Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Putting It All Into Practice

I wasn't able to work with Lilly yesterday because of the monsoon winds and rain that swept across the region, so today was our first day to put into practice all the things that Alex showed us on Monday. I felt confident going into the round pen with Lilly, but I was also a little nervous that things might not go as planned.

Alex had tied a plastic bag to the end of her crop and used it to motivate Lilly in the round pen, so I did the same thing with mine. Surprisingly, I didn't really have to use it much, but it's a great tool to get a little "umph" out of Lilly when she gets stuck. It's also helpful when I'm asking her to turn in the opposite direction... helps get my point across. I started out using the rope halter and long lead and worked on some exercises to get Lilly's mind on work and establish myself as head honcho. She did really well and it wasn't long before I took the halter off and sent her away to do some real work.

I used my arm to direct her to go to the right and she obliged, walking like a good pony should. Once she got to the outside, she started trotting, and then decided to canter. So I used my "motivator stick" to demand that she change directions and she spun around to the left, squealing as she turned. When she started cantering again to the left, I told her to switch directions and this time I got a buck with pinned ears. Her attitude was amusing because I've never seen her act so pissy before. I think this was her way of expressing her discontent with my place in the pecking order..?

The attitude didn't last long and after a few laps around the pen, she was settling down. I could get her to trot by trotting myself, and get her to canter by skipping with the occasional shaking of the motivator stick. I could get her to increase her trot speed by increasing my energy and get her to slow down by using my arm and slowing my own feet. When I asked her to stop by simply raising my arm and holding it in front of her, she would stop and stand in place. When she looked at me I would give her the release by turning toward her hip (I remembered!) and walking away. She would turn in and follow me around the pen. I did some practice with backing too, and she was really getting the hang of the cue.

The round pen exercises went better than I expected, so I was really excited to saddle her up and go for a ride.

We did our usual warm-up first, and then I got to work on the "hurry up, stop, soft, back, soft, walk" exercises. After feeling like we'd made some progress there, I moved on to the exercise at the trot. She did really well but I wasn't feeling her legs get as heavy as I had felt on Monday. She didn't seem as eager to stop and wasn't anticipating it as much as I thought she would. We had some really great canter transitions and some lovely collected trotting, but our stops weren't quite what they were on Monday. She was also chomping on the bit constantly and never really settled down.

She was MUCH better than usual, but after riding her around for quite a while, I started trying to decide what it was I was doing wrong, or what it was I wasn't doing at all. Finally I decided to adjust the bridle and lower the bit slightly in her mouth. Alex and I had a conversation about that on Monday and how it could help Lilly, so I figured I'd give it a try. After adjusting it so she had to hold it in her mouth, she stopped chomping. I guess when it isn't just sitting there in the perfect spot it isn't as easy to chomp on it like a pacifier. The stops suddenly had more meaning and I had a more relaxed horse.

I was running late so I wasn't able to ride as much with the bit lowered as I would have liked, but tomorrow we'll start the ride with the bit in the new spot and see if it's an improvement over today.

After our ride we did some carrot stretches and I gave her a big smooch on her nose... I can't help myself. I can still give her kisses AND be her boss, can't I?


  1. Of course you can give kisses and be boss!
    Sounds like you're doing great.

  2. Sounds great! Funny how something like bit placement can sudden "wake up" your horse. Sounds a lot like the groundwork is taking a few ideas and nods to the natural horsemanship methods. Glad things are working out!

  3. Nice work! Each horse likes the bit carried in a different place and finding it really helps. I've never done much ground work with my horses before, but find what Drifter knows about liberty ground work very helpful.

  4. Terry, I'm having a lot more fun with her than I was before, and I'm glad I can still give her smooches. :)

    Milo, thanks! I wish I had lowered her bit a little prior to this because it was an instant change in her. She's a chomper, so it would make sense to put it in a spot where she has to hold it, and then she can't chomp. Definitely some natural horsemanship stuff going on here, and it's working quite well!

    I appreciate that, Kate. What I like best about ground work is that I can work on a lot of riding stuff right there in the round pen without being on her back. I love the fact that this barn has one, and now that I can actually control her speed AND her gait, it'll make a huge difference.

  5. YAY!! You lowered her bit and now see what I mean about that constant pressure on the corners of her mouth! You have a sensitive horse and now with these new rules ALL pressure means something.

    YAY for the transitions!!

    I love that you call the flag a "motivator stick" LMAO

    It sounds like her attitude was her protesting your dominance and your new HIGH set of standards. This will stop.

    I do have a question though....

    "The attitude didn't last long and after a few laps around the pen, she was settling down."

    Was this a few laps of her running and goofing off or of you asking and then MOVING her and exerting your dominance?

  6. I forgot to add...YAY for remembering to turn to her hip!

  7. I'm amused that I can read your post and then read the trainer's comment on it :)

    But mostly I'm glad that it seems like you two are happy together!

  8. Alex, I sent you an email. :)

    Thanks, Smazourek!!