I have always believed that you need to have the right personality to truly love working with green horses. Some days they can push your patience to the absolute limit. Along the way I have begun to realize that it is what you learn from those days that can influence the horses training the most.
I have this amazing horse in for a client that has only been off the track for a few months now. Gorgeous, smart, brave and lovely in all ways. I felt that everything was going well but he was just testing me when it came to the jumps. You go through the whole checklist to make sure you have done all the homework properly. If you know that you have, then you have to think that perhaps the horse is just giving you the finger :) I thought it was time for the lunging over fences exercise. I have found that lunging over the fences is something that can give me so much input as a trainer. Not only does it allow the horse to figure out how to jump on their own but watching them I can really learn a lot about their strengths and weakness. It’s also a great exercise in groundwork, respect, listening to commands and thinking on their own.
When I started to lunge the horse near the cavaletti it was apparent it was going to be an interesting session. This typically quiet horse was PISSED. He didn’t want to go near this 18″ cavaletti. There was snorting, backing, rearing, bolting and just anything he could think of to let me know it wasn’t happening. At one point, he hightailed off with the lunge line attached. I was pretty irritated at this point but reminding myself that this was an excellent training opportunity. A chance for me to establish the ground rules and put myself higher in the chain than he was. I put him on a small circle near that cavaletti and figured out the crux of the issue was we were on the other side of the ring and he wanted to go back to the barn/his buddies. He wouldn’t complete the circle and kept pulling away every time he was on that side of the circle. When I got after him he threw a bigger fit. I just kept at him on the small circle. Once I got him completing the circle without pulling out on that side we got closer to the cavaletti. I just had him walking over it and if he started backing up we kept circling. I was persistent but calm. I didn’t backoff of him when he was being bad but I didn’t scare him either. Just staying consistent with my commands. When he walked over it a few times we then added in the trot. He was very “up” snorting with his tail up and his head to his chest. I had really pissed him off but I was clearly winning the battle. He trotted a few times just perfectly and I ended with that. I spent the next 10 minutes just letting him graze the grass sides of the ring. Not just going right back into the barn. A chance to let the lesson sink into him.
The next day, I thought about riding him but then reminded myself that I should follow-up with exercise we had done the day before to see what the progress may be. Totally different horse! Not once did he even protest lunging on the circle. He went right over the cavaletti without an argument. I made an oxer and he jumped right over that. I put a gate in front and he jumped right over that. Went and drug the scary black barrels down and put them in between the two cavalettis for a cavaletti barrel oxer and he went right over that. What a superstar! This horse is absolutely amazing. His canter is just gorgeous with the best rhythm. He is so balanced and finds his spot every single time. He is not scared of the jumps and hasn’t been all along but he did want to make it his argument. I find that sometimes horses just pick one thing to make a fuss over. I didn’t think it was about the jumps but I wasn’t sure. When he was so bad the first day it was clear that it was a bit more about wanting to go back to his buddies than it was about the jumps.
He learned something about me in these sessions as well which is also very important in the training process. He learned he couldn’t get away with the behavior and that I was going to keep going no matter what. I think horses have to respect their riders and feel a sense of authority before they can succeed. He will learn to gain trust in me because I give him consistent commands and don’t push him past where I know he can go.
I lalso earned that he isn’t at all scared of the jumps :) Ha, take that buddy! I had an amazing flatwork session on him the next day as well where he felt better than he ever has.
I don’t often give myself a lot of credit as a rider but there are times when I realize how far I have come in my ability and knowledge. I still have a long way to go! My trainer (Mogie Bearden Muller) recently told me that I do a great job bringing along these ottbs and teaching them about leg/hand/contact and all the things in between. That was a huge compliment because some of the horses really are pretty tough. Kurt has thought that I’m a bit off in the head with my love of walk/trot lessons but if you have ever taken a walk/trot lesson from Mogie on teaching a green horse about the contact you will be as giddy as I am. It’s something that you can take to every horse and to find a trainer who can really teach you just how it should all look and feel is very hard to do. Mogie is excellent and has given me way more tools for the toolbox. Riding and teaching green horses is an art. You will never know enough and you always have something to learn.
A friend brought over her lovely 4yr mare. She has not been able to get her to accept the contact or the leg. My friend’s background is hunters but she really wants to learn more about the dressage. I got on and explained some of the things that I was doing with her horse as I rode. Just establishing the contact and adding the leg. Trying to follow the horse with my hands but staying consistent while doing so. The horse was a bit OMG about the leg trying to avoid by going every which way but straight and also by going faster. I loved how reactive she was off the leg because it wasn’t in a bad way. If you channel that into some nice lateral work you can get a horse moving from the inside leg to the outside rein and then boom it all becomes pretty easy. The horse suddenly was sitting nicely into the contact and stretching over the back. I was high with the praise when she was correct but when she pulled and leaned I immediately moved her laterally and either sent her forward or half halted depending on what was appropriate at the time. I can’t stand horses that pull or lean so that is my rule #1! I refuse to pull a horse onto the bit so sometimes I do ride them a bit more forward than people may be used to seeing but they have to go forward to the hand. You can always bring them back but going forward is essential. I increased the horses trot step and they could see the difference. The mare found the work to be easy once she was allowed to go forward and with consistent contact she was suddenly soft and relaxed. She had the most gorgeous stretchy trot that felt like she was floating. It was easy in one direction but the other direction was difficult because she was way overbent and didn’t move off the outside leg. I practiced making square turns to get her straighter in the body and she really started to figure it out.
I was having so much fun but at the same time it was really hard work. Sometimes riding the super greenies is pretty physical for both the horse and rider. The amount of leg needed from the rider can be quite a bit at first to really get them to push forward into the bridle. I think that is a hard concept for people to grasp especially people who ride ottb’s and find them sensitive. They still have to learn to accept the leg and it’s okay to go forward! The other thing that I think is hard to understand is that sometimes it can take a bit more contact than you think you should have. When the horse puts its head straight up in the air then I follow the horse up there with my hands and maintain the pressure while adding the leg. As soon as the horse softens than so do I. That type of consistency can just be hard to figure out.
I do get pretty geeked out over feeling the difference in horses in just a few rides. I love teaching people how to teach the ottb’s this type of flatwork. I bet if my friend comes back for a few lessons or even a few rides she won’t recognize the difference in the horse. I did put her back on after I finished and she was excited to feel the difference. You can learn a lot by watching. I love to watch my trainer ride and then get on and feel the difference for myself. Just wish I could afford lots more lessons!
One of the highlights of the weekend was finally getting my clients horse and Raymond to eat treats. I don’t know why it makes me so happy when I finally get a horse to take a treat but it just seems rewarding. I want them to like treats because treats are a reward for being good. I also think that treats can draw out their personality a little bit. Even cranky Letterman can get pretty cute when begging for a treat :)
I am so glad that we got the much needed rain! My ring was so dry and dusty that I felt bad riding the horses in there. Looking forward to putting a new jump course up this week for Letterman and so excited about the new boys. They are really settling and now and I can see the personalities emerging.