First off, I didn't die.
The more I try to get back into fighting shape, the more things go on my "Must Do Without Dying" list. I do have one. Really, I do. One that's been lingering is jumping. I mean. What?! I used to jump ALL the time and was actually pretty boss at it. My trainers in high school were great about telling me to just get my ass over things and be done with it.
Gotta love eventers!
Problem was, I am now acutely aware of how much guts and glory training I had. I understand strides but would be hard pressed to hit them exactly. I have a vague idea of how big a jump is (this one is bigger than that one!) and a laundry list of other things I never was taught/bothered to learn properly. Natural talent gets you far as a fit youngster but once your body has been pilaged by pregnancy and injury, natural talent seems like the enemy.
Aww, you can do it!
So logically I began the process. While my background seems wild and wooly, we were definitely NOT the kids jumping anything and everything just to do it. No, it was always in lessons, clinics, or schooling days and NEVER unsupervised. As someone that is on her own with her horses, this is a terrifying concept now.
Thinking back on my past, I decided to contact someone that I'd loved to train with before: Ruth Sawin. Pine Hill was my favorite place to be during a trying teenage period and in some ways I feel like I'm going to Graceland when I'm there. I contacted Ruth. Surely she was too busy to babysit some crazy 34 year old out of shape has been. She'd never email me back.
But she did. Immediately.
The surge of relief and horror flew over me. This was going to happen! Wait, this was going to happen!?!?! Oh crap.
The day came and it was brutally cold. I could back out... NO! I needed to do this. If I was rubbish then I could simply bail and do reining where I keep my feet on a ground. In the back of my mind I knew that was not the right path, so I loaded up Katy (the trustworthy one) like a weenie and made the drive I will know by heart until I die.
I think when we arrived it was nipping at about 30 degrees F. In Texas, that's cold. And naturally there was a wind. My mare was good - until I went to get on her. Awesomepants. I took a breath and just jumped on her. She was uptight. I was going to die. Moving her on and focusing on work I found that we could walk, trot, canter and not die. Going good so far. I could call it quits and be happy probably.
Then Ruth showed up. I was nervous, excited, happy, and frozen. My butt.literally.was.frozen. She was kind and had nice things to say about my Craigslist Special horse. I was relieved and informed her that my goal was to simply jump something. Anything. A 6" crossrail would suffice. They have those, right? I have no idea.
The lesson went fine and I was relieved to find out that while I was out of shape, I wasn't going to die. Jumping was a bit like riding a bike and that brought some confidence. Ruth kindly let us go play over some logs - LOGS!- on cross country and we trotted through the water. And over the bridge. And yes, through the woods. The jumps were tiny but I remembered now why I loved eventing.
She also pointed out that my 40 year old Stubben Sieg from Germany was not the best option for my butt. Ruth probably said this much more eloquently but that was the gist of it. More on that later... but for now:
Sold. And not dead. Victory is mine!
Christmas break is a time of wonder for most people. For me, as a state/University employee, it's also known as my annual vacation. I will get around to taking a real vacation with my family sometime, but in the meantime, this is when I rock it. By rock it, I mean ride my horses during the daytime and do things like hike with my dogs at the nearby forest.
I'm out of control, I know.
This year was different in that I had Arthur to work with and Piper, while coming along, really needed a come to Jesus set of training times. Arthur progressed with his ground work and I ended up on him bareback with a halter. We rode calmly for 100 feet and then a circle each way before I slid off by the end of the break. Not bad, eh?
Now for Piper.
Piper is a headstrong, confident, gutsy little thing. She doesn't know the word no though which is a contradiction. Part of the reason I love riding her is she is SOOO smart and will readily give me her all. The reason I DON'T like riding Piper is that she owns her training. In this case, her OLD and outdated training I'm trying to change. Once she knows something, she KNOWS it. You can build on it, but taking it down is tough. Its about 2 hours of work on my part when I normally was hoping for about 45 minutes.
So for break, I was going head to head with the little wee beastie. She needed to learn to get the heck off my hands and balance herself! Piper is naturally VERY well balanced, catty, and agile. Moving her body around is not an issue. Compensating for a rider, even my size, is not an issue for her. Much like a racehorse however, she was "held back" when she wanted to go and taught to pull down and out to get her way. Awesomesauce.
The game this break was to take away her ability to lean on me. Balance herself. All those goodies.
My tool of choice? A rope halter and my reining saddle.
I just went to the riding area and asked her to move around. If she pulled on me, we one rein stopped to a halt. She hates that. Like a legitimate, no moving until I say go halt. It was like her sky had fallen. We worked on this concept of "wait until I tell you to go up a gear" and "stop means stop until I say go." Working our way up to circles, that meant no "falling in" the circle. If she did, she was one rein stopped to a halt again.
Bottom line, we progressed this way daily for about 2 hours each day with me just being consistent with these concepts. Again, she's very smart so within the 2 weeks she figured out how to go nicely on the flat without dragging me around/wheeling in tiny circles like she's still barrel racing. It's a work in progress and she wasn't happy but we got it done. By the end of the training, she was much more chill and flexible in her work. My son was her cool out rider for most of the days and he loved it.
Merry Christmas Pipes!
Whenever I get a new horse in, I've always given them time to settle in before "real" training begins. This doesn't mean I do nothing to them though. I start by touching them. In the pasture. However and where ever I want. Mango was the worst at this with the bunch of horses I got this year. It may sound odd, but just like my dogs, I want them to learn that training can happen anytime, anywhere. There is never a really true "off" time. Granted they get to spend most of their time doing whatever they want, how they want, and when they want so I have little sympathy.
So much like my other horses I've trained, I spent time in the pasture to start with. For my sanity, I left a halter on Arthur since he had shown he could be a turd about being caught or basically anytime he didn't want to have a person around him (which was most always). I normally start out while feeding since this can be the most dangerous time as the horse WANTS what you have and most horses have TERRIBLE feeding manners. I just touch their shoulder with a flat palm or whatever (no poking) and then I dump the feed. When they start eating, I touch their shoulder or neck again. Most new horses will pin their ears back or something similar and I'll snort and throw my hands up and chase them away from the food.
I'll repeat this until they stop the behavior. Less ambitious horses will sigh and I'll walk off.
This is the start of all things they hate. Might as well get it going, right? The other thing I start doing is following them. This is a bit like what Monty Roberts used to talk about in his early books. I have no idea what he does now with his training but when I want to single a horse out (basics of catching them), I follow them. They move I move. They stop I pause. Most new horses hate this and will run around like idiots. I just keep following. Its REALLY fun to watch my older horses in the pasture, you can basically see them shaking their heads at the newbie.
So Arthur hated all this, he took his big sexy self and floated around my pasture arrogantly. My pasture is divided into two larger portions connected by a long 20 foot wide "chute" area. I patiently cut the other horses to one side of my body and him to the other as I stood in the chute. He charged me. I convincingly drove him away with the lead rope and he darted back to his side of the pasture. This took about an hour, but he finally sighed and just stared at me as though wondering what my deal was and why I hadn't given up. I walked over, lead rope in hand and pet him. Then I left. This is when they normally go "WTF" and I like leaving them with that thought. It means they are thinking so +1 there.
Most people are so quick to snag the halter and that's not the point. Your horse should accept your presence and wait for you to make the move. Grabbing a halter as your first move doesn't show trust or confidence at all on your part.
The next day he was less apt to run. I calmly touched him then his halter and then began touching his forehead. One pat = one release. We continued this twice a day for about a week. Once I got to the point where I could rub his face and he was seemingly happy/accepting about it, I worked on moving north and onto his ears. He was fine with that for about as long as it would take to put a bridle on. When I lingered longer one morning, he reared up and tried to drag me. I let go and commenced following him around. Recapture, retry, recapture, retry. This went on for about an hour before I could even put one finger near the base of his ear.
We had something concrete to work on.
When I got Arthur I knew that accepting and understanding pressure was going to be his "thing." He's a kind boy and VERY smart so I knew patience and just "messing" with him was going to be the way. The hard part on a horse like this is you first have to "break" him. Not by spirit, but his old habits. Everything he did, he was good for the "normal" amount of time. Come up with a lead rope? He'd stand long enough for you to clip it on. If you didn't directly do that, he'd arrogantly charge off like he'd won a prize. Touch his ears? Only long enough for a bridle. "No sightseeing here please!" he was screaming. Petting was something he simply accepted and then shut down about. Get pushed? Shut down. This lack of coping skills meant that at some point he'd blow. And that was why he was considered "unpredictable" and such a dangerous horse.
I had to break all this up like an ice flow in Greenland. I think Greenland has ice flows...
To effectively do this however, you have to be systematic about it. Build trust, then push it. Build trust, then push it. Push, pull. That's about all there is with horses. And patience. Patience of a saint helps. You cannot get emotionally involved either. Rebuild when you need and always have a plan. And always ALWAYS be willing to temporarily change that plan to help the horse understand the goals. Keep pushing... Keep building... Rebuild if need be.
So every day we touched and I pushed him a little further. Touching near his ear in the pasture moved on to touching an ear. Then the other ear. Then petting the ears back then holding my hand on them. Then petting them forward. Then back. Then I began rotating and manipulating them in my hands for as long as I pleased. An accompanying exercise I was working on, was yielding to poll pressure. I never did both exercises at once in the beginning. I either did poll pressure OR the petting. If his head went up even a fraction with poll pressure, I asked him to lower it a fraction until he did. Once he was good with both pieces, I started putting them together. Lower the head, touch the ears. Lower the head, touch the ears. Soon his head was on the ground and he was ok with his ears being inspected. This was the point where the two exercises had effectively come together.
This was basically our first two - three weeks. No lead rope, no leading, not even leaving the pasture. I like to work my horses around the other better trained horses so they get used to distractions like that from the start.