Saturday, April 7, 2012

Distractions

Today our barn was having a practice show for anyone who wanted to brush up on their showmanship before one of the bigger spring shows.  As showing holds absolutely no interest for Robin or myself, we decided to get out early and see if we could get started before other people arrived.  We timed it about perfectly as we just finished tacking when some trucks and trailers started pulling up.

Bear was watching my approach from a long way off.  I always stopped when he was looking, but he isn't coming to me from that far off yet.  Today, though, he came from at least 30 yards away.  Perhaps the longest yet.
We rode in the treed pasture again.  It was free of horses, and we all had fun in there during our last ride, so it seemed an easy choice.  Bear and I warmed up by walking the perimeter and 'checking fence.'  He was really looking all over the place, but I didn't mind too much because he was paying a lot of attention to his feet.  The treed lot is full of downed branches and stumps, so in certain areas we all have to pay a lot more attention than usual.

Unfortunately, the other things he was paying attention to never stopped distracting him.  With the show there were lots of people around, horses getting fed, horses calling, trucks pulling in and out, and Bear wanted to watch all of it.  He did not strike me as alarmed at all, just really curious.

Despite the distractions I was feeling very positive about everything.  I was able to use my legs very effectively (getting better circles and serpentines than on our last few rides), while staying light with my hands.  I also decided to use all the distractions as teachable moments.  When Bear would raise his head and look off I would increase my leg pressure or use the rein to ask him to tip his nose back in.  If he didn't take the good deal he got a much firmer boot in the side or a light but sharp pop in the mouth.  I do hate doing that, but we did make some progress as the ride progressed.  I don't believe he ever stopped getting distracted by things, and I wish I could say he was coming back to me from the nice asks, but what was mostly happening is he would feel the incoming kick or pop and very quickly get back with me.  I'd reward that try by pulling my kick and giving him some light praise. Then we'd continue on with our exercise.

I was also encouraged that we had absolutely none of the chargyness or shoulder dropping we had last ride.  We spent a lot of time trotting circles and figure-eights and just meandering around the pasture.  A few times he got a little jumpy, but a soft feel on the reins would always bring him right back with me.  I decided to use these nice trots to my advantage and practice making the nicest transitions I could between trot and walk.  I've let these slip since we've been riding outside more.  In the indoor arena it is an easy exercise to work on, but when we're out and about I don't think about it enough. They mostly went well, but we'll need to keep on them regularly.

The only part of the ride that was kind of bad, and also baffling, was when we were riding across the pasture from one tree to another.  During so much of the distractions we were working on bends, so I decided to see how we handled the distractions by working on going straight.  We'd walk or trot to a tree, hang out for a second, back a half turn, and then go to the other tree. 

Well at one point Bear was not at all inclined to back a half turn in the direction I asked him to.  As far as I could tell there was nothing in the way, but he was extremely bothered.  He kept dancing around and going every direction except back and to the left.  For a while I was just sitting there asking as calmly and consistently as possible for the back.  I figured he would work to get out of the pressure eventually.

But he didn't.  Things were actually getting worse.  And at that moment I remembered something I read from Bill Dorrance the other morning.  He was talking about how a fella would get to recognize signs that his horse was getting pushed more than it could handle, and instead of pushing on through, that fella would get his horse feeling of him and work on something else.  I love the way Bill writes.  Or talks, rather. It is almost like you can hear him coming out of the book.

So I took this moment to practice keeping my horse ego in check.  We relaxed, I asked him to turn around in a different way, and then we walked off to meet Robin.  In the middle of the field I asked for another back turn to the left and he gave me a really soft one.

It was almost a year ago that I read True Horsemanship Through Feel for the first time.  I thought it was excellent at the time, but so much of it was over my head.  I think I got about 15% of what Bill was getting at.  But this year I've learned so much about this style of horsemanship.  I'm now slowly working my way through the book again, and I'm noticing many passages that totally tripped me up last time are now starting to make perfect sense. I know reading through the book was a huge reason why I was able to ride through all the distractions today and stay in a good frame of mind.

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