Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Following the Rail for a Bit

Pattern: 180 and follow the rail
What I focused on: maintaining gait, building impulsion, support rein to keep shoulder up around corners, squeeze for the 180 against the rail,

Today I did my follow the rail pattern, but I put Blu in the Confidence Snaffle. I warmed him up with a figure of eight pattern on the 23' line. I had to play tag with him to cause him to maintain gait better. First, I tagged the middle, then he asked "what if I don't even go to the middle in the first place?" and he would deliberately and confidently stop after he got around the barrel, slack in the line, and look at me. So I changed the game to whapping that spot right after the barrel. Blu caught on super fast (probably 3 or 4 figure eights) and I could stand quietly and just take a step or lean forward or backward.

I took the line and halter off Blu and walked to the fence. He followed at his usual pace (no hurry, but attentive) and did not bat an eye when I picked up the bridle off the fence. He walked right to me and under the rein then stood in position while I put the bridle on and adjusted it. I tightened his girth and got on, no qualms about it. I went off and was thinking about the rail and we went straight to it and started our follow the rail. I put my hand on his withers and only corrected him with my leg if needed. The walk was looking really good, some shallow corners, but otherwise he stayed put with little leg correction. So, we moved on to the trot. I used 180 squeezes between his hind quarters and the fence as a change of direction whenever he broke gait. In the end stretch of our follow the rail exercise, I exited the arena and let him open up in the pasture at a canter. My plan was to let him see something different and go a bit straighter on a larger circle. My Invisible Arena is quite small and it is difficult to ask him to go faster or to increase the gait both because of impulsion and coordinating himself deep in the corners or even capping off the short ends. After two laps around the pasture, I changed my focus and went along the fence line to return to following the rail. Blu adjusted very quickly, which surprised me because sometimes he is not thinking so fast and can be caught off guard by sudden changes. It seems that he was very ready to do whatever I asked. The small arena immediately shut him down, so we did 180's into the fence as a change of direction. It is a great feeling when you are riding toward the end of your session on you Left-Brain Introvert and he is picking up the canter from the halt or right out of a 180 and you are just asking for him to go; because you remember that at the beginning of the session, you felt that brace in your horse's body that told you he would not be easy or enjoyable when asked to trot, let alone canter. It is a small nuance that I appreciate more and more.

We also had difficulty staying inside the invisible fence line at first, but I just kept putting him back on the "rail" and that problem went away. End of that story.

One of Blu's bad habits is to drop his shoulder as he makes turns, and the habit is worse at faster speeds and at the canter; not necessarily "faster" gaits, because, remember, you can go from a walk to a trot and maintain the same speed. The same is true for dropping his shoulder. He would not do it so drastically at a medium walk or an even jog, but it was quite obvious at a working trot. The canter is a whole different ball game for Blu because he gets very on-the-forehand on a straight line, so of course that pony is going down on his inside shoulder around corners. I was very exaggerating in my own body, lifting my inside shoulder and opening that side of my body. I used a supporting rein for as long as necessary to help him off his shoulder.

Another facet of my pattern exercise was the stopping. If I gave Blu the slightest hint that we would be stopping, BOOM! Stopped. I appreciate this talent of Blu's because if I ever since he is unconfident in the higher gaits or with what we are doing, or I want to reward him, or I become distracted or tangled or something, we can stop like that. However, it is not such a good thing when I only want a downward transition from the canter to the trot and he stops completely. So, the final item that we played with was to stop on the rail predictably after the canter in the same spot . . . and then change that spot. I know that this may sound like it would not help him stop stopping since we are doing more stopping, but the plan is for him to become more sensitive to what it feels like when we stop. He will feel complete stopped-ness in my body. The idea just came to me when we were playing with something else. It started when he was cantering and we had finally gotten him to maintain that around the arena without dropping his shoulder so much. He asked "When will we stop?" instead of "I am trotting." I told him "Right here." Then waited and off we went. It only took two laps for him to anticipate the stop. The next time, I decided it would be further ahead. He completely stopped at the original stop, so I only asked for the trot to our new spot. I had to finagle him into position, backing up to where I asked for the stop, moving his hindquarters, then sidepassing to the fence to wait. From then on, he was thinking stop at the original stop spot. I just kept on going along at the canter in my body and it took 4 laps for him to see the pattern and remember not to stop at the wrong spot and to stop in position at the new spot. That is when I ended the session, took off his bridle and let him follow me to the fence. He was very connected when we were all done, following me up and down the fence line.

I really liked today's progress. Next time I play with him, I would like to further his progress with his shoulder and changing gaits downward.

Natural Horsewoman Out.

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About Me

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I am a young horsewoman with a million things on my mind. I have been a student of the horse all my life. As a little girl, I had a desire to understand horses on deeper levels. I believed that there was no such thing as a bad horse, and I believed that all horses were beautiful. One might say that I was a naive child, but I guess I don't have an excuse anymore, because I still believe all of that, and Parelli Natural Horsemanship is helping expand on this perspective.

What We Are Currently Playing With

  • Moving Close Circles at Liberty
  • Soft, Balanced Canter on 45' Line
  • Zone 5 Driving