Getting inside their head

I was reading a post that Suzanne wrote on her CANTER blog- where she talks about good old natural horsemanship but not the carrot stick kind. I figure I work with upward of twenty ottb’s a year which isn’t a huge number but is still a lot of different horses. Each horse is so different and part of the challenge is getting inside the head of each horse to figure out what makes them tick. Some are just so easy you get on and go.

There are some horses that come in and I find them to be practically unbroke. You get on them and wonder how in the heck did they get them around the track?? No steering, no forward and just a total lack of understanding of all the aids. Then others are so broke you sit up there and wonder if somebody was giving them dressage training at the track.

Each of them has a different personality and work ethic. I have to figure out what kind of program works best for each of them. Do they need to go back to basics first?

I have always been a person who loves to read. I have so many horse books in my home library. I love watching educational video’s and youtube videos of clinics. Growing up I never really learned much about groundwork. Yes, we had to lunge for pony club so I knew the basics but I didn’t use it a whole lot. I was reading some posts on the Chronicle of the Horse about the wonder pony Teddy O’Connor and his owner teaching him to jump using the lunge line. I emailed her and got some really cool information. I took that and sort of ran with it using it on Dixie Rumble who was the horse I was training at the time. He lacked confidence over fences so the lunging really helped him learn his footwork without worrying about the rider. I find that you can regulate the speed and tempo more on the lunge line than you can free jumping.

I decided that I would work with London Lullaby teaching him to lunge over some scarier jumps. London is an interesting horse to describe because I would say that he is very quiet and sensible but at the same time can be a bit defiant. You have to remember he ran as a 2yr but has just hung in a field for two years. He doesn’t understand WHY HE MUST work. We have installed the forward button and are now working on the concept of trusting that I make the decisions in our relationship 🙂

We have been riding past those damn black barrels in my ring for several weeks but he still looks at them like they are the devil. I knew if I just presented them to him as a jump it wouldn’t go well. I figured they would be perfect to incorporate into my lunging exercise. The black barrels are off the rail in the ring so I put a single cavaletti on the rail so that the black barrels and the cavaletti made one long 20ft jump. I started by warming him up on the lunge line. It was dark and cold and he pretended he didn’t know how to lunge which meant he kept wanting to pull out on the circle as he had to move away from the barn. I was pretty sharp with him there because he knows better. I kept him on a very small circle so I could control his body by keeping him closer to me. We had that down pretty good.

Then I started by lunging right in front of my jump line. He was not really bothered by that. I then walked him in hand over the cavaletti. When I tried to lunge him over the cavaletti he was pretty sure he couldn’t possibly do it. He just didn’t know the answer to the question. I was patient and had to be quick to step behind him and encourage him. If he backed up I resumed lunging him in a small circle letting him know the answer was to go forward. Always go forward. If he was going forward he didn’t get any sort of behavioral correction. He really figured it out and you could just see him thinking. He was jumping it so nicely. Then I added another cavaletti in front making it a little oxer and he was simply gorgeous over that. I slowly inched him to where the barrel jump and cavaletti joined and he was great.

BUT….when asked to jump the center of the barrels he was all sorts of angry. He swore he couldn’t do it. He backed up and tried to go every direction but where I wanted him to go. I had a pole on the far side of the barrel so he couldn’t escape and I was using that as my block. A few times he popped right out of there. I don’t suggest doing this unless you are really experienced because it can get a bit hairy at times. Totally normal! I just kept patiently lunging him over the part where the cavaletti and barrel joined and then moving him back towards the barrel. If he refused then I made him circle and jump again. He figured out he was creating more work for himself and then jumped the barrel like it was no biggie. This horse is a stunning jumper. He’s so tight with his knees and very careful.

We took a little break and I told him how smart he was and I swear he looked at me like he knew just what I was saying. He really is a super smart horse. I then asked him to go over just two more times to make sure he had it down. Now I wouldn’t say that he is at all scared of the barrels but the barrels allow him an excuse to protest. He has to learn that we must work past our fears/dislikes. In just one session he learned a lot about moving away from the pressure, keeping his feet moving even when unsure and respecting his handlers space. He felt more confident after he was able to figure out the answer to the question.

I will continue to work with him a bit on the lunging over fences because I think it will allow for me to have more success undersaddle. With horses that want to challenge you it’s often much easier to address the issues on the ground. I had a student with a horse that absolutely wouldn’t drop down off the banks out xc. They had tried everything they could think of with no success. We spent a good month going xc schooling and we had instant success using a lunge line and whip. We would do it in hand first and then put the rider up. We never went out xc schooling without those tools. The minute he started to refuse we would start to lunge him. By the end of the season he was jumping banks like a pro. I think he wasn’t scared but he had picked his battle. We simply found a quiet effective way to work around it without getting him more upset or causing him fear. When he would get worried he would find understanding in the process that we had taught him.

I wouldn’t at all say that he’s not a brave horse because I think that he will be but he is a horse that wants to questions things and I have to work ahead of him to explain how to answer the questions that he may have with proper responses. If left to his own devices then I can see how he would not be progressing.

Areutrue is the exact opposite because he is 100% trust of the rider. You can feel him thinking..mmm does she really want me to jump that…well okay if she says so then I will. I know that London will get there but he will need a bit of time and he has to learn to trust.

I will try to get some of this work on video because it really is cool to watch them. I have so much fun with them. I also used this on Letterman a few months ago and it made a huge difference! He was refusing everything and after one session of lunging over jumps he figured out the answer was to jump. He learned he could just walk up and pop over a 2ft jump without it biting him 🙂

Kurt has been working lots of hours at work and the weekends so I haven’t been able to video the horses. His work project will be over next week so hopefully our time will free up. I want to get the horses to the indoor for some practice and then pick out some local shows to do this winter.


5 responses to “Getting inside their head

  1. Would love to know some of the reading that you find the most helpful/interesting/inspiring. I like to read a lot too – am enjoying your blog so much and also the Saddle Fitter that you recommended. It seems many people can be saying the same thing but one person will say it in a way that resonates, so it’s good to explore!

  2. Jess
    Do you get the RFDTV channel (345 on Direct TV)? Each Tues. they have been showing Clinton Anderson retraining a OTTB. I believe this has been shown before so maybe you have discussed it already. If not, I would enjoy hearing your thoughts. Last week was lunging him over XC obstacles.
    Patty M

  3. I really love the way you put things! They all have their own ways of learning and for some, the logical answer that comes to their mind when confronted with a jump isn’t necessarily “LEAP OVER IT!” It might be “DANGER, AVOID BOULDERS!” or “THAT IS IN MY WAY, HOW STUPID!” Learning their personalities so that you can educate them in their own language is a fascinating process.

  4. RFDTV is 231 on dish and HRTV (horse racing TV) is 404 on DISH. Great programming. I have a book called Horsemanship by Waldemar Seunig. I tried to understand as a teenager and many, many years later still try to understand it. It was first published in 1941. It talks about dressage and jumping and riders physical stature, describes “haute Ecole” amazing stuff.

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