Saturday, September 29, 2012

Making It Happen, And Staying Soft

When I first saw Buck in Decorah last September, there were a number of things that stood out to me, but one of the big ones was the idea that you always give the horse a good deal (with less pressure than you think it will take), and if that doesn't work, you make it happen.

I knew this would be great for Bear and I.  As I've mentioned before, Bear is a tricky horse.  He is both wonderful to learn on, and frustrating to work with.  At 17, he's seen a lot.  He is smart, strong, relaxed, and he often forces you to make him do things, so I figured "making it happen" would really help out our communication.

And it has.  I was able to give Bear clear signals for turns or stops or transitions, and if he did not comply, I could firm up with my legs or hands.  We got a long ways doing this, but lately it hasn't been working as well.  Looking back I can see that my corrections have become too hard and too quick.  Often I would come in with my leg or bump on the hackamore and it would startle Bear.  I am lucky that he doesn't really do much when he is startled, if he did, I probably wouldn't have gone this far with my corrections, though.

After watching some of the 7 Clinics DVDs and thinking back to both clinics we have visited, I can see where I have gone wrong.  Too often I went from soft to hard without any change in between.  Sometimes Bear needed this, like when he was clearly ignoring my asks, but most times it was uncalled for.  What I needed to do was get better at reading my horse's expression to see if he was confused or missing my cue rather than ignoring it.  If it was the former, I wasn't going to teach him anything by abruptly firming up.  Instead I needed to increase pressure in a way that made sense for the horse.  This usually means gradually pulling harder if using your reins or rhythmically increasing the bumps with your legs.

Today I worked at this for the whole ride.  Again, Bear had somewhat of a sore back.  I rubbed him down before the ride, and we planned on taking it easy (Laredo was also rather exhausted).  We warmed up on the strip, and within just a few minutes of changing how I went from soft to firm he felt different.  Our circles were rounder, our collection was softer, our transitions were smoother.  It felt really cool.

When we walked off into the soybean fields I could tell he was still stiff and sore on the downhills.  I also knew these hills seemed to loosen him up in time, but I needed to give him that time, and I couldn't let him veer back towards the barn or Laredo or wherever he wanted to go when he felt a little uncomfortable.  So I applied the same soft to firm approach to keep him going where I wanted him to go, and he was totally fine with it.  As the ride progressed I stayed calm and never got upset thinking how he should know these things and he should just go where I want him to go.  And before I knew it, I was getting more done with less.

This was no surprise.  We read it and hear it all the time.  But it is something that I have really struggled with on Bear.  This will definitely be key for keeping our relationship moving forward and keeping him happy and healthy.  Today there was no head tossing or veering when we loped around, just smooth transitions and a very comfortable pace, and to me that was enough validation.

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