Monday, March 23, 2015

Unfocused rant & a Fox N' Horn show

This goofy horse has lived with me for only two weeks now - I'm certain I will get to know her much better as time goes on. But I have this vague discussion of learning how horses think, about applying fundamental principles to many horses brewing in my head, and so I'm going to write at length here and see if anything comes out.

First: you can apply a great many anthropomorphic discussions to any horse you ride. Let me do that for a moment. Kat is: opinionated, difficult, stubborn, self-assertive, argumentative, and touchy. She is also: funny, whimsical, playful, farcical, and entertaining. I enjoy riding Kat because I sense a keen intelligence and conversation in everything we do, I rarely feel legitimately unsafe despite her antics, and something in her personality keeps me laughing. Do these words help me to identify the things that she doesn't understand? No. But they do highlight two sides of my mental attitude towards her behavior.

From a training (somewhat less anthropomorphic) standpoint: she doesn't truly understand/accept the leg & rein aids. She guesses right most of the time but since she doesn't really, truly, fundamentally understand, she reacts with combative flight responses some of the time. This means she is not habituated to the sensation of the leg against her body, she has not habituated to a light, steady contact. This means that sometimes when I place my leg on her to ask her to move forward, she leaps forward, and sometimes she backs up. Sometimes when I close my fingers on the reins she will stop, and sometimes she will accelerate. My job is not to scold her for this, because it is my belief that she doesn't understand. My job is to perform about ten million transitions with her until she allows my leg to rest quietly against her (she's habituated to my leg) and that an increase in pressure results in a calm yet immediate forward transition.

This will take time. This will require that I pay careful attention to the consistency with which I apply my aids. Kat having the training she does, she has a vague understanding of a lot of things. And she's smart enough to put things together very quickly. And test me. This is also going to require me taking more lessons than usual in order to prevent Kat from training me.

Which means that even if we've been schooling the walk/trot transition for a while and I shift my weight to prepare to trot & she trots, we have to go back to the walk. She isn't allowed to guess, she must learn to wait for the aid. And that way the aid will be the same every time. And this consistency will allow her to relax into her work, mostly because her world will become predictable and reliable.

I just wanted to highlight these moments from the video above.

My mental attitude and consistency will be hugely challenged by her. I often let horses get away with their anticipation, and allow small inconsistencies to creep into my riding. But Kat is highly perturbed by these changes, for whatever reason.

Second: Kat is teaching me so much and I'm so grateful to her for that. She's reminding me that I must be painstaking and careful, she's reminding me to ride both by the seat of my pants and from deep thought. My ride-a-buck is also improving dramatically.

Third, and unrelated to this rant: I took three students to Fox N Horn's show at Thorson's Arena this weekend and we had a phenomenal time.

Everyone was polite, the courses were well-laid out, and there wasn't a tremendous amount of traffic. The warm-up ring was large.

My kids placed in almost every class they rode in (even against a LOT of other horses) and I'm pretty sure they all learned something. I'm really happy with how it went and we'll definitely be attending the next one.


  1. Naughtttttyy Kat!! haha, but great riding on your part, very pretty !! A couple times I cringed and looked away thinking you were going to get a head to the nose for sure.

    She really is beautiful though, I'm such a sucker for paints. Excited to watch your guys progress

    1. She's so sassy! Maybe it's just arrogance on my part but I really think I can get through to her. Thanks re: my riding, I seriously don't think I've ever been this good at riding bucks

  2. acrobatic is definitely the right word haha! sounds like you have a good strategy - my mare really thrives off consistency and routine too. good luck!

    not sure if this was part of the plan, or related to Kat's own opinions about the arena, or related to your goals in capturing video... but it seems like many transitions (and resulting shenanigans) are on the far side of the arena, and Kat's softest quietest moments are right in front of the camera. could just be a coincidence... but i know my mare always had certain 'spots' in the arena where she'd be either very good or very bad, whereas i'd like to see her be consistent regardless of where we are

    1. I noticed that while riding, and my opinion is that it's because I would sometimes halt and talk to E right there, and E would pet her and we'd rest. That's my thought anyhow. I'm going to try stationing someone on the other side and see if I can make the other side less sketchy in her mind.

    2. that makes sense. i also wondered if the gate was in that direction too - like, if E stayed in the same spot but you changed directions (therefore heading towards the gate right in front of E) would she still be soft there, or act up? (my mare can be gate sour, so obviously that was my first thought haha)

      i've seen some trainers purposefully always ask for something tough in the same spot, and then give the horse a different spot for rest or reward... tho that might not work into your plans on preventing her from 'anticipating' what you'll ask when.

      regardless i dont think there are any hard and fast rules - she'll figure it out eventually haha

    3. The gate is off to the left of the video, a source of the occasional rear but not in this video. We'd been going the other direction before the video and it'd actually just been better all the way around.

      Horses are so bizarre.

    4. lol you can say that again!!