I’m a couple weeks late with this post. On Saturday the 10th, Brian and I had the barn mostly to ourselves. I brought Piper in and we turned her and Laredo out together. They make a funny pair. Their base coat color is pretty similar. Although he’s a red dun, his mane is light, though not as light as hers. He’s a bit taller than she is, but mostly he’s just much heavier of build. He’s got a whole lot more bone, not to mention *ahem … some excess padding at the moment.
After we let the two of them do what they wanted for a few minutes, I did some liberty work with Piper again. She wasn’t as quick to come to me as last time, but when she did, she seemed nicely settled. I did some groundwork with her, and she was just nailing everything. When I checked in with leading by a foot, she gave to light pressure instantly. That’s several times now this little mare has made huge leaps forward during her time off. It’s pretty darn neat.
After I’d been in the arena for a while, Brian came in riding Laredo. I handed him Piper, and he ponied her around a bit. She was great for him – light and responsive on the rope, happy to walk or trot, giving him some nice soft yields.
Brian gave Piper back to me, and I decided the thing I needed to work on was backing off a rope shake. Piper is getting better about the braces in her head and neck, and also she’s beginning to trust that I’m not going to hurt her. She still has a bit of a tendency to come forward when I ask for her hind, though. The best way to fix that is to just rock the horse back if they come forward, but since I couldn’t get her to back unless I had my hand on the halter, that wasn’t always an option.
So I introduced the idea of backing when I shook the rope. I actually tired to do this one of our early days, and it completely imploded. Every time I shook the rope, Piper would get agitated, and leave. When I blocked her, she’d just fall into my space even more, and then she’d get sticky when I tried to back her up with my hand on the halter. I worked at it for a couple of minutes, but decided I didn’t have enough other things working to make progress on that particular spot yet, so I left it alone.
A couple days ago, I watched a couple short videos by Mike Beck. They are a really nice little summary of the principles of the style of horsemanship we follow. One thing I found interesting was the discussion of teaching a horse to yield a part of his body a human hasn’t yet taught him to brace. In Piper’s case, she was defensive about her head, and didn’t know how to yield at all. I needed to get her yielding in other places before I could take on her spot of true resistance.
Saturday, we had enough going right that I felt we could return to this sticky spot. I got her lined up looking at me, and shook the rope. She walked off to the left. I blocked her, asking her to step her hind so she was facing me again. She did, but came into my space in doing so. I rocked her back with the halter, then shook the rope again. She walked off to the right.
This went on for what felt like a long while. I’d been using the flag, which was getting in my way as I needed to change hand position on the rope so frequently to block her when she tried to leave. I dropped the flag, and we kept working at it. It went the same way for a while. Shake, leave, disengage, back. I started to wonder if I’d jumped the gun bringing this up again. But I reminded myself to just say consistent and not get her troubled. As long as she wasn’t troubled, we were probably ok.
At last, Piper took a step back when I started shaking the rope. She then immediately walked forward and away from me. Still, it was a start. I got her stopped and took a little break, then asked again. For a while, one step back and then gone was her new answer.
When we got the breakthrough, it came in a big way. I shook the rope, and Piper didn’t leave. I flicked my wrist with a little harder, and she took a step back. Then, she stayed put. I went still. She licked her lips. I gave her a moment, and gave the rope a tiny jiggle. She stepped back, leading with her hind foot, going soft through her whole body.
After that, we had it. Every time I asked for a step back, I got a nice, big soft one.
At that point we were less than half an hour in, and we’d checked in on everything I’ve taught her so far, plus learned something new. Early on, I’d set a pad on Piper’s back and she hadn’t reacted to it at all. So I set it up there again, and again got no reaction. I took it on and off. I flopped in on from both sides, from different angles. She was looking at me like, “Yeah? What?”
So I took my saddle off the fence and swung it onto her back. She turned her head around and sniffed the stirrup. I let the cinch down. No reaction. I brought the cinch up, (I had previously worked on wrapping the rope around her girth area and applying pressure there, which she handled fine), and snugged it slowly. She still didn’t react. I got things done up firmly enough to be secure, and led her off. She was a little sticky with her feet at first, but nothing major. I did just a little bit of moving her around, then took her halter off and let her move out.
She trotted around the arena, moving nicely, not seeming overly bothered. She didn’t buck. She didn’t get wadded up or skittery. I drove her until she’d moved a bit in both directions. She came to me as soon as I let her.
So I climbed on and we walked, trotted, and loped around the arena.
Haha. Just kidding. I did more groundwork with her, took the saddle off, and left it at that.
Unfortunately, it appears my attempt to pretend I was no longer sick over the weekend backfired. I had a major relapse and haven’t even made it out to see the horses again at all.
Horseback Hours YTD: 12:05