Back to the Basics
Well, I'm finally going back to the basics with Razz. Recently it seems that as soon as I get something accomplished with her, a new more dangerous problem arises. I'm hoping that in going back to square one, it'll help minimize these problems. As a few of you know when I ride hunt seat, I use a double bridle, and after a summer of observations and research, I've come to the conclusions that Razz might like work a little better if she liked the bit in her mouth.
I'll update this about once every week because of my winter activities. I play high school basketball and I'll only be able to get out to see Razz maybe once a week because of this. And I'm "banned" from riding during basketball and there are no shows during the winter to disrupt training, so what better time than now to work on her.
So to start I'll do last weekend first:
December 5, 2010
I pulled out the unused snaffle bit that was hanging in the cross ties. After warming it up a bit and some good brushing I hooked her up to the bit lunge harness. We lunged, walk-trot-canter for about ten minutes (I didn't want to get her all sweaty, it is winter out there). We worked on verbal cues. She's getting much better at listening to them and she's not pulling on the line so much any more. After bit lunging I unhooked the side reins from the bit and lunged her without them for a few minutes.
*and no, I did not crank her head into a forced headset. It was at a tightness that I believe was comfortable but still able to do what I needed it to do. Which was get her soft on the snaffle.
When I brought her back to the cross ties, I noticed that she was slightly foamy, I was pleased, so far so good.
I also worked miss cranky mare, aka Jazz, Razz's 30 something year-old mom. I only lunged her maybe 5 minutes tops (no canter) because 1.)she's really old, 2.) She's not used to work, and 3.) I was hoping a little work would get rid of her crankiness. It helped but only temporarily, ah well, she's only cranky, not mean. She doesn't bite or kick, she just glares and lays her ears back at you. You rub her spot, her ears actually go forward.
December 11, 2010
Lunged Jazz again, she was more grumpy than ever and it seemed that the lunging wasn't doing anything but boring her so I put her back in her stall. No change in attitude, well it's still worth a try.
Bit lunged Razz in the snaffle again, lowered and lengthened the side reins on it. I worked her walk-trot-canter, and again worked on verbal cues, she's quickly becoming more responsive to them. I'm so proud. We're still working on the walking on the lunge line but this time she walked when I told her too, even if it was only for a few strides. It was a major improvement. She continued to foam with the snaffle, not a lot but enough to let me see that she is becoming softer. After lunging, I worked with her on flexing. She seems to be an old pro at it, which made me think that someone must have worked on it with her before, but then I realized that if this was the case, then why did her previous rider force her into a headset?
I'd like to one day try Dressage with Razz, but in order to do that, she needs to work in a snaffle, and she needs to do it well. She has very powerful and beautiful movements, but the biggest problem is controlling them.
I am enjoying your blog. You are very observant and that is so important when working with horses.
December 30, 2010
I finally was able to get out to see Razz today. I had planned to earlier in the week but plans changed due to winter activities. For once it seemed like she was happy to see me. Not overjoyed, but happier than usual. She's looking even more beastly than ever now that she has her full winter coat on. After brushing her I put the bit lunging harness on her and noticed that she put on weight. Guess that came from the lack of work and exercise. I really need to get out there more other wise she won't be able to fit into the harness anymore.
It warmed up to about 40 degrees, but there were still ice patches in the arena so I decided cantering was out of the question for today. Due to her size Razz needs more room to canter than the ice patches would allow and I wasn't going to canter her over the ice. That's how horses get hurt, and I can't afford to have that happen to her. For some odd reason I didn't feel that I needed to attach the side reins to the snaffle, so I didn't. Turns out it was agood thing. She didn't need them today. From the moment I asked her to trot her head wasn't sky high, or her nose pointed straight forward. I would have missed that sign of progress if I had started the bit lunging lesson right away.
She had a nice easy trot going on and I noticed that she was starting to relax. Every now and then she would drop her head down. She would pull her head up again but at times she would put it in an almost level with withers height, that in itself is new, she hasn't done that before on her own. She didn't look like she was going to take off at the slightest sound or movement like she usually is during the winter. I've really never seen her that relaxed before, I was really proud of her, she's doing really well.
I can't say I'm too pleased with what happened after we switched directions, but I understand why she did it. I attached the side reins and loosened them until they were almost too loose, I wanted to see how she would act with them on, and her unable to feel pressure on the bit. She started out fine, almost as relaxed as she would had been moving the other direction, but she wasn't too tensed up. What went wrong was the snow suddenly started to slide off the barn roof, had she been standing still, she would have only spooked, but because she was moving forward so she bolted to escape the noise. A completely understandable reaction, but after that she was extremely tense and focused on things that could possibly be scary. So I detached the side reins because she had slid on the ice after bolting away from the noise the sliding snow made and I figured that she would be less likely to hurt herself if they weren't attached. I trotted her out without them and she started to relax again, so I'm wondering if I should use them from now on or not. I stopped lunging her and walked her over to the corner she kepting spooking at and had her stand there for a few moments just to show her that there wasn't anything that she needed to be worried about.
I worked on flexing with her some more and now she holds her flexion, in both directions, even after I release the pressure. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not, but after she releases herself, she drops her head down to what I think is an appropriate level.
P.S. I'm sorry if my thoughts seem scattered and hard to follow. Please bear with it.
I like your blog. I think you were really smart to take the side reins off when it looked like your mare might need her head to keep her balance while she was in her fleeing mindset. To be honest, I am not a big fan of sidereins altogether, but they are very commonly accepted as beneficial for the horse.
Perhaps you could post a photo of your mare?
Here's a couple of the more recent photos of her. There were failed conformation shots.
January 3, 2010
Today was a milestone, although there is no guarantee that I'll be able to do this again the next time I think she's ready to, but it shows that my wokring with her has paid off. I decided not to lunge her today and just focus on standing still while mounting. She has problems with it and it's become dangerous for anyone trying to get on her. I started out with just getting her to stand still when I move over to her side. Me moving over is the first time she'll move, usually it's away from me. Everytime she stood still when I moved to her side, I rewarded her with a scratching on her neck and hindquarters. When she moved, I moved her back and then told her to "whoa stand."
After she was standing still consistantly when I moved to her side, I acted like I was going to reach up to the saddle. If she moved, I moved her back over to her starting spot in the arena, if she stood still, I rewarded her. After she was consistant in this I actually put my foot in the stirrup and then took it out after a few seconds. If she moved, she got moved back, if she didn't mve, there was a reward. A couple of times it seemed like I was taking one step forward and then two steps back, and at times I needed to remind myself not to lose my temper and that this she was learning something again. As a few members on this forum have said, "Retraining is always harder than the original training."
I was finally at the point where I could actually stand in the stirrup and act like I was going to swing my leg over her back. But at this point, I didn't get on completely and lowered myself down again. Bad news on my part though, everytime I lowered myself down, I jabbed her with my toe. This caused problems, because she started moving again. So I went back to square one again and started over. Eventually I was able to get off her without jabbing her with my toe, and we were able to move on.
My original intention was not to ride her today, especially in a snaffle. Bad memories from the last time I did that. But when I was actually able to sit on her back without her moving at all, I decided to push my luck. And now I'm glad I did, she was an angel. I refused to let myself canter her, because I figured I was pushing luck to far already by riding her, but I successfully was able to trot, walk, turn, half-halt, back, stop a spook, and most importantly, halt with her. In a snaffle! With no other contraptions on her to prevent movements. I'm so amazed. The training session today took almost an hour with only maybe 5 minutes of riding involved. After I untacked her and grommed her we worked on backing up to build back muscles.
Like I said, there's no guarantee that next time she'll stand still for me, or allow me to ride her successfully in a snaffle bit, but we had a breakthrough today that shows she is capable of it and all hope is not lost.
Sadly it's been a little over a month since I've worked with Razz. I ran out of money for gas and had very little spare time. It felt good to go out and see her today. I asked my RI to come pick me up and then I went and helped her and my friend get chores done. Gotta love winter chores. Anyway, I was only able to work Razz a few minutes, so I worked on walk-trot transitions, trying to develop my "feel" for her moving back onto the forehand. I've got a lot of work to do. I cantered her a little, I was attempting to get her on the bit, by the time we stopped she had relaxed a little and seemed better, but I may have been imagining things, my "feel" isn't that good yet. My RI and I have arranged it that next time she and her husband, my friend, and I are out at the barn, we're going for a sleigh ride and we're going to use Razz because driving is apparently her second most favorite activity and she picks up really well for it. I can't wait.
It's been a while but I once again got to go out to see Razz. Winter sports are done so I can spend more time out with her and I can actually start really working her and myself. I started out by asking her to flex on the ground for me. There was a little confusion as to what I was asking but she figured it out pretty quickly. Half the arena was flooded so I could only work her in the dry part. I didn't canter her because I figured she was too big to canter in that small space and actually get something out of it so we mostly walked. I worked on getting her to move long and low at the walk. By the time I decided that we were done for the day she was working long and low (as far as I could tell). The trot still needs some work, but I'm not sure about how to teach her that, so if anyone could enlighten me, that'd be great. I'm having difficulty getting her to relax at the trot (this may be more along lines of a problem that originates in me), she's tense and I can feel it now, it was harder for me to post because her rhythm was off. I guess I'll have to do some research. Anyway, along with trotting we worked on backing up without a fight. Before she would back up but after about two steps she'd tense up (I could feel her disengage her hindquarters) and bring her nose up into the air in protest (she'd continue backwards though). After four steps she'd stop and refuse to move back any farther. I figured out that this may happen because I'm not releasing her head after she backs up a few strides, I'm keeping the pressure on and she's not getting a reward. So I started small and had her back two steps and the I'd release her head. Then I moved up to four after we successfully backed two steps without any tensing up. After four, I had her do about eight. By the time we were done she wasn't as tense, on occasion she'd stop and look at me as if to say "What about the wall?" and I'd tell her to trust me and told her to back some more. We're getting there, slowly, but we're getting there.
So does anyone have any suggestions as to how I can get her to relax at the trot?
Your backing up work was good, the way your broke it down into successful parts.
It must be very hard to make any progress riding her so infrequently. is there anyone else who could ride her while you are absent? You might look into a half lease.
As for the trot being tense. The first thing to alwyas consider is physical causes; i.e. Does my saddle really fit? Could my mare have any back issues?
If there 's head tossing, ask "Are my mare's teeth in good shape? How long since she had an equine dentist look inside her mouth?"
Once you have asked and answered those, then it's either you or some kind of mental block wiht the mare.
She isn't tense trotting on lunge, right? You might try doing a little trotting NOT posting. Really short times just sitting the trot so you can stay really close to her.
If you can get her to reach her head down, at any time while riding her, but especially during the trot work, this will help relax her.
Post a video sometime as that will show whether or not you , the rider, have something you can easily improve on and help this.
Hang in there, and love your blog.
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