Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Back in the Spurs

For some reason, I stopped riding in my spurs this summer.  I guess things were just going really well for Bear and I, and I wanted to see how just my legs would work.  It turns out they worked quite well.

But then I noticed some problems.  Lately Bear has not been excited to walk, trot, or lope straight lines down the strip.  If we are on the fence line, no problem.  But if we are closer to the field, he can't stand it.  He either veers towards the herd, or he dives towards the bean field.  And yes, they are quite different.  In the veer he is energetic and forward, in the dive he is dropping his shoulder and throwing his head towards the ground.

Over the last few weeks I have been working on this mostly at the walk and sometimes at the trot.  When he wants to go down the strip I keep my hands and legs open and encourage forward movement with my hips, when he picks a direction I don't want him to go in, I go back and forth between blocking harshly or turning him in a sharp circle and then getting back on course.  It has definitely helped some.

But watching Martin Black ride and help some of the riders in the clinic gave me quite a few ideas.  It is funny seeing clinicians in person.  So much of what they say you know on some level.  But you cannot always transfer what you know into your own problems.  In this case what I "knew," in simple horse terms, was to make the wrong thing difficult and the right thing easy.  We've all heard it many times, and my solution to get Bear moving down the strip is an illustration of that.  What Martin really showed us in the clinic is how to get the most out of that idea.  He didn't really use those words, instead he talked about making the horse uncomfortable and then showing them where they can be comfortable when you get them on the right track.

Same but different.  And it played out that way as we watched him work with individual riders in the clinic.  It always came down to the concept of "make the wrong thing difficult and the right thing easy," but each example was different.  Even when two horses had similar issues with loping or lead changes.  It was rather eye opening.

The second thing that I've always "known" but don't always get to see, is that one should increase the pressure each time they ask.  Again, I'm sure you all know this, too.  And I feel like I use it all the time.  But Martin talked about keeping your asks to just three, with the outside chance of a forth.  The first ask is small, the second is a pretty big increase, and the third is quite hard and should very well get the job done.  If he asks a forth time it is only because he miscalculated on the third ask.

If that doesn't work, he rethinks things, because clearly he is not communicating well with the horse.  You don't not want a fifth or sixth or seventh ask.  Each one after the third can start to dull them to it.  Again, things we all know.  What messes me up, is that these should not surprise or shock the horse.  So often I will be working on something with Bear, say loping circles.  Things will be going nicely, then he'll get distracted and want to lope towards something.  I'll lean and use my legs, if that doesn't work I'll put some light pressure on the hackamore, and if that doesn't work I'll pull really hard.

It sounds like what Martin is talking about, but often I would release my pressure before my big pull.  The same could happen to my legs before a big kick.  I would get my correction, but his head would fly up like he had no idea what was happening.  What I should really be doing is getting a soft pull, keeping that tension, and from there give the big correction.

This is where the spurs come in.  I set out to have a nice ride on Bear.  I was not planning on anything harsh, I just wanted to have the spurs on my feet  in case I needed them.  One of the great things about Bear's size is that my legs hang down so that I can just use my calves to direct him, or I can raise my heels and really get into him.

Things started out great.  He was listening to my legs and seat and walking and trotting nicely.  But then something shifted when we were doing circles on the strip, and he just didn't want to go away from the barn.  So I kept the same method of block him or turning him sharply as I had before, but this time I was able to raise the discomfort just a bit with the spurs.  I was also very, very careful not to yank on the hackamore.  It was not something I would do often, hackamores are definitely not mean to be used that way, but I would at times pull harder than I wanted to.  And it always made me feel bad.  Today my pulls were much more steady, and they also meant much more to Bear.

This post is getting somewhat long, so I will not go into great detail, but I will say that Bear really responded to the increase in discomfort.  As the ride went on he got much better at moving down the strip.  It wasn't great, but I could see him thinking about it.  He knew where the comfort zone was, and he was calculating how to stay in it.

By the end of the ride we were cooling down by walking around with no hands.  We do this quite a bit, but today we had a new level of precision and energy.

My feet are turned out somewhat, but I assure you, I never used my spurs once during our cooldown, and Bear was willing to go anywhere I pointed him.  He also felt happy to do it.  It never ceases to amaze me how much he will challenge me, but once I remind him that I call the shots when we are riding, he's like an angel.  Maybe it has something to do with his 12 years as a stallion.  Or maybe it is just his personality.  I'll probably never know.

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