he was much softer and more responsive to the leg and accepting the contact. He has always moved off my leg but just as everything else he has done it was bracing and heavy. When I put my leg on to move him out onto the circle it was instantaneous and light, a smile lit up my face as in that moment he took my hands forward and I gave him the rein and a little pat.

Mark taught me that there are three parts to the horse:
A: The head to shoulder.
B: The shoulder to flank.
C: The hindquarter.

Each of these parts has their designated controller and need. In order to make a pliable horse the parts need to be able to move in isolation and in conjunction.

The moving turn on the forehand is my best tool in softening Rion. The first point of business is to 'puppeteer' the hands, not pull the horse's mouth and move the leg backward to control part C by applying the leg on and off, squeezing the side as he moves. The aim is for the horse to step through with the inside hind leg, with the forelegs walking forward on a small circle. When the cross over is well received the horse can walk forward again onto the circle. The product should be a softer, more rounder horse. If this is not achieved the exercise should be repeated. The same applies at the trot and the walk. The results are great, to have a horse that is soft and moves from my leg without question is a good feeling for a change. 

After a rewarding and successful lesson we finished with a long walk through the property as a nice cool off.

Hopefully the winning streak can continue. 


Friday, January 6, 2012

Finding the Pattern

My lesson with Mark and Rion today was enlightening. We spent the first half of the lesson working on the lunge and the second with me riding on the circle.When I first took Rion to Mark  three years ago he was a a classic, unbalanced throughbred. After the work that we did with him then he was a much better, much happier in himself. Since that time there have been ups and downs and large interruptions to our training together. 

Today our lesson was based around the the correlation in training between the Pat Parelli system and the training scale. As I have mentioned before, everything when riding and similarly, on the ground, relates to the training scale. For Rion at the start of the lesson, due to the bad habits he has picked up by my lack of leadership he wasn't ticking any of the boxes on either scale

Is the horse maintaining the gait?
Is he acting like a prey animal?                       &
Is he looking where he is going?
Is he maintaining direction?

Together both scales create a horse that is in-tune with its rider on the ground and under saddle. In my opinion if you don't establish and maintain movements and behaviours on the ground you can only expect a finite relation between the ground and saddle behaviours. I admit that my mistake with Rion was not maintaining his groundwork - to the right degree. I still worked to the bone on his lunging but I had not been using the lighter, more common, light lunge line rather than the heavier rope line I have been using. Mark informs me that in order to find the 'finesse' in my horse I need to be using the light line.

Mark stepped in on the lunging early on, picking the cause of Rion's problems, as demonstrated by his behaviours on the ground, were due to his 'running the show'. If the horse is not maintaining the gait he is not listening to the leader, when we asked him to yield to the contact, the pressure of the line, his failure to listen earned him a flick with the whip. He runs, he stops, he bucks, just as a young horse tries his best to create distractions for himself he questions the leader. Rion as a horse in general has been described as 'storm in a teacup'. Everything is a big deal. On the five year long road I have travelled with this horse I have seen him come from a horse that was scared of his own skin to a horse that is temperamental and aggressive of sorts. His question of leadership is constant and as I became complacent in my training of him I never noticed how this had occurred.

Midway through my journey with Rion I had a horse, after working with Mark that could accept the contact and met the regulations - if you will - of the training and Parelli scales. The lesson was all about the foundations again. Asking at first then telling him to maintain the speed we directed not the speed or direction he wished to follow. As the cogs turned, the tongue licks as the usual signs of acceptance and 'mulling over' occur he loosens over the back and his hips start to swing, maintaining the direction. In that moment, another box ticked on the scales. Each step on the scales directly correlates whereby there is a direct line between the two scales and the behaviour of the horse.

When I hopped into the saddle, I had to learn to give my reins, using my core as a means of control rather than the hand. I had grown a reaction to his behaviour - as he tensed I would follow in suite - a natural yet detrimental action on my behalf. In my riding I have to teach Rion to have confidence in the hand and come in-front of the leg by following through the contact, following his nose. The lick of the lips and the lengthening of the neck and the smile crosses my face as I get my horse moving through his body, loosening across the back. We have done it before and we can do it again.

I have lost much of my core strength from my time spent studying at a desk and neglecting the gym and riding itself. It is time for a change. I'm considering this week the start of my new year's resolution. Better late than never as they say.

All in all it was a very enlightening and constructive lesson learnt during the lesson.

This week we will be doing more work with Mark in the quest to make my beast tamed. 
Until my next lesson - adios :)


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Lions and Tigers and Bears..

It seems a young horse will find any excuse in their search for leadership. This is my latest lesson that I have learnt from my surprise visit from Mark yesterday and today.

Yesterday the young fellow was rather fresh, after being spelled for a week over Christmas. Mark took the keys yesterday and said my aim for him was to have him moving from the leg/whip onto the contact. For Mark being the experienced and stronger between us the 'discussion' that occurs when the horse learns to step across with his hind-quarter on the circle. The 'discussion' is the giving and taking of the rein through the contact of the line - somewhat encountering some resistance until said contact is accepted. Being on the other end of the line there is an amazing difference in his 'going' - for want of a better word. When the hind-quarter steps across and under the horse there can be a give in the rein and there is a rise in their back as they carry themselves.

I found that there was a fight with me, which depended greatly on my ability to walk a small and direct circle whilst lunging. At the moment we are working on travelling up and down the arena. Our aim for the past two days was improving Dart's ground work. Moving the circle slowly, encountering props and stops along the way. As I stated, a young horse will look for any excuse to stop, to question their leader. Young horses need a clear direction, reiterated by the contact of the line, and they must always be in-front of their leader; in-front of the leg. Horses don't know what you are asking, they have to be given the opportunity to work it out for themselves - accept and understand what is being asked of them. Lick and a chew later and you see that the horse has understood, is mulling it over as they continue on.

Today, as I was lunging under Mark's watchful eye I felt Dart pulling, particularly on the right rein as a result of my allowing him to lose the rhythm and let him fall behind the leg. Just as when you are riding and the horse gets behind your leg you are no longer the leader. They prop, they rear, they stop, whatever their method of payment it serves as a challenge to the rider. Mark advised that he is a clever horse and as a young fellow he is not abnormal in his displays of youthful disagreement. In saying this the horse must then again yield from the rider and accept once more their place in the herd, if you will. When he stopped and I got behind his shoulder, the literal relationship of my body and the aid of my whip caused him to be in-front of the leg, moving once more into the contact.

The legendary, George Morris said to me last year: 'your greatest aid is your brain'. People believe it is either the seat or the leg, even the hand but without the brain they would be pointless. You have to become a thinking rider, a thinking leader for your horse. To know when you need that extra leg, extra give on the rein, the movement of the hind to get your horse in the frame you want. To react and get the right reaction in turn. That is a thinking rider. The same applies when you are lunging.

A horse, such as Dart, is pliable but also disagrees, playing and questioning. In order to keep him from learning bad habits we have decided to give him a spell, without me playing with him on the lunge. I will still be de-sensitising him to his surrounds, training him to accept the rug and a fly mask and so forth, each making the starting process that little bit easier when the time comes in a couple of months.

As of Friday I will have some news on Rion as I am having a lesson with Mark on the trouble maker.


Monday, January 2, 2012

New Year - New Goals

The New year brings a rejuvenation for the soul, for the things we didn't do in the past year and what we want to do in the new year.

For myself this will be, undoubtedly a huge year. This is the year that I start university, continue at my new job, break Dart in, turn 18 and live large. Balancing the necessary components will be a hard task that will test my time management skills.

In terms of riding my goals are clear - I won't let anything keep me from riding as I did for the past two years for my HSC. It isn't worth it and I wasn't happy. For Rion I want to work with him regularly again and get him working on the flat and bring his dressage scores up. I hope I can, most likely in the second half of the year get him going 1* eventing. Its always been the dressage that has kept me from going up the grade. Mark will be on my speed dial this year, breaking Dart in and helping me get Rion back to top form again.

There was a time when my hot Thouroughbred could carry himself, be balanced and not get tense; not rear. I have to take him back to foundations again with his lunging. Following the ever present yet almost neglected, at times, training scale. If we have done it before we can do it again and that is my goal for the main man.

After our jump at Colleen's on the weekend.

Here is a video of Rion and I from the weekend - forgive the poor quality, my camera is still in repairs. 

In terms of Dart this will be one of the most exciting things that happens to me this year - breaking in my own horse. I have helped others in the process before but, almost as if he were my own child, everything is much more connected and important to me. For the time being he is on a hiatus until mid February to March where Mark and I will begin his breaking. I can't help but feel the butterflies of excitement whirl up within at the thought of it. After seeing his speedy progress in the five lessons on the lunge his breaking seems like a large but easy step for the young man. My goals for him are quite simple - break him in and follow Mark's steps as time goes on, introducing him to new things. Eventually take him to events with Rion. Maybe he could learn a few tricks - the good ones only I hope..

And for now, those are my headlines for 2012.

Happy New Year!